The sun is setting slowly on laterally diffused metal oxide semiconductors, which are still widely used in power amplifiers embedded in cellular base stations. Even though gallium nitride is prying into its market share, LDMOS is still cherished for its high voltages, high efficiency and relatively low cost.
That is the reason why STMicroelectronics recently agreed to license it from Innogration Technology, a chip supplier based in Suzhou, China. The agreement gives it the right to manufacture products for markets ranging from the industrial to medical to aerospace to wireless infrastructure. The terms were not disclosed.
STMicroelectronics has been striking deals to expand into RF power amplifiers. The company has agreed to manufacture GaN layered on thin slabs of silicon as a second source for Macom Technology Solutions. It is staying out of the market for telecom equipment but targeting applications like industrial heating and spark plugs.
Over the next decade, these applications could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the market for power amplifiers. Major LDMOS suppliers like Ampleon, NXP Semiconductors and Infineon are putting out chips based on gallium nitride that can be used in next generation base stations as well as ones that can concentrate radio waves into beams hot enough to cook food and power light bulbs.
In 2015, LDMOS represented half of the $1.5 billion market for power amplifiers used in applications that exceed three watts, excluding smartphones, according to market research firm Yole Developpment. The RF power semiconductor market is forecast to grow to $2.6 billion over the next four years, but the market share of LDMOS technology is expected to fall to 25% over the same span.
Industry analysts say that the technology is losing its luster to gallium nitride technology, which can handle higher voltages and hotter temperatures and could be used in a new generation of 5G equipment. In 2022, these gallium nitride power amplifiers will have 40% market share, according to Yole Developpment. An estimated 35% of the market that year will be sales of chips based on gallium arsenide, or GaAs.
Many companies have been clawing and scratching to plunder part of the market for gallium nitride. Infineon, for instance, was unable to complete its acquisition of Wolfspeed, Cree’s power and radio frequency division, for $850 million. The company also stumbled into a lawsuit with Macom, which accused it of infringing upon several key patents for gallium nitride.