Introduction to Microwave and Millimeter Wave Capacitor Markets

There are many specific sub-segments of the global ceramic capacitor market. It is possible to look at the market from the perspective of high voltage, high frequency, high temperature; or specific harsh environment component operation. Paumanok takes a granular approach to these segments because they are the most profitable, the most fragmented and the most difficult to understand, not only for those actively participating but especially for those mainstream ceramic capacitor manufacturers wishing to enter advanced capacitor markets. Microwave ceramic capacitors represent only 2% of the global market for ceramic capacitors, but have significant profitability and growth potential. Therefore they are of great interest to marketing directors, academics and market research companies like Paumanok Publications, Inc. and industry savvy websites such as MarketEYE.

This MarketEYE article addresses one of the most interesting segments of the value-added and application specific ceramic capacitor market-the global market for ceramic capacitors used in the microwave and millimeter wave spectrum from 1 GHz to 300 Ghz. The size of the market is in the hundreds of millions of dollars for FY 2015 and global unit consumption is in the hundreds of millions of pieces per year supporting a very high average unit-selling price and profitability margin in comparison to other segments of the capacitor market. The emerging markets for microwave capacitors are beginning to materialize in automotive collision avoidance with an entre into the next level of the intelligent vehicle highway system.

Most of the established customers in the microwave and millimeter wave end-markets to date, such as base station, medical and aerospace are based upon “direct” OEM sales to large individualized customers competing in global markets. The movement to microwave and millimeter wave spectrums into the consumer markets means opportunities for western manufacturers of components to sell into Taiwan and China to support device to device communications frequencies for the Internet of Things and to sell globally to new customers for radar circuits in automotive collision and traffic toll collection especially in the USA, Germany and Japan. They are attractive and old markets, and with great technical requirements and a close personal face-to-face relationship with its component vendors. Paumanok views these markets as about to undergo a significant change involving added competition in the space; more consolidation among established players and greater focus on raw materials. This is just one in a series of reports from Paumanok Publications, Inc. involving niche markets in the global capacitor, resistor and inductor supply chain where quality and performance are more important than price; but whose profit margins are significant enough to entice engineers to exceed their expectations.

Microwave and Millimeter Wave Ceramic Capacitor Markets: Scope of Market Coverage

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (100 cm) and 300 GHz (0.1 cm). This broad definition includes UHF, SHF and EHF (millimeter waves), and various sources use different boundaries. The applications for capacitors in microwave frequency electronics includes bypass, coupling, tuning, feedback, impedance matching and DC blocking in circuits such as RF amplifiers, filters and timing circuits.

Microwave and millimeter wave technology is used in many industries including television broadcasting, radar systems, computer and mobile platform networks, remote control, remote metering/monitoring, and defense navigation and communication. From a market perspective the customers in these segments are large individualized dominant players who require a direct sales approach. The freeing up of commercial frequencies in the microwave range for automotive, transportation and small cell communications will increase the markets, investments and opportunities in the sector.

UHF, SHF and EHF Markets

The microwave frequency band encompasses the Ultra-High Frequency, the Super High Frequency and the Extremely High Frequency range as designated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU- See Figure 1).

The following is a description of each band

Figure 1: High Frequency Bands and Related Nomenclature

Also Note: The Department of Defense uses different nomenclature for bands greater than 1 Ghz including L, S, C, X, Ku, Ka and mm which match the International Telecommunications Union Nomenclature for radar bands- UHF, VHF, EHFSHFEHF

Ultra-High Frequency – Opportunities for Growth

Ultra high frequency (UHF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies in the range between 300 MHz and 3.0 GHz, also known as the decimeter band as the wavelengths range from one meter to one decimeter. The majority of ceramic microwave capacitors are consumed in the microwave UHF band.

