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GaAs to lose way in automotive radar

Over the next five years strong growth in auto radar will compensate GaAs companies' market share loss, but in the long term silicon firms like Infineon and Fujitsu will be the big winners.

GaAs companies currently claim virtually all of the $35 million component market for in-car radar, but are likely to be ousted by big silicon vendors, says Strategy Analytics.

The market analyst predicts that compound devices will shrink back from an approximately 99 percent share of the market today, to between 60-80 percent by 2012.

“The market has taken a lot longer to take off than would have been ideal for the benefit of GaAs,” said Asif Anwar, director of Strategy Analytics GaAs service. “In that time silicon/SiGe technologies' frequency capabilities have caught up.”

The good news for GaAs companies is that the market share loss will initially be more than offset by increasing popularity of using radar in cars. Strategy Analytics sees the total demand for automobile RF millimeter wave components growing by a compound annual average growth rate of 44 percent through 2012.

“We re starting to see a lot more interest now because it's evolved away from being a convenience feature to becoming a safety-oriented technology,” Anwar told compoundsemiconductor.net. “That's going to really drive the implementation of these kinds of technologies.”

The product cycle in the automotive industry means that where GaAs products are introduced into specific modules they will be in place for three to four years before being substituted.

This is good news for companies like M/A-Com, TriQuint and United Monolithic Semiconductors who currently head Anwar s GaAs radar supplier listings for the market. However, SiGe foundries like Jazz Semiconductor and IBM and large semiconductor firms like Fujitsu, STMicroelectronics and Infineon will soon be making their presence felt.

Anwar points out that at present just 500,000 components are sold for the automotive radar market, in comparison to annual car sales of 70 million.

Although GaAs is widely considered a more expensive material, at this level the cost of producing a lithography mask set for these specialized chips is much lower than competing silicon solutions. Anwar says that for GaAs a mask set will cost tens of thousands of dollars, while for silicon it could run into the millions.

However, with increasing uptake promising a high-volume market "“ especially if cars use multiple radar systems "“ massive companies like Infineon are prepared to absorb this cost.

With this in mind, Anwar predicts that in two automotive design cycles time silicon/SiGe will hold the upper hand in automotive radar. Mobile phones have shown that GaAs can hold its own in high-volume manufacturing but to car manufacturers pushing radar, like BMW and Daimler, any rivalry between semiconductors will be irrelevant.

As Anwar points out, “The wider uptake is going to happen regardless of which technology actually comes in.”

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