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GaAs Back On Track With Expanding RF Wafer Market

But LEDs will rapidly lead the growth according to Yole Développement’s latest analysis

According to the new report “GaAs Wafer Market & Applications," the GaAs wafer market should represent a business of over $650 million by 2017. After the large recovery growth from 2009, the GaAs substrate market dramatically weakened in 2011 due to low demand for RF circuits, used in handsets and WLANs, and in optoelectronics, in particular, LEDs and laser diodes. With LEDs, there are now other substrates that companies are focussing on. Apart from sapphire and gallium nitride, which are both very costly, silicon is the one to watch out for. Regarding power devices, silicon is also a main contender but on the whole, progress appears to be slow, particularly for 6" and 8" developement. Since the strong growth rate of over 22% achieved in 2010, the GaAs substrate market only increased by just over 4% in 2011, reaching a value of nearly $360 million. On the plus side, the market is expected to recover in 2012. This would come down to a number of factors. The sheer volume of the handset market and the consolidation of the LED industry, after inventories have run out would be two of the major ones. By 2017, Yole believes that the GaAs substrate market should be worth over $650 million, growing at a CAGR of nearly 12%. This would be fuelled primarily by the increasing GaAs content in handsets and the growing demand for LEDs in general lighting and automotive applications. Initially, RF electronics, which include power amplifiers and switches to name just a couple of devices, represented the main market for GaAs wafers and will continue to feed the business in the coming years. The need for more sophisticated smartphones, faster 3G/4G networks and the increased demand for data communication will be the driving force in the GaAs substrate market. Having said that, recent developments in GaAs based technology is enhancing the market with high volume applications. LEDs are currently the main booming market due to advantages offered over traditional light sources and government initiatives encouraging the eco-friendly technology. Other devices such as solar cells for High Concentration Photovoltaic (HCPV) will also add to the development of the GaAs substrate market, but maybe not as much. Yole says that in 2011, the million dollar Semi-Inductive (SI) GaAs substrate market represented about 56% of the overall GaAs substrate market whereas Semi-Conductive (SC) GaAs accounted for around 44%. “This trend is likely to reverse at short term as GaAs substrate demand for LEDs should rapidly surpass demand for RF electronics devices," explains Pars Mukish, Technology & Market Analyst, LED & Compound Semiconductor at Yole Développement. On a global scale, the LED penetration rate is increasing in several applications such as TV, signs & displays. But having spoken to industry experts, LED backlighting in TVs is often not worth the extra cash. It may sound flashy to have an “LED TV" but do the benefits outweigh the costs? General lighting is the next killer application for LEDs and should boost the SC GaAs substrate market by 2012-2013 if the basic technology improves and enhances LED efficiency and increases the total amount of light generated per package. What’s more, the automotive industry is also shifting from the use of traditional light sources to LEDs for products such as headlamps and interior lights. Because of this, the demand for SC GaAs substrates and SI GaAs substrates is expected to be similar by 2013. This would largely be down to the steady growth of the RF electronics market rather than the currently booming optoelectronics market. Following the earthquakes and tsunami which devastated northeast Japan in 2011, several Japanese manufacturing plants were destroyed. This strongly impacted the production capacity of some key GaAs substrate suppliers who lost market share to the gain of some competitors. Whether these companies will invest to recover operations, reduce operations or exit the business is still unclear. But the GaAs wafer industry is evolving and some players have already announced plant expansion in order to increase market share. “At this level, due to its lower labour cost, China seems the new “El Dorado" of GaAs wafer manufacturing: all expansions plans announced will be localised in the country," says Brad Smith, Senior Analyst, from the Compound Semiconductor division for Yole Développement. All in all, here’s looking to a great year for GaAs!

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