There are many market opportunities in the 1.0 to 3.0 GHz space for microwave ceramic capacitor manufacturers in FY 2015. Of all value-added and application specific end-markets, this segment has the largest number of individual market applications in navigation, communications, medical scanning and test equipment. The emerging markets in this segment include local area networking for the internet of things (IOT), especially in the 2.4 GHz range where the IEEE 802.11 WLAN and IEEE 802.15 4 protocols have established a PAN (Personal Area Network). Bluetooth, Zigbee, 6LoPAN, SimpleLINK(TI) and other 2.4 GHz communications chips uses the 2.4 GHz RF transceivers and wireless microcontrollers and support capacitors to operate device-to-device communications features of the Internet of Things. Specially engineered MLCC will be used to support the bypass, decoupling and filtering requirements for these protocols.

Another area of growth is in the automated toll collection equipment, which operates at 2.8 GHz and will be tied into the larger Intelligent Vehicle Highway System, but has already been implemented in many states. This is a particularly exciting opportunity for component manufacturers as it will lead to new market opportunities that will support the next generation of automotive electronics and involve an intelligent vehicle highway system. This idea, which had been on the drawing board in Germany for 30 years, seems as if it will come to fruition, and involve advanced communications between the car, the cars around it and the infrastructure supporting the road. High frequency communications will be a fundamental part of this equation and require advanced components for communications that can operate in the extreme UHF range.

UHF to 2.99 GHz Range (Ultra-High Frequency)

The following chart illustrates end-products that consume high frequency ceramic capacitor between the 1 GHz and 2.99 Ghz range. This is the largest segment of the market for microwave ceramic capacitors and noted by Paumanok Publications, Inc. to have the largest number of competitors. This segment of the market has a good base of demand coming from the defense and commercial sectors; and the reader can see by looking at the following chart that consumer applications are bleeding through into previously application specific frequencies; but with the same capacitance requirements, just in much larger volumes per customer – with opportunities for market growth in the Internet of Things (IOT) communications devices and in automated toll collection as a sub-set of the larger intelligent vehicle highway markets.

Figure 2: Product Markets for Ceramic Capacitors in the 1 to 2.9 GHz Range

Source: Paumanok Compilation

SHF Super-High Frequency – Opportunities for Growth

Super High Frequency or SHF is the ITU designation for the range of radio frequencies from 3 GHz to 30 Ghz, which is also known as the centimeter band as the wavelengths range from one to ten centimeters. When we get into this range the number of vendors who can supply components begins to decline because of the smaller size of the market and the higher associated technology base to compete. There also are the necessary channels of distribution to compete, so in this field we begin to see vendors who are ripe for acquisition due to their small size, their unique product lines and their customer relationships. And this becomes even more compelling if the vendor can achieve even higher frequency ranges and supply product approved to military specifications.

SHF frequencies occupy a "sweet spot" in the radio spectrum which is currently being exploited by many new radio services. They are the lowest frequency band where radio waves can be directed in narrow beams by conveniently sized antennas so they do not interfere with nearby transmitters on the same frequency, allowing frequency reuse. On the other hand, they are the highest frequencies which can be used for long distance terrestrial communication.

This segment of the market had been quite stagnant just 10 years ago, but with the opening of bandwidth to the commercial sector a wide variety of opportunities have opened for capacitor manufacturers in the space. The most exciting area are in applications for an intelligent transport system, automated toll collection, The Internet of Things DDS backbone and satellite TV in Europe.

3.0 to 30 GHz Range (Super High Frequency)

The following chart illustrates end-products that consume microwave ceramic capacitor between the 3.0 GHz and 30 Ghz range. The reader will note that the majority of products in this sector are for applications in navigation, communication and automotive/transport and represent valuable emerging markets for microwave and millimeter wave ceramic capacitors for FY 2015 through 2020. Mobile radar circuits for collision avoidance, intelligent transport systems, the internet of things and toll collection will all require ceramic capacitors in the 3.0 to 30 GHz range. There are also traditional high net worth markets that create a platform in the sector and include defense and aerospace navigation and communication equipment. This segment has a bright future.

