BAW vs. TF-SAW: How RF Companies Make Strategic Choices

Article By : Yole Développement

The market for RF front-end and connectivity should reach US$26 billion by 2025. The use of BAW technology developed by Qorvo, Qualcomm/RF360 and others will grow with the introduction of 5G NR bands with steep out-of-band rejection requirements...

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. “Qualcomm and Murata are today leading the RF filters market,” asserts 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,” explains 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 comprehensive RF electronics reports and teardowns. In its SAW Filter Comparison 2020 report, System Plus Consulting reviews key SAW filter technologies 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.

In the RF filters market, 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,” asserts 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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