Although microwave and mmWave high-power vacuum electron devices (VED) remain “off the radar” of many, particularly those involved with solid-state components and systems, the market for this segment remains over $1 billion, according to ABI Research.

Despite the essential role VEDs play in specialized military, space communications, scientific and medical applications, this market is generally under-reported and poorly understood by those not directly involved.

Lance Wilson, research director at ABI Research, says specialized vacuum electron devices may seem anachronistic; however, in some cases there is no other way to generate high levels of RF power in a small space. Certain microwave/mmWave VEDs can generate megawatts, which would take tens of thousands of transistors, assuming they could be combined efficiently.

The industry remains stable despite several rounds of consolidation during the past decade. Wilson sees the potential for further consolidation, although no signs it's happening now. The size of the market is surprising, as is its longevity and historic resistance to competition from solid-state RF power amplifiers. However, that will be changing as GaN devices move up in frequency and power.

“One competitive RF semiconductor technology — GaN — will change the landscape. While it is not yet near monopolizing the microwave RF power industry, GaN is advancing steadily and is a technology that should be closely watched, as it will be a threat to some aspects of the microwave and mmWave VED marketplace.” — Lance Wilson, research director at ABI Research

ABI's quantitative view of the market, by type of VED, application and supplier is available in the Microwave and Millimeter Wave High-Power Vacuum Electron Devices report.