RF components market to be shaken by active antenna systems

6th January 2020
Posted By : Lanna Cooper
RF components market to be shaken by active antenna systems

“The RF FE market for telecom infrastructure is estimated to be worth $1.47bn in 2018 and is forecasted to reach $2.52bn in 2025,” announced Antoine Bonnabel, Technology and Market Analyst, RF Electronics at Yole Développement. “This industry will see an unexpected growth thanks to the penetration of higher cost active antenna systems, leading to 8% CAGR between 2018 and 2025.”

This is due to value diversion from system level to RF component through the AAS evolution. The evolution of the RF FE industry is directly linked to the macroeconomic and technology trends at system level that are themselves directly linked to market trends at consumer level for operators.

That is why, today, telecom megatrends including 5G implementation strongly impact the RF FE industry and its supply chain with drastic technical changes, in terms of communication frequencies and power levels.

Yole Group of Companies including Yole and Knowmade updated its dedicated collection of RF electronics reports with the release two new technology, market and IP analyses, dedicated to active and passive antennas and their ecosystem: Active and Passive Antenna Systems for Telecom Infrastructure report and Antenna for 5G and 5G-related Applications Patent Landscape report.

With a market and technology approach from Yole side and an IP analysis from Knowmade side, both partners combine their expertise and invite you to discover this industry and the technical innovations with detailed roadmaps, market figures, competitive landscape and more at the system, component (PA, driver and pre-driver, gain block, LNA , switch, beamformer, backhaul...) and technology levels (LDMOS, GaAs pHEMT, GaN HEMT, InGaP HBT, SiGe BiCMOS, PIN diode, RF-SOI and RF-SoS.)

What is the status of the antennas industry? What will be the megatrends’ repercussions on this market? Behind that, how do the antenna players manage their activities and their development, especially at the patent level? Yole and Knowmade analysts are pleased to deliver a relevant snapshot of this ecosystem.

5G wireless communication, expected to hit the market by 2020, will be the next mobile technology standard. As a broad market, its deployment has strong repercussions on the current RF industry with the development of many innovative technology blocks and so the deployment of new infrastructures supporting specific protocols and operation modes, such as MIMO , massive MIMO, beamforming, beam steering, carrier aggregation, and others.

“It was only in 2014 that the term '5G' began appearing in patents,” explained Paul Leclaire, Technology and Patent Analyst, Knowmade. “Since then, the number of 5G-related patent publications has seen a huge increase. At Knowmade, we see a 113% growth rate between 2014 and 2018. This strong acceleration is mostly pushed by the Chinese IP players, which account for more than 56% of the IP activity in this sector. In particular, we have noticed a large number of Chinese academic players, which is quite unusual in the telecom domain.”

Today, the IP landscape related to the development of 5G antennas is still unsettled. “With more than 75% of patent applications still pending, much will change in the coming years,” commented Nicolas Baron, Knowmade’s CEO. “Indeed, after an initial period of domestic patent applications, the main IP and market players including. Samsung, Intel, Ericsson, and Huawei have begun extending their portfolios worldwide. Samsung and Intel appear to be the two leaders currently best-positioned to limit their main competitors’ patenting activity and freedom-to-operate.”

"From a technical point of view, the leading technology platform is LDMOS," announced Cédric Malaquin, Technology and Market Analyst at Yole. “This will remain the case for the next several years. However, LDMOS is not expected to see any significant growth despite an increase in component volumes shipped. At Yole, we see an almost null CAGR in a market growing by 8% on average between 2018 and 2025. On the other hand, other platforms such as GaN, GaAs, SiGe or RF-SOI will see significant growth in the near future,” commented Yole’s analyst.

One of the most interesting dynamics in this matter is the expected evolution of the GaAs platform. With the arrival of AAS, a higher number of low power broadband power amplifiers will be needed, as well as new components such as beamformers. These components are expected to be made mostly on the GaAs platform at first, especially for performance reasons.

It provides the right performance level in a market for which no failure is allowed. But once the market has grown enough to be considered larger than a niche, other technologies like RF-SOI or SiGe are expected to replace GaAs, the same way GaAs has been replaced in the mobile phone industry. GaAs will be a transition platform for active antenna components.

Unlike the mobile phone industry, RF front end component manufacturers in the telecom infrastructure industry are numerous and specialised. A lot of different technological platforms are used, leading to a wide variety of components being available.

“In this fragmented industry, very few acquisitions have been seen lately and there has been little investment in startups,” explained Antoine Bonnabel from Yole. “This is due to the fact that the industry is still unsure about the choices telecom operators will make in terms of deployment.”

A noticeable example has been CMCC , which has changed technological orientation twice over the past few years. It was first interested in 64 antenna element AAS, thus motivating the industry to develop components with RF power amplifiers in the 5W range. But then CMCC went back to a preference for 32-element systems for cost reasons, rendering the developed elements unsuitable.

Now CMCC has again started to go back on its plans of large scale implementation of AAS in favor of a more standard, lower cost RRH-based deployment. CMCC also decided to not go to frequencies above 3GHz in the near future, thus completely changing the perspective for GaN device developers like Sumitomo. All these strategic changes impact technology development and create huge uncertainties in the industry. This market will first need to know which direction will be chosen by telecom operators before being able to consolidate.


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