16 January 2012
GaN could save US mobile operators $2bn annually
RFHIC Corp of Suwon, South Korea, which makes gallium nitride (GaN)- and gallium arsenide (GaAs)-based active RF & microwave components and hybrid modules for telecom and broadcast markets, reckons that the USA’s four largest mobile network operators could collectively save $20bn over the next ten years by using GaN technology in their wireless infrastructure.
As consumer demand increases in the wireless industry (driven by with exploding video data needs), wireless infrastructure is struggling to keep pace. Many mobile operators in the US market have hastily been deploying 4G capabilities (particularly LTE). Progression from 3G to LTE/4G networks demands additional infrastructure, with remote radio heads (RRHs) complementing existing macro base-stations.
With energy, land and installation costs at a premium, mobile network operators have begun to realize savings by switching silicon LDMOS-based RRHs to more energy-efficient GaN-based RRHs, says RFHIC. Analyst estimates that each of the carriers spends about $0.5bn annually on powering its infrastructure. GaN-based base-stations - including macro base-station, RRH, pico, mini, microcell and other small-cell systems - can therefore save significant cost for mobile network operators.
While LDMOS is the mainstay of the telecom industry, recent price drops of GaN-based amplifiers have placed it on a par with LDMOS-based RRH systems’ price. GaN’s technological advantage remains in its wider bandwidth coverage (allowing future application upgrades) and, most importantly, in its efficiency. With more than 35 million watts of GaN-powered RRHs rolled out to LTE providers already in the USA and Asia, GaN technology is just starting to take hold in the market. Due to the efficiency of GaN power amplifiers, these carriers can not only save billions of dollars of operating costs over the lifespan of the RRH systems but also be greener by reducing carbon dioxide emissions significantly, says RFHIC. Analyst estimates that wireless carriers in the USA alone can save more than $2bn per year on operating costs, primarily from energy savings on their wireless infrastructure by simply switching from LDMOS to GaN power amplifiers.
Moreover, GaN’s efficiency enables RRH designers to make systems smaller by reducing the heat-sink size and power supply requirement. This translates directly to lower installation and RRH space rental expenses for carriers. In additional, overall reliability also affects the carriers’ bottom lines by producing more reliable LTE services to end users, and by reducing expected maintenance expenses, says RFHIC. Furthermore, carriers can save on future upgrades, as GaN-based RRHs can support multi-band, multi-mode, and multi-carrier technology, the firm concludes.
RFHIC has already produced RRH solutions for Sprint, NTT Docomo, LG Telecom, and SK Telecom, and expects to deliver about 500,000 GaN power amplifiers for LTE roll-outs in 2012 (equivalent to more than 135 million watts).