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2019

06/25

Dried food! RF Power Amplifier Industry Chain and Opportunity Interpretation!

With the acceleration of 5G process, the use of 5G base station, smart mobile terminal and IoT terminal radio frequency power amplifier (PA) has increased significantly, which will usher in a good opportunity for development. The market size of RFPA for smart mobile terminals will increase from $5 billion in 2017 to $7 billion in 2023, with a compound annual growth rate of 7%. The growth of high-end LTE power amplifier market, especially high and ultra-high frequencies, will make up for the shrinkage of 2G/3G market.


This article will share with you a report on investment opportunities in the 5G era RF power amplifier industry chain. The report gives some analysis suggestions for reference.

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5G promotes the price of mobile phone RFPA: In the era of 4G, smartphones generally adopt a 1-transmit-2-receive architecture. It is predicted that in the 5G era, smartphones will adopt a 2-transmit-4-receive scheme, which is expected to evolve into an 8-receive scheme in the future. Power amplifier (PA) is one of the most critical components of a mobile phone. It directly determines the distance, signal quality and even standby time of mobile phone wireless communication. PA is the most important part of the whole radio frequency system besides baseband. The number of PA in mobile phones increases gradually with 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G.



5G base station, PA multiplied growth, GaN has great potential: 4G base station uses 4T4R scheme, according to three sectors, corresponding to the demand for radio frequency PA is 12, 5G base station, 64 T64R is expected to become the mainstream solution, corresponding to the demand for PA as high as 192, the number of PA will increase substantially. At present, the main power amplifier used in base station is LDMOS technology, but LDMOS technology is suitable for low frequency band and has limitations in high frequency applications.


5G base station GaN RFPA will become the mainstream technology, gradually occupying the market of LDMOS, and the share of GaAs devices will not change much. GaN is better suited for large-scale MIMO. It is expected that the market size of RF semiconductor for 4G/5G infrastructure will reach 1.6 billion US dollars in 2022. Among them, the annual composite growth rate of MIMO PA will reach 135%, and the annual composite growth rate of RF front-end module will reach 119%.


First, 5G Intelligent Mobile Terminal, the Great Opportunity of Radio Frequency PA

1. Pearls on the Crown of Radio Frequency Devices




Radio frequency power amplifier (PA), as the main device of the radio frequency front-end transmission path, is mainly used to amplify the low power radio frequency signal generated by the modulation oscillation circuit to obtain enough radio frequency output power to be fed to the antenna for radiation, which is usually used to amplify the radio frequency signal of the transmission channel.




Mobile Radio Frequency Front End: Once connected to the mobile network, any smartphone can easily brush friends circle, watch high-definition video, download pictures, online shopping, which is the full credit of the evolution of the radio frequency front end. Every network format of mobile phone (2G/3G/4G/WiFi/GPS) needs its own radio frequency front end module, which acts as a bridge between mobile phone and the outside world - the more functions of mobile phone, the more functions it has. The greater the value.

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The RF front-end module is the core component of mobile terminal communication system, and its understanding can be considered from two aspects: first, the necessity, which is the only way to connect transceiver and antenna; second, the importance, whose performance directly determines the communication mode that mobile terminal can support, as well as the importance of received signal strength, call stability, transmission power and so on. Performance indicators directly affect the end user experience.

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RF front-end chips, including power amplifier (PA), antenna switch (Switch), filter (Filter), duplexer (Duplexer and Diplexer) and low noise amplifier (LNA), play a key role in multi-mode/multi-frequency terminals.


The largest market in the RF front-end industry is filter, which will grow from $8 billion in 2017 to $22.5 billion in 2023, with a compound annual growth rate of 19%. This growth is mainly due to the significant increase in BAW filter permeability, typical applications such as UHF band defined by 5G NR and WiFi diversity antenna sharing.

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The power amplifier market is growing relatively steadily, with a compound annual growth rate of 7%, from $5 billion in 2017 to $7 billion in 2023. The growth of high-end LTE power amplifier market, especially high frequency and ultra-high frequency, will compensate for the shrinkage of 2G/3G market.

