PORTLAND, Ore. TriQuint Semiconductor Inc. said it remains the largest commercial GaAs foundry based largely on continued growth in communications markets like smartphones.
The company recently provided a tour of its Hillsboro, Ore., gallium arsenide foundry (see video below).
TriQuint's industry lead will be reaffirmed next week by industry watcher Strategy Analytics Inc. (Newton, Mass.). "TriQuint has gotten very good at putting switches and filters and bias-control circuitry into the same package with their gallium arsenide power amplifiers," said Chris Taylor, director of RF and wireless components at Strategy Analytics. "TriQuint has both design and foundry expertise, which gives them a window on the technology that the fabless guys don't have."
TriQuint's first quarter earnings are expected to be down compared to its 21 percent growth in 2008, but it will predict overall growth for 2009. Stategy Analytics added that in "the second quarter [of 2009], the GaAs industry will see an uptick in orders," said Asif Anwar, author of an upcoming foundry market share report. "We should expect to see the GaAs market return to growth in the second half of 2009."
Over 85 percent of TriQuint's sales are standard RF chips for wireless communications. The remainder--about 10 percent commercial and 5 percent for the military--bring its foundry business to about $100 million annually.
Although silicon chips have eroded much of the small signal processing market for wireless communications chips, gallium arsenide is still used to amplify signals transmitted from the vast majority of cellphones, basestations and backhaul connections.
GaAs also is expected to dominate the long-range, metropolitan area data transmission markets, according to TriQuint, since it has higher power density, lower noise and higher linearity than silicon.
"We monitor next-generation CMOS, silicon germainium and silicon-on-insulator based RF chips as the biggest threats to our gallium arsenide chips," said TriQuint CEO Ralph Quinsey. "But we believe that they will only serve the wireless applications requiring low-frequency, low-power, short-range transmissions where linearity and noise are not as much of a problem."
The company is investing in what it considers to be the next generation beyond gallium arsenide: gallium nitride chips. Quinsey predicted that gallium nitride will inherit key segments of the current GaAs market.
"We consider gallium nitride the next generation for high-frequency, high-power wireless communications," said Quinsey. "But it will be dominated by development work and military applications for at least the next three to five years."
Gallium nitride, according to Quinsey, is ideal for ultra-high-frequency applications at millimeter wavelengths used in high-bandwidth, point-to-point communications like backhaul, especially in Third World markets where fiber optic connections are unavailable.