Yole Développement announces its report “RF filters, PAs, Antenna Switches & Tunability for Cellular Handsets”. Discover how emerging technologies are driving the RF architecture changes and will create new market opportunities.
Market for key RF components to reach $4.7B in 2016
The radio-front end is a key part in every cell phone, from low cost GSM handset to multi-mode multi-band LTE smartphones. This market is very fragmented in terms of architectures, however there are a few types of components that are key. Filters or duplexers, power amplifiers and antenna switches are at the heart of every cell phone radio. “Those components represent a $3.6B market in 2011 already, growing at a 5.6% rate annually until 2016,” says Laurent Robin, Activity Leader, Yole Développement. This report highlights that as this market becomes increasingly attractive, major technical evolutions and changes are observed in the competitive landscape for those categories of devices.
Filters and duplexers are the most dynamic market. Driven by duplexers which are growing at a 10.5% rate annually, this market will reach $1.7B in 2016.
Indeed smartphones are widely using WCDMA bands and LTE is a new strong driver. Depending on each band, SAW or BAW developments are candidate to further growth. While Epcos and Murata dominate the SAW area, we observe a fierce competition between Avago and TriQuint in the BAW segment.
Power amplifier is another strategic component in the RF part. This market matures but Yole Développement’s analysts still see many new technologies which impact the market. One current trend is that converged PAs and more broadband PAs are increasingly accepted in the market. GaAs is still dominating the PA market by far but is poised to loose market shares as CMOS PAs are growing, starting at the low end side of the market, and as SOI technology could be used for PAs in the near future. There is thus still room for many changes in the competitive landscape dominated by Skyworks, with RFMD, TriQuint, Avago and Murata / Renesas as challengers.
Antenna switches also become more mature however Yole Développement observes evolutions in 2 directions. First the team sees an evolution towards more performance for the new LTE bands and increasing number of throws. This is where Peregrine Semiconductor has a leading position. Second they see massive adoption of SOI technology since 2010. All big players are now involved with this technology which offers a good price/performance ratio. GaAs switches are thus decreasing, although some players still release products with exceptional performances, such as Sony. At the same time new technologies are getting closer to production, this is what is observed with MEMS.
Tunability and changes in architecture Yole Développement’s report provides a detailed analysis on tunability, which is a new hot topic for radio front end modules. Indeed after years of development, antenna tuners have been accepted in 2011. Not only GaAs switches but also ferroelectric capacitors and MEMS variable capacitors have been successfully integrated into flagship products such as some Samsung Galaxy S2 smartphones. While there is no consensus yet on this topic, antenna tuners are now really providing a significant value proposition, Yole Développement thus expects it to be the next very hot market in this space. New types of tuners and massive deployment of LTE within 2014 will be additional drivers for tunability. Leading the MEMS field, Wispry will be a key player to watch, while Sony and Peregrine also offer promising approaches based on alternative technologies. The acquisition of Paratek by RIM in March 2012 is also a sign that antenna tuners will be a strategic technology to be integrated in many cellphone platforms in the near future.
All those changes at the component level (PA, ASM, filters...) and the rise of tunability are having a dramatic impact in the global RF part architecture evolutions. Both technical and competitive challenges and opportunities are shaping the future front end modules. Similarly the trend for integration in various types of modules is driving changes at the individual component level. New packaging technologies now enable compact multi-chip packages: Rx modules, PA modules, multi-duplexers… All together, the front-end modules are already a $2.0B market in 2011 and grow at a 12.0% yearly rate, this will represent more than 3 times the value of the standalone PAs, filters/duplexers, tuners in 2016.
Rapid evolution of technology and competitive landscape
While the analysts’ team starts to see some level of consolidation, the competitive landscape in this RF market is changing quickly. Some companies are getting more vertically integrated, such as Murata after the acquisition of Renesas PA business, which may translate in a change in the business model of the company. As highlighted in the report, there are today a limited number of companies which dominate this RF space, but generally those players are involved in very specific market space, this means that significant evolutions can be expected in the near future. For instance Skyworks is leading the PA market and is big in switches but has no activity in filters, while Avago is a large PA vendor and dominates the BAW filter market, but is neither involved in SAW filters nor in antenna switches.
The evolution of architecture towards modules is one driver that pushes each company to be able to handle all types of components or to set up specific partnerships. Another driver for competitive change is the technical evolution which is very quick in this area: at the antenna switch level, players with early involvement in SOI switches (Skyworks, RFMD) are getting more market shares against players involved in GaAs (TriQuint…). This type of change should be observed with PA technology as well.
Yole Developpement – www.yole.fr 
Posted by Janine E. Mooney, Editor
March 28, 2012