Microwave Journal
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A Year of Transformation

December 11, 2015

Patrick hindle

The RF/microwave industry saw a year of chaos with unprecedented industry consolidation, especially in the semiconductor arena. Early 2015 marked the launch of Qorvo as a result of the merger between TriQuint and RFMD. The big move of the year was NXP’s acquisition of Freescale. This resulted in such a large market share in the RF power area that NXP was forced to sell its RF power business in order to avoid possible regulatory issues. Cree is planning an IPO for its power and RF GaN business, now known as Wolfspeed, so that it can concentrate on the semiconductor market without being distracted by the much larger LED business. Murata acquired Peregrine to add a semiconductor supply to its module business. Macom has transformed itself into a serious player in the optical market with acquisitions over the last few years including Mindspeed, FiBest and BinOptics. The company is also continuing its push to mainstream GaN on Si technology with its previous acquisition of Nitronex. At press time, Skyworks and Microsemi were bidding against each other for PMC-Sierra, but Skyworks’ agreement was terminated by PMC-Sierra so looks like Microsemi will win the bidding war. And it looks like the last GaAs company from the 80’s has been bought as John Ocampo’s GaAs Labs is acquiring Anadigics.

There were other large acquisitions peripheral to our industry such as the Broadcom purchase by Avago, Altera acquisition by Intel and Fairchild acquisition by ON Semiconductor. I think the consolidation will continue into 2016 and expect it to spill over into other sectors such as software and test equipment — we have already seen some acquisitions such as Focus acquiring Mesuro and the assets of Auriga followed by Maury acquiring Anteverta-MW. Keysight Technologies had a couple of significant acquisitions — acquiring test and measurement company Anite and service market company Electroservices Enterprises. The Anite acquisition strengthens Keysight’s 5G capabilities, and their expansion into the services market is a key area for future growth. National Instruments also made an acquisition of BEEcube, further strengthening their 5G efforts as Keysight and NI joust for leadership in the 5G test arena.

The hot topics this year were certainly 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT). As 5G research continued its strong momentum into 2015, IoT finally emerged as an active area for broad commercialization. This includes a wide variety of applications such as M2M, V2V, smart cities, IIoT and wearables. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is projected by some to be the largest single sector for wireless devices, rivaling the size of all of the others put together, so look for many companies to concentrate on this sector.

Some key enabling technologies are very low power devices/networks, AESA radios, alternative modulation schemes, highly integrated RF Si platforms and low cost GaN. The commercialization of previously expensive RF technologies will allow these new applications to take off. A couple of examples are the highly integrated, low cost AESA chips available from Peregrine (monolithic phase and amplitude controllers) and Anokiwave (X-Band radar quad core ICs) in addition to low cost GaN platforms from Qorvo (6 inch GaN line) and Macom (GaN on Si, possible 8 inch GaN) both using plastic packaging to 100 W.

For the last year we have been following the RF Energy Alliance (RFEA), an organization dedicated to fostering solid-state RF energy’s potential as a clean, highly efficient and controllable heat and power source. As our cover feature reviews this area of development, the RFEA envisions a fast growing, innovative marketplace built around this sustainable technology, one that will be a huge contributor to quality of life across many applications. The non-profit technical association was founded in September 2014 by E.G.O. Elektro-Gerätebau GmbH, Huber+Suhner, ITW, NXP Semiconductors, Rogers Corp. and Whirlpool Corp. Along with fellow members, these companies standardize, promote and educate target audiences in solid-state RF energy systems such as heating and power generators.

One of the largest markets that could benefit from solid-state RF power is the cooking/drying industry that currently uses less efficient and less reliable magnetrons. There are 70 million microwave ovens sold globally each year, so this is a very large market in itself. Microwave ovens with solid-state RF power sources can precisely control the amount of energy delivered to different parts of the chamber and dynamically adjust the power so that different types of foods cook evenly together in the chamber. It is envisioned that these new ovens would eventually be connected to the Internet, equipped with the capability of downloading recipes and cooking times automatically. There are also more than 11 million industrial drying machines sold each year, so this is another large market with similar needs.

One of the key technologies that would enable these changes is designing a highly efficient, low cost solid-state RF amplifier. The goal that has been set by the RFEA is to develop amplifiers with an output power of 300 W (CW) with better than 70 percent efficiency at a price point of $12 per module (using 2.54 GHz as a standard frequency). This is a tall order but with improvements in LDMOS and GaN technology, it could be possible in the near future to reach these technical goals. With GaN going to 6 (and maybe 8) inch wafers soon and new high power plastic packages being developed, we could see a huge price reduction in high power RF modules. The RFEA expects to create an RF amplifier specification by the end of 2015 and system integration guidelines by the end of first quarter 2016. We will keep an eye on these developments as we may all be using RF solid-state technology very soon.

It was a big year for Microwave Journal as we strengthened our presence as the top media company in the RF/microwave industry as well as our leadership in organizing RF/microwave events. With the completion of our third successful EDI CON China event in Beijing this year, we announced the launch of EDI CON USA, taking place in Boston, Mass., September 20-22, 2016 at the Hynes Convention Center. Microwave Journal/Horizon House now organizes EDI CON China, EDI CON USA and European Microwave Week (on behalf of the European Microwave Association), covering the world of microwave technology. We look forward to another successful year serving our loyal readers and clients. We hope to see you at one of our events in 2016. Happy Holidays!