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All Eyes on GaN to Power 2021 and Beyond

Jan. 28, 2021
The market shift toward GaN transistors in 2021 isn’t just theoretical or inspirational—it’s happening now, with major companies designing and shipping products with GaN today.

What you’ll learn:

  • What major market segments are adopting GaN.
  • Why we can expect further penetration in 2021.
  • How GaN technology is transformative in these markets.

 

Human beings are a power-hungry bunch and 2021 is the year more of us do something about it. 

As the world slowly inches back to normalcy and a business-as-usual state of mind, we’ll look to technology to power our future forward with innovations that improve the way we live and do business. And much of that focus will be on increasing power efficiency, performance, and lowering costs. From an organizational standpoint, it means doubling down on digitally driven experiences, operational excellence, products, supply chains, and ecosystemsnot just to rapidly advance, but in some cases, to simply survive.

The growing popularity and adoption of gallium-nitride (GaN) transistors across many market segments gives convinces us to believe we’re on the right path, given the limitations of silicon in power transistors. In 2021, the power struggle between legacy silicon and the better-performing GaN FETs will come to a head, with organizations choosing GaN transistors to design lighter, smaller, lower-cost, and more efficient power systems. With so much at stake, organizations are quickly jumping aboard the GaN transistor bandwagon at the risk of being left behind, achieving a tipping point from early adoption to mainstream acceptance.

The market shift toward GaN transistors in 2021 isn’t just theoretical or inspirational eitherit’s happening now, with major companies currently designing and shipping products that implement GaN. Expect to see significantly increased demand for, and adoption of, GaN-powered products across multiple marketsespecially in consumer, industrial, and mobility products as well as in industrial power supplies. The high reliability of GaN power transistors and their ability to bring economic advantage to many applications will be ever-more common over the next 12 monthsand beyond.

Below are just a few of the major market segments adopting GaN technology today, and why we can expect further penetration in 2021:

Chargers and Adapters

  • 2020 was the year of the GaN charger (Fig. 1). The aftermarket saw more than 100 new models of chargers and adapters in the market for phones, tablets, and handheld gaming devices. Looking ahead to 2021, this will be the year of GaN chargers from OEMs, along with the rise of multi-port adapters. GaN chargers are moving from what had been a niche position to the mainstream standard. They’re also being positioned to deliver on future evolving customer needs with advances in device design, performance, energy efficiency, and power requirements.
  • In 2021, GaN chargers will move from aftermarket, third-party GaN chargers to many GaN chargers from the main OEM brands. Last year, the best way to purchase a small GaN charger was as an aftermarket purchase at a major big-box or online retailer. Many of these chargers only delivered a slight 30% decrease in size. As these aftermarket GaN solutions become common, consumer expectations about the charger experience will change. Laptop, PC, and phone manufacturers will respond to this market pressure with chargers that deliver the required higher and faster charging power levels in a smaller, modern device.
  • New smart-home applications and experiences enabled by the marriage of advances in voice and facial recognition, AI, and even biometrics will be found in the next generation of smart speakers, sensors, and devices. Attaching these increasingly intelligent and often invisible devices to power will become even more challenging. More efficient and smaller GaN-based chargers will be the ideal way to meet the higher power, energy efficiency, and size flexibility design needs of these smart-home enablers in 2021 and beyond.
  • In industrial markets, for devices such as portable test equipment, handheld scanners, mobile displays, robots, and medical and supply-chain applications, the next generation of power chargers must respond to the growing demands of the industrial marketplace that parallel those of today’s forward-looking consumers. In increasingly automated factories and warehouses, demand will be high in 2021 for higher-power and faster charging in compact universal chargers to support their higher power applications.

Consumer Audio

  • Audio is a sizable market with multiple segments from audiophiles and prosumers to premium automotive systems and smart speakers (Fig. 2). Yet, all segments have two commonalities—power matters and sound quality matters. By the end of 2021, we foresee that a significant number of the world’s noteworthy brands in the audio market will have GaN audio amplifiers and companion power supplies.
  • High-quality audio in a compact form factor is now a “must have” across all segments from professional to homes to portable. Class-D audio systems with GaN are smaller and lighter, and they provide the superior sound quality required by enterprise and consumer markets. In 2021, design engineers will use GaN transistors to solve challenges around power delivery in a small form factor with a compact amplifier. Demand for high-quality audio is fueling the growth of the Class-D audio-amplifier market, which is expected to reach $4.92 billion by 2026 from $2.49 billion in 2018, according to Allied Market Research. In addition, near-perfect switching waveforms demonstrate a virtually transparent replication of the audio output.
  • With GaN, the companion switched-mode power-supply (SMPS) design is very efficient and operates without heatsinks. These features will allow audio design engineers to create premium audio products at a shorter time to market and at an affordable price.

