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Analyst: GaAs looks good for another five years

As the threat from silicon recedes, GaAs-based HBTs and PHEMTs will increasingly dominate the radio front-end in cell phone handsets.

GaAs will continue to be the dominant technology in the front-end of cell-phone handsets through 2012, according to analysts at Strategy Analytics.

Stephen Entwistle from the market analysis company says that the so-called "WEDGE" communications standard, which supports wideband-CDMA, EDGE and legacy modes, has become the de facto standard for new multi-region handsets.

The emergence of multi-mode, multi-band cellular architectures places increased demands on linear performance and efficiency in the power amplifier (PA) stage of the handset, and since GaAs outperforms silicon in these areas, the compound semiconductor will be in great demand over the next five years.

Critically, GaAs chip and component manufacturers have established solid supply relationships with the key handset makers, and also demonstrated that they can meet the challenges of cost, packaging, time-to-market and integration.

At the 3GSM World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, in mid-February, the GaAs chip manufacturers present all confirmed that demand for their chips was extremely robust.

TriQuint Semiconductor s VP of handsets Tim Dunn told compoundsemiconductor.net that the company was less concerned about the threat to its business from CMOS PAs now than it has been for many years.

Meanwhile, Anadigics said that recent efforts to increase production efficiency at its GaAs facility with the fab management solutions company MAX IEG had reaped dividends, with capacity effectively increased by more than 30 percent.

RF Micro Devices has now completed its major expansion of back-end GaAs chip processing in Greensboro, NC, which has increased capacity by some 40 percent. Meanwhile, Skyworks Solutions says that overall demand for the compound material will continue to increase, despite a trend towards smaller die sizes for certain cellular applications.

Cell-phone handsets represent by far the largest single market for GaAs-based RF components currently. Overall, Strategy Analytics reckons that the market for GaAs exceeded $3 billion in 2006, and it predicts a compound annual growth rate of 7 percent through 2010.

If that rate of growth is maintained until 2012, the annual market for GaAs devices should then be valued in excess of $4.2 billion.

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