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Yole RFFE Mkt

TF-SAW vs. BAW: RF Companies Taking Different Strategies

Extracted from System Plus Consulting and Yole Développement Reports

July 14, 2020

“Qualcomm and Murata are today leading the RF filters market,” asserts Stéphane Elisabeth, Technology & Cost Analyst from System Plus Consulting. “In the smartphone industry, within the filter market segment, the two companies are today facing off, and competition is fierce.” For many years, BAW filters have been the leading RF filter technology for high frequency bands in mobile communication. Last year, Murata released a new filter based on thin-film SAW (TF-SAW) technology or Incredible High Performance (IHP) SAW filter. This technology allowed Murata to address multiple smartphone functions, including PAMiD and diversity receivers.

TF-SAW filter technology disrupts the market, and directly competes with the BAW filters in performance. Murata has taken advantage of this technology to develop many customers and applications and to reinforce its strategic market positioning. This innovative RF front-end module has been analyzed in-depth by System Plus Consulting in a dedicated Murata IHP SAW Filter report. “With this technology choice, Murata is now able to enter the high frequency market, reaching Wi-Fi front-ends, for instance,” explains Stéphane Elisabeth, from System Plus Consulting. “The IHP SAW filter has shown results comparable to competing BAW filters in this field.”

The story does not stop there as Murata’s challenger, Qualcomm, has released its own TF-SAW RF filter based on piezoelectric on insulator (POI) technology from Soitec. With this announcement, the US company could dominate the market.

Yole Développement and System Plus Consulting have combined their expertise to deliver comprehensive RF electronics reports and teardowns. Both partners investigate the latest innovations and offer an in-depth added-value vision of the RF electronics industry. This month, System Plus Consulting announces its new comparative report, SAW Filter Comparison 2020. This study is a structural, process and cost review of key SAW filter technologies developed by leading companies as well as others. This comparison includes filters developed by leading players, including Murata, Skyworks, Qorvo, Qualcomm, Taiyo Yuden, Kyocera, as well as smaller companies such as Wisol, Tai-SAW, SAWNICS and Shoulder Electronics.

SAW Market

The company offers a complete study of 9 SAW filters which uses standard piezoelectric as a substrate, 4 TC-SAW Filters which use a thermo-compensated layer to avoid thermal drift, and 1 TF-SAW filter which uses Lithium Tantalate on Silicon substrate. This analysis points out the direct relation between function and structure of those SAW filters. System Plus Consulting’s team discloses the technical choices made by leading OEMs, from low to high-end products. Process flows for the 13 SAW technologies have been identified and deeply analyzed, allowing System Plus Consulting to reveal a relevant manufacturing cost comparison. Physical data for each component have been compared in terms of process flow, cost, and integration to provide a large group of technical and economic choices.

In 2018, the market for RF front-end and connectivity was worth US$15 billion. According to Yole, this figure should reach US$26 billion by 2025, at an 8% CAGR during this period. In 2018, the leader of this market was Murata with a quarter of the market, mainly with its discrete filters. In this segment, more than 60% of the filters are based on SAW technology.

Yole RFFE Mkt

SAW filters are based on the three main manufacturing processes: SAW, TC-SAW and TF-SAW. Regarding pure SAW, several Asian companies are involved, like Wisol and Kyocera, explains System Plus Consulting in its comparative analysis. Wisol bought the SAW filter manufacturing capability from Samsung back in 2008. Since then, Wisol has developed a portfolio offering a broad band of modules from the single filter to FEMiD, exclusively based on the SAW filter. Today, Wisol is working with Samsung. TC-SAW technology is more complex, and System Plus Consulting has identified four main players: two of which are Skyworks and Qorvo. Both companies made large investments 10 years ago to develop and offer innovative solutions focused on TC-SAW filters with complex packaging and high performance. Qorvo is currently developing a TF-SAW based solution and both companies would like to keep their leading position within the filter markets.

The other two companies have also introduced TF-SAW technology into their portfolio, Murata in 2019 and Qualcomm in 2020. SAW filters, along with passives components, are the primary technology developed by Murata. With several acquisitions over the years, the company has improved their portfolio with silicon capacitors and RF switches. And the SAW filter is still being improved, as evident with the recent development of the TF-SAW filter.

“The performance can be comparable to BAW filters at a lower cost,” asserts Stéphane Elisabeth from System Plus Consulting. Qualcomm is the only player with a full capability to supply the entire RF chain from the modem to the antenna. Regarding its filter activity, thanks to its acquisition of TDK-Epcos via RF360 joint venture, Qualcomm was able to provide SAW (Standard, TC-SAW) and BAW filters. Recently, Qualcomm has demonstrated its ability to provide TF SAW filters with higher performance than its own BAW filters in certain bands.

SAW Evolution

Behind the technology competition, the US & China trade war is there and is clearly impacting the RF industry. As an example, Huawei worked in the past with Skyworks and Qorvo and will in the future work with Murata. The market is evolving, and the supply chain is changing.

So, who will lead the market in the future? All year long, System Plus Consulting and Yole Développement publish numerous RF Electronics reports. Check out their various reports and presentations for future developments.

*Information in this posting came from http://www.yole.fr/RF_SAW_FILTERS_TechnologyComparison.aspx.