The IEEE just concluded its Microwave Symposium in Seattle. The star semiconductor material at the symposium was Gallium Nitride (“GaN”).
GaN semiconductors exhibit fast switching speeds and high voltage breakdown characteristics together with stable gain over a wide temperature range. A friend who attended the meeting reports that GaN is pulling ahead of the more traditional GaAS (Gallium arsenide) semiconductor technology. (Older light emitting diodes — LEDs — are constructed of GaAS. Most high-brightness LEDs are constructed of GaN.)
As manufacturers learn how to fabricate sub-micrometer GaN devices, we can look forward to seeing reasonably-priced portable gadgets that use still higher frequencies — 50 GHz and higher will be feasible at reasonable cost, thanks to GaN. Possible downsides are that precipitation and even water vapor attenuate signals at these frequencies, and propagation is strictly line-of-sight. As this technology matures, marketers will find applications to exploit it.
Because of its high breakdown voltage characteristics, electrical switchgear manufacturers are developing products that use GaNs to switch high voltage circuits as well(!).
There’s still lots of GaN development to be done, but it has great promise.
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