Figure 3: Product Markets for Ceramic Capacitors in the 3.0 to 30 GHz Range

Source: Paumanok Publications, Inc.

EHF Extremely High Frequency: Opportunities for Growth.

Extremely high frequency (EHF) is the ITU designation for the band of radio frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum from 30 to 300 Gigahertz, above which electromagnetic radiation is considered to be low infrared light. Radio waves in the EHF band have wavelengths from ten to one millimeter, giving it the name “millimeter wave band.”

The millimeter wave portion of the market has increased in activity in FY 2015, with many new and exciting opportunities for value-added and application specific products in navigation, communication, sensing, safety and optical communications from 30 GHz to 300 Ghz. When we first started studying high frequency capacitor markets the millimeter wave portion of the spectrum was essentially unused simply because few if any electronic components could generate or receive millimeter waves.

Currently the spectrum from UHF to microwave (1 to 30 GHz) is excessively crowded with bandwidth hungry products and all the individual frequencies have been allocated by government agencies worldwide. In 2015 the large growth area, logically, is the higher spectrum bands in the 30 to 300 GHz range known as the millimeter wave spectrum. The activity in the millimeter wave spectrum is intense with component opportunities emerging in multiple disciples. The benefit here is that the short waves have intense signal clarity in short distances (30 foot range), and can transmit high quality video at 1080 pixels without losing signal integrity. Other uses include street lighting, motion detection, door openers, intrusion alarms, police speed meters, and collision avoidance on industrial vehicles. The most widespread use of millimeter-wave radar is in automotive safety devices, including adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, collision warning, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and backup object detection. These radars use the 76- to 81-GHz ISM band

30 to 300 GHz Rang – Extremely High Frequency

The following chart illustrates end-products that consume microwave ceramic capacitor between the 31 GHz and 300 GHz range. In this millimeter wave frequency we see considerable market activity in navigation, communications, video transfer, sensing and safety. This is the cutting edge of millimeter wave technology and where the number of ceramic capacitor vendors who can compete in the space is limited to only three globally.

Figure 4: Product Markets for Ceramic Capacitors in the 31 to 100 GHz

Source: Paumanok Publications, Inc.

Future Markets in THz Frequencies

Future market opportunities are being projected for applications from 300.1 GHz to 3,000 GHz, or into the Terahertz range. Potential future applications include Terahertz imaging, a potential replacement for X-rays in some medical applications, ultrafast molecular dynamics, terahertz time-domain spectroscopy, terahertz computing/communications, sub-mm remote sensing, and amateur radio.

Summary and Conclusion

This article describes multiple market opportunities for electronic components emerging in the microwave frequency spectrum from 1.0 to 300 GHz. Traditionally these markets have been served by a small number of dedicated vendors who supplied products for telecommunications infrastructure, defense and aerospace electronics and medical test and scan equipment, with smaller opportunities in semiconductor manufacturing equipment and high frequency test equipment. The opportunities now abound as these traditionally professional and government related frequencies are now available to the commercial and consumer markets. Opportunities in automotive collision avoidance and radar circuits; will offer an entre into the intelligent vehicle highway system; meanwhile device to device communications circuits will require electronic component support for various electronic products in the Internet of Things. 

Dennis M. Zogbi

Dennis M. Zogbi

Dennis M. Zogbi is the author of more than 260 market research reports on the worldwide electronic components industry. Specializing in capacitors, resistors, inductors and circuit protection component markets, technologies and opportunities; electronic materials including tantalum, ceramics, aluminum, plastics; palladium, ruthenium, nickel, copper, barium, titanium, activated carbon, and conductive polymers. Zogbi produces off-the-shelf market research reports through his wholly owned company, Paumanok Publications, Inc, as well as single client consulting, on-site presentations, due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, and he is the majority owner of Passive Component Industry Magazine LLC.

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