September 1, 2010 – Radio frequency (RF) MEMS technology is poised for a bit surge in 2010-2011, just in time to maybe help Apple solve a vexing problem with its iPhone.
Reported problems with Apple’s iPhone 4 reception, blamed on a bad antenna/design, caught a lot of attention this summer (which Apple denies but sells a hardware "bumper" to fix). Several technologies could fix antenna issues, e.g. silicon-on-sapphire field-effect transistors (FET) and barium/strontium/titanate (BST) varactors, notes Jérémie Bouchaud, principal analyst for MEMS and sensors at iSuppli — but RF MEMS technology including switchers and varactors perform better in terms of insertion loss. They also can be used for impedance matching of the power amplifier.
|Global RF MEMS forecast. (Source: iSuppli)|
Held back in recent years by what Bouchaud calls "myriad commercialization and technological obstacles," sales of RF MEMS are expected to double in 2010 to $8.1B, after staying in the $3B-$4B range for several years — and increase by 2×-3× in each of the next three years, topping $223B by 2014, he projects. By then more than half of all cell phones will ship with some form of front-end module tuning using RF MEMS technology.
Who’s positioning themselves to ride this RF MEMS wave?
— Cell phones. Mobile handset makers like how RF MEMS can be used for front-end tuning to improve antenna performance, spurred by new wireless standards such as LTE for 4G technology. Players: WiSpry, TDK-Epcos.
— Testing and instrumentation. Applications such as ATE and RF test offer opportunities for RF MEMS switches and varactors — e.g. wireless infrastructure (e.g. femto cells) and cellular base stations, offering a cheaper and higher-performing alternative to current switches. Players: Analog Devices, Radiant Technologies, XCOM Wireless (with relay maker Teledyne), Omron.
— Defense/aerospace applications. These applications include radio systems and phased array antennas, generally looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, but representing a million-units market. Players: Startups Radant MEMS, MEMtronics.
For more information, check iSuppli’s full report: "RF MEMS switches and varactors deliver on their promise."