Although semiconductors have replaced electron tubes in a majority of applications, there are still some military, scientific/medical and space applications at microwave and millimeter-wave (mm-wave) frequencies that are still being used at this time. Because these microwave/mm-wave tubes are so specialized, this market is generally under reported and poorly understood by those not directly involved in it.
Market research conducted by ABI Research (News - Alert) shows that the total available market (TAM) for high-power microwave and mm-wave vacuum electron devices (VEDs) was nearly $1 billion in 2012.
According to findings, after several consolidations in recent years the microwave tube industry is stable now. Though silicon has not been able to extend its reach to the mm-wave domain, one emerging RF semiconductor technology that is getting closer is gallium nitride (GaN). It may change the landscape in the future, yet at the moment its impact is minimal.
Further, GaN is not yet near monopolizing the microwave RF power industry, but it is advancing steadily. The market watcher cautions that it is a technology that should be observed closely though, as it will continue to be a threat to some aspects of the microwave and mm-wave VED marketplace.
In a statement, ABI’s Research Director Lance Wilson said, “The size of this historic market continues to surprise everyone and its longevity and firm resistance to RF power semiconductor encroachment is as surprising.”
Wilson added, “These specialized vacuum electron devices may at first seem anachronistic, but in some cases there is no other way to generate such high levels of RF power within an acceptably small space. Certain microwave and millimeter wave VEDs can generate megawatts, and it would take tens of thousands of transistors to do that.”
Edited by Jamie Epstein