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2.5G Promotes Price-Volume Rise of Radio Frequency PA for Mobile Phones


RF front-end evolves with smart terminals. In the era of 4G, smart phones generally adopt a 1-transmit-2-receive architecture. Because of the new bands of 5G (n41 2.6GHz, n77 3.5GHz and N79 4.8GHz), there will be new changes in the RF front-end of 5G mobile phones. Considering that 5G mobile phones will continue to be compatible with the standards of 4G, 3G and 2G, the RF front-end of 5G mobile phones will be extremely complex.


It is predicted that in the 5G era, smartphones will adopt a 2-transmit-4-receive scheme.

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Whether at the base station or the device terminal, the challenges that 5G brings to suppliers are first reflected in the radio frequency aspect, because this is the key access point of the device "on" network. The upcoming 5G mobile phone will face many challenges:




More band support: because from the familiar B41 to n41, n77 and n78, this requires more band support;




Different modulation directions: Because 5G focuses on high-speed connection, there will be new changes in modulation and more requirements for power consumption. For example, in the 4G era, people pay more attention to ACPR. But in the 5G era, EVM (generally less than 1.5%) needs to be more focused.



The choice of signal routing: choose 4G anchor + 5G data connection or go directly 5G, which will bring different challenges.


Switching speed change: Although there is not much change in this area, SRS will also bring new challenges.


The introduction of other new bands, such as n77/n78/n79, will also affect the RF front-end morphology, promote the change of front-end module, and meet the requirements of new bands and new tuning methods.

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5G mobile phone power amplifier (PA) usage doubled: PA is one of the most critical components of a mobile phone, which directly determines the distance, signal quality, and even standby time of mobile phone wireless communication. It is the most important part of the whole radio frequency system besides baseband. The number of PA in mobile phones increases gradually with 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. Taking the PA module as an example, 5-7 PA chips are needed for a 4-G multi-mode multi-frequency mobile phone. It is predicted that 16 PA chips will be needed in a 5-G mobile phone.

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The value of 5G mobile power amplifier (PA) is expected to reach $7.5 per unit. Meanwhile, the unit price of PA for 2G mobile phone is also significantly increased. The average unit price of PA for 2G mobile phone is $0.3, and that for 3G mobile phone is $1.25. The consumption of full-mode 4G mobile phone is as high as $3.25. It is estimated that the value of 5G mobile phone PA will reach more than $7.5.

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3. GaAs RF devices will continue to dominate the mobile phone market


However, in the era of 4G, due to the shortcomings of Si material, such as high frequency loss, high noise and low output power density, RF CMOS can no longer meet the requirements, and the mobile phone RF power amplifier has returned to the era when GaAs process is completely dominant. Unlike RF power amplifier devices which rely on GaAs materials, 90% of RF switches have shifted from traditional GaAs process to SOI (Silicon on insulator) process. Most RF transceivers have also adopted RF CMOS process to meet the increasing integration requirements.

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In 5G era, GaAs materials are suitable for mobile terminals. The electronic mobility of GaAs material is 6 times of that of Si, and it has direct band gap. Therefore, GaAs device has high frequency and high speed performance compared with Si device, and is recognized as a very suitable semiconductor material for communication. In mobile phone wireless communication applications, GaAs materials are mostly used in RF power amplifiers. In GSM communication, domestic chip design enterprises such as Redico and HanTian used the advantages of high integration and low cost of RF CMOS process to break the pattern of using international leading manufacturers to adopt traditional GaAs process to completely dominate RF power amplifier.


Second and 5G base stations, PA multiplied, GaN has great potential

1.5G Base Station, Radio Frequency PA Demand Grows Rapidly




The number of PAs in 5G base stations is expected to increase 16 times. The 4T4R scheme is adopted in the 4G base station. According to three sectors, the corresponding PA demand is 12 and 5G base stations. It is expected that 64T64R will become the mainstream scheme. The corresponding demand for PA is up to 192, and the number of PA will increase dramatically.




