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May 01, 2014

Microwave Vacuum Tubes are Anything but Obsolete: Market Remains Over $1B for 2014

By Matt Paulson, TMCnet Contributing Writer

With the rise of microprocessors and other modern computing technologies, microwave vacuum tubes may appear at first to be an outdated artifact of the past. Indeed, vacuum tubes were originally patented by Thomas Edison back in the 19th century, so looking back on these devices may seem a little bit on the silly side. However, a new study by ABI Research (News - Alert) finds that modern high-power vacuum electron devices (VEDs) actually remain essential elements in several specialized products, and that the total available market (TAM) for this segment is valued at more than one billion dollars.

VEDs are utilized in military, scientific/medical and even in space communication environments and applications, yet the market remains quite poorly understood by outsiders. Advancements within the field also tend to be under-reported, only reaching the ears of those directly working in the field. As stated by ABI research Director Lance Wilson, “There is potential for some further consolidation, but there are no signs of that happening yet.”

However, VEDs remain a stalwart market even to this day, and the longevity of this historic market among a host of increasingly more powerful Radio Frequency (RF) technology is baffling to say the least. Yet Wilson continues to note that “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.”

Additionally, advancements within the RF field could make vacuum tubes even more powerful, and thus profitable. VEDs made with gallium nitrate have been on the market for some time now, and while it has not grown to the point where it monopolizes the marketplace this is only due to the previously mentioned lack of reporting. As such, Wilson recommends keeping a close eye out, as it could pose a threat to parts of the VED marketplace. 

Edited by Alisen Downey
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