Data Centers

  • According to Gartner, a leading analyst research firm, worldwide spending on end-user data-center infrastructure (Fig. 3) will increase 6% to $200 billion in 2021, after a pandemic-driven decline in 2020. COVID-19 was responsible for putting a hold on 60% of planned construction projects in 2020, which was directly tied to a 10.3% dip in data-center spending. Likewise, due to the pandemic, the global economy remains on its way to its “digital destiny,” as most products and services are now based on a digital delivery model or require digital augmentation to remain competitive.
  • The European Union’s 2023 regulatory policies focusing on data-center infrastructure as related to power-supply and energy-efficiency requirements will significantly impact the future of build-outs for data centers. Over the next year, GaN’s major impact will be centered on enabling new levels of power and data density in data centers, moving beyond incremental increases in energy efficiency.
  • The data-center ecosystem will continue to evolve and become even more critical for organizations. Infrastructure efficiency has been a huge concern for many organizations. While 2020 was the year of significant increase in GaN power-supply design efforts, we predict that 2021 will focus on actual implementation of GaN in data centers.
  • In 2021, data-center operators will need increased power density inside their physical data-center infrastructure. Smaller power supplies using GaN technology allow for more storage and memory to be added into the same rack space, paving the way for data-center capacity growth without actually having to build more data centers.

Automotive

  • Advances in power systems with GaN technology and battery technology are driving significant OEM and Tier 1 supplier adoption for electric vehicles (EVs) and addressing past concerns around range anxiety and car purchase price. The story of GaN in EVs will shift to become more of a narrative about enhanced performance and new capabilities for vehicle designs (Fig. 4).
  • 2021 will see rapidly accelerated R&D with GaN that’s a result of 2020 COVID-19-related shutdowns in global labs. Companies are eager to move ahead with R&D initiatives, specifically those focusing on smaller and more power-dense systems that can be paired with advances in battery-technology systems to deliver more holistic design choices.
  • Traditionally, automotive manufacturers have been conservative in adopting new technology. In 2021, governments and the public will continue to demand EVs with price and range like today’s internal-combustion-engine (ICE) vehicles. Manufacturers will benefit from embracing GaN’s proven and noteworthy reliability and cost-efficiency in delivering their designs for these vehicles.

Wireless Charging

  • While it’s no secret that wireless charging will continue to gain popularity, challenges around understanding its value, capabilities, and implementation also will persist. Organizations will begin to solve these questions in 2021 by determining how wireless-power-transfer (WPT) systems can help save them costs and time. From a capability standpoint, they will embrace solutions that offer high power and high efficiency, while providing the desired spatial freedom use cases. This know-how will require a new skill set, combining technical expertise in power and RF engineering.
  • In 2021, GaN power transistors will be the transistor of choice in the continued rollout of 5G. That’s mainly due to power-density, energy-efficiency, and system-size requirements for macro and micro base stations for broadband delivery (Fig. 5).
  • While the very high frequency of 5G excels at high-speed transmission of large quantities of data, the signal doesn’t go through walls. Look for organizations to increase their reliance on GaN technology in 2021 to solve this functional challenge. Solutions will allow users to send and receive signals and power transferred through a wall or window, while saving costs on equipment, installation, and maintenance reliably. 
  • We’ll continue to see interest in micro-mobility via kick scooters and e-bikes. Furthermore, learning from these COVID times, we’ll see organizations and people tackle autonomous product delivery via robots and drones.

In closing, the future looks bright for GaN power transistors across several market segments given its many advantages over silicon. We’ve already seen adoption among many industry leaders and expect much more moving forward. This ripple effect will continue to expand with more companies jumping on the bandwagon.

The increased energy efficiency, performance, and economic advantages inherent in GaN power transistors are too much to ignore, especially as organizations push to drive environmentally friendly initiatives focused on reducing their carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels. There’s no turning back now as we’ve moved beyond the early-adopter stage and are in the thick of mainstream acceptance. 

About the Author

Paul Wiener | Vice President Strategic Marketing, GaN Systems Inc.

Paul Wiener is GaN Systems’ Vice President of Strategic Marketing. Prior to joining GaN Systems, Paul led the power magnetics business unit at Eaton. Paul brings more than 25 years’ experience in operations, sales and marketing, and business development. His experience includes vice president of sales at Fultec Semiconductor Inc. and several management roles at Genoa, BroadLogic, and Raychem. Paul earned his MBA from Golden Gate University and his Bachelor’s in business from the University of California at Berkeley.

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