Engineering 101

RF Companies Set Their Objectives and Make Strategic Choices

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“Qualcomm and Murata are today leading the RF filters market,” according to Stéphane Elisabeth, Technology & Cost Analyst from System Plus Consulting. “In the smartphones industry, within the filters market segment, the two companies are today facing off, and competition is fierce.”

For many years, BAW filters have been the leading RF filter technology for high frequency bands in mobile communication. Last year, Murata released a new filter based on a TF-SAW technology, the Incredible High Performance (IHP) SAW filter. Without doubts, this technology allowed Murata to address multiple smartphone functions, including PAMiD and diversity receivers.

TF-SAW filter technology definitely disrupts the market and in performance directly competes with BAW filter. Murata has taken advantage of this technology to develop a large panel of customers and applications and reinforce its strategic market positioning. This innovative RF front-end module has been analyzed in-depth by System Plus Consulting in a dedicated Murata IHP SAW Filter report.

“With this technology choice, Murata is now able to enter the high frequency market, reaching Wi-Fi front-ends, for instance,” explained Stéphane Elisabeth, from System Plus Consulting. “The IHP SAW filter has shown results comparable to competing BAW filters in this field.”

The story does not stop there as Murata’s challenger, Qualcomm, is challenging this year with its own TF-SAW RF filter. With this announcement, the US company could dominate the market…

Yole Développement and System Plus Consulting combine their expertise to deliver all year long comprehensive RF electronics reports and teardowns. Both partners investigate the latest innovations and offer an in-depth added-value vision of the RF electronics industry.

This month, System Plus Consulting announces its new comparative report, SAW Filter Comparison 2020. This study is an impressive structural, process and cost review of key SAW filter technologies developed by leading companies as well as others. Indeed, this comparison includes filters developed by leading players including Murata, Skyworks, Qorvo, Qualcomm, Taiyo Yuden, Kyocera as well as smaller companies such as Wisol, Tai-SAW, SAWNICS and Shoulder Electronics.

The company offers a complete study of 9 SAW filters which uses standard piezoelectric as substrate, 4 TC-SAW Filters which uses a thermo-compensated layer to avoid thermal drift and 1 TF-SAW filter which uses Lithium Tantalate on Silicon substrate. This analysis points out the direct relation between function and structure of those SAW filters.

System Plus Consulting’s team discloses the technical choices made by leading OEMs, from low to high-end products. Process flows for the 13 SAW technologies have been identified and deeply analyzed, allowing System Plus Consulting to reveal a relevant manufacturing cost comparison. Physical data for each component have been compared in terms of process flow, cost and integration to provide a large panel of technical and economic choices.

For example:

  • Standard SAW technology from emerging Asian companies compared to leaders in the market.
  • TC and High-Performance SAW filters using oxide layers, air cavity and protective layer.
  • TF-SAW from Murata using ceramic/silicon wafer bonding to improve standard SAW technology.

Of course, this latest report from System Plus Consulting takes into account the China-US trade war and its direct impact on the smartphone industry, especially the RF filter market segment.
Who is doing what? Who is leading the SAW filters industry? What is the status of the competitive landscape? Which technology choices have been made by the companies? What are the benefits and the costs of each technology? System Plus Consulting invites you to dive deep into the SAW filters market.

In 2018, the market for RF front-end and connectivity was worth $15 billion. According to Yole, this figure should reach$26 billion by 2025, at an 8% CAGR during this period.
In 2018, the leader of this market was Murata, with a quarter of the market, mainly with its discrete filters. In this segment, more than 60% of the filters are based on SAW technology in 2020. SAW filters are based on the three main manufacturing processes: SAW, TC-SAW and TF-SAW.

Regarding pure SAW, several Asian companies are involved, like Wisol and Kyocera, explains System Plus Consulting in its comparative analysis. Wisol bought the SAW filter manufacturing capability from Samsung back in 2008. Since the date, Wisol has developed a portfolio offering a broadband of module from the single filter to FEMiD exclusively based on  the SAW filter. Today, Wisol is working with Samsung.

TC-SAW technology is more complex and System Plus Consulting has identified four main players: two of which are Skyworks and Qorvo. Both companies made large investments 10 years ago to develop and offer innovative solutions focused on TC-SAW filters with a complex packaging and high performance. Solutions are available on the market.

Of course, Skyworks and Qorvo look for innovations. As an example, Qorvo is currently developing a TF-SAW based solution. Both companies would like to keep their leading position within the filter markets.

The other two companies have now also introduced TF-SAW technology into their portfolio, Murata in 2019 and Qualcomm in 2020.

SAW filters along with passives components are the primarly technology developed by Murata. With several acquisition over the year, the company has improved their portfolio with silicon capacitors and RF switches for example. And the SAW filter is still being improved as evident with the recent development of the TF- SAW filter.

“The performances can be comparable to BAW filters with at lower cost,” said Stéphane Elisabeth from System Plus Consulting.

Qualcomm is the only player with a full capability to supply the entire RF chain from the modem to the antenna. Regarding its filter activity, thanks to its acquisition of TDK-Epcos via RF360 joint venture, Qualcomm was able to provide SAW (Standard, TC-SAW) and BAW filter. Recently, Qualcomm has demonstrated its ability to provide TF SAW filters with higher performances than its own BAW filter in certain bands.

Behind the technology competition, the US & China trade war is there and is clearly impacting the RF industry. As an example, Huawei worked in the past with Skyworks and Qorvo and will tomorrow work with Murata. The market evolves and the supply chain is changing. So, who will lead the market in the future?

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