The Conundrum of RF Power Semiconductors for S-Band Radar

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By Lance Wilson | 1Q 2017 | IN-4496

It should not be a surprise to anyone that wireless infrastructure rules the RF power semiconductor market. Now, this segment accounts for about US$1 billion or 2/3 of the total market. The 1/3 that is left is composed of all other segments and totals to about US$500 million

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Where Does S-Band Radar Fit in the Overall Market?

NEWS


It should not be a surprise to anyone that wireless infrastructure rules the RF power semiconductor market. Now, this segment accounts for about US$1 billion or 2/3 of the total market. The 1/3 that is left is composed of all other segments and totals to about US$500 million. Other segments include:

  • Defense/Military
  • Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM)
  • Broadcast
  • Commercial Avionics and Air Traffic Control
  • Non-Cellular Communications

The largest sub-segment of this group is the defense market, and within this segmentation, S-Band radar devices represent a little less than US$100 million. S-band radar, which is clustered around 3 GHz, serves the military, marine, and civil air traffic control sub-segments. On the military side, S-Band radar parts typically go into phased array radars, which can use hundreds of devices per system. These are not overly price sensitive as compared to wireless infrastructure. Therefore, it is an attractive business for RF power device vendors and is an apparent plum that those who have the technical capability are frequently chasing.

How Is the Conundrum Showing Itself?

IMPACT


Despite the attractiveness of this segment due to its size and high average selling price (ASP), vendors who have S-Band device technology and a portfolio of devices are complaining that they are having difficulty gaining a foothold. Most are saying that they have market shares in the low- to mid-single digits.

Even though many players are investing large sums of money in S-Band radar products, breaking out of their individual low market shares has been seemingly impossible. Trying to analyze what exactly is happening here is difficult, even though the participating vendors are competent and the size of the total actual market (TAM) is firmly established.

Clarifying This Segment

COMMENTARY


When looking at the S-Band radar device business and assuming that technology and product portfolio issues are not in play, it was not hard to determine that TAM, serviceable actual market (SAM), and serviceable obtainable market (SOM) problems could be the root cause.

If the TAM is about US$100 million, then an analysis by vendor showed that the sub-segment is dominated by just a few players. In a normal market these players could be challenged, however, that is not what is currently happening. Further analysis indicated the following problems:

  • There is still some level of legacy devices being sold for older systems. In some cases, these devices are even old silicon bipolar devices that were originally developed 30 years ago. These military radar systems can live on for decades before being retired. Since the market is essentially one of replacement, it is doubtful that another vendor would be qualified.
  • For phased array radar systems, completed sub-assemblies that include more than the device are sold, and are often called a pallet or module. Radar equipment manufacturers like this approach, as it makes tuning for phase and gain important for phased arrays. It is done by the device/pallet builder making integration easier. The problem with pallets is that puttting together a production line with suitable manuafacturing techniques that go beyond just the device can be difficult.

In the end, the SAM for S-Band merchant suppliers could be significantly lower than the TAM. This issue could drive the SOM to the low levels now being seen.

Translating this into rough numbers could mean that the SAM for the S-Band device suppliers, subtracting pallets, and legacy replacement devices could reduce the market by about 40%. This being the case, vendors need to look at the realistic SAM and set expectations accordingly. ABI Research will be looking at this issue more closely in the future when analyzing the S-Band device market place.

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