5G base station RFPA is expected to rise in volume and price. At present, the main power amplifier used in base station is transverse diffusion metal oxide semiconductor LDMOS technology based on silicon. However, LDMOS technology is only suitable for low frequency band and has limitations in high frequency applications. Some requirements for 5G base station PA may include operating frequencies of 3-6GHz and 244Hz-40GHz. RF power is between 0.2W and 30W. GaN RF PA will gradually become the dominant technology in 5G base station, and the price of GaN is higher than LDMOS and GaAs.




GaN has excellent high power density and high frequency characteristics. The easiest way to increase the RF power of power amplifier is to increase the voltage, which makes GaN transistor technology very attractive. If we compare different semiconductor technology, we will find out how power usually increases with high operating voltage IC technology.




The typical process of GaN RF devices includes epitaxy growth, device isolation, ohmic contact (fabrication source and drain), nitride passivation, gate fabrication, field plate fabrication, substrate thinning and through-hole substrates.

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2. GaN RFPA is expected to become the mainstream technology of 5G base station




It is predicted that GaN devices will be used in most applications of macro network units below 6GHz in the future, and the advantages of small base station GaAs are more obvious. As far as the telecommunication market is concerned, due to the approaching of 5G network applications, it will bring huge market opportunities for GaN devices from 2019. Compared with existing silicon LDMOS (transverse double diffusion metal oxide semiconductor technology) and GaAs (gallium arsenide) solutions, GaN devices can provide the power and efficiency required by the next generation of high frequency telecommunication networks. In addition, the broadband performance of GaN is also one of the key factors for realizing multi-band carrier aggregation and other important new technologies. GaN HEMT (high electron mobility field effect transistor) has become a candidate technology for power amplifier of macro base station in the future.




Since LDMOS can no longer support higher frequencies and GaAs is no longer the optimal solution for high-power applications, GaN devices are expected to be used in most applications of macro-network units below 6GHz in the future. 5G network uses higher frequency band, penetration and coverage will be worse than 4G, so small cell will play an important role in the construction of 5G network. However, since small base stations do not require such high power, existing technologies such as GaAs still have their advantages. At the same time, because higher frequencies reduce the coverage of each base station, more transistors are needed, and market shipments are expected to grow faster.

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3. Competition pattern of global GaN RF device industry chain




The launch speed of GaN microwave and radio frequency devices is obviously accelerated. At present, although the microwave radio frequency field has attracted much attention, because of its high technology level and too large patent barriers, the companies in this field are not many compared with the power electronics and Optoelectronics fields, but most of them have strong scientific research strength and market operation ability. The commercial supply of GaN microwave RF devices is developing rapidly. According to material depth analysis of Mouser data, as of April 2018, four manufacturers had launched 150 categories of GaN HEMT, accounting for 9.9% of the total RF transistor supply category, an increase of 0.6% over January.




Qorvo products work in the largest frequency range, Skyworks products work in a smaller frequency range. 73% of the output power of Qorvo, CREE and MACOM is concentrated between 10W and 100W, and the maximum power is 1500W (working frequency is 1.0-1.1GHz, produced by Qorvo). The main technology used is GaN/SiC GaN route. In addition, some enterprises provide GaN RF module products. At present, four enterprises offer GaN RF amplifier for sale. Among them, Qorvo products have the largest working frequency range and the maximum working frequency can reach 31 GHz. Skyworks products work less frequently, mainly in the range of 0.05-1.218 GHz.




Qorvo RF amplifier has the most product categories. Within the two 5G working bands (3.3-3.6GHz, 4.8-5GHz) announced by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Qorvo company has the largest product categories, with the highest power up to 100W and 80W respectively (in January, the highest power of Qorvo products at 4.8-5GHz is 60W), and the highest power of ADI products at 4.8-5GHz is 50W (the highest power of previous products is less than 40W). Most of the power of his products is below 50W.

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