Market Watch

MEMS Revenue to Climb a Healthy 8 Percent This Year


New MEMS sensor applications will emerge for mobile handsets and camera phones

A strong uptake in consumer and mobile devices will power the market for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) to solid revenue growth in 2013, with breakthroughs in new sensor applications also expected this year, according to insights from the IHS iSuppli MEMS service at information and analytics provider IHS.

Overall revenue in 2013 for MEMS sensors and actuators is forecast to reach $9.09 billion, up 8.1 percent from $8.41 billion last year. This year’s expansion is perceptibly higher than the 6.1 percent increase of 2012, and growth during the next two years will be even more robust, at double-digit increases. By 2017, MEMS revenue will amount to some $12.21 billion, up more than 50 percent from 2011 levels.

The growth rate for MEMS is highly positive compared to figures reported for the overall semiconductor industry, which declined by 2.3 percent last year. But the sizable gains in MEMS are typical for an industry that sees the healthy exposure of its products in a great number of consumer and mobile devices. And among all MEMS segments including automotive, military/aerospace and medical electronics, the consumer and mobile segment is the largest MEMS sector of all.

To date, MEMS sensors like accelerometers, gyroscopes, pressure sensors and microphones can be found in an enormous array of gadgets, including smartphones and tablets, gaming consoles and handheld players, camera phones and toys. But new applications this year are also making their way into the market, helping to propel industry growth, IHS iSuppli believes.

MEMS in handsets rule

The breakthrough applications for MEMS sensors this year have mostly to do with mobile handsets and camera phones, boosting functionality and performance.

For instance, MEMS actuators will figure significantly in the auto focus and zoom features of cellphone camera modules via suppliers such as PoLight, but also aided by California-based Tessera Technologies joining the fray this year, using technology Tessera gained when it acquired Siimpel Corp. Siimpel, also from California, had originally developed the MEMS technology for camera phones. The driver here will be smartphones with imaging capabilities of more than 8 megapixels—a market worth $20 million this year but soaring to $200 million by 2016.

Good opportunities will also come about for dedicated 2-axis gyroscopes, intended for image stabilization in camera phones. Companies that will benefit include InvenSense from California, Panasonic of Japan, and Italian-French entity STMicroelectronics. Linear Hall sensors will likewise share the limelight—a boon for companies such as Allegro Microsystems from Massachusetts, Infineon of Germany, Belgian-based Melexis, Micronas of Switzerland and AKM of Japan.

Another new application for MEMS this year will take the form of pressure sensors for mobile handsets, with Samsung—not Apple—leading the way this time via its top Galaxy S III and Note II smartphones. The use case is ostensibly for height measurement in buildings to support indoor navigation, even though the infrastructure is not completely in place yet. The question for pressure sensor suppliers such as STMicroelectronics and German firm Bosch is whether Samsung will sustain its use of the function for phones—and if others will follow Samsung’s example. A cautiously positive scenario is likely, IHS iSuppli expects, with this market doubling in 2013 to $100 million.

Other MEMS areas also to thrive, but WSS could suffer

Also joining the MEMS mainstream this year will be the timing market, which has continued to grow from a small base during the last two years. Especially in the key mobile handset space, temperature-compensated crystal oscillators or TCXOs—which perform better than incumbent quartz equivalents—will come to the fore in the baseband processor/GPS chipset. Housed in extremely compact designs, the oscillators ensure high-quality data communication by reducing noise in high-speed, high-capacity wireless communications typical in smartphones. Companies like California-based SiTime Corp. and Sand 9 from Massachusetts are propelling development.

Similarly, varactors and switches used for radio-frequency (RF) antenna tuning will begin to experience some market traction in 2013, even though other technologies like gallium arsenide and ferroelectric BST are still well-placed.

In what could be a blow to the optical MEMS market, however, a new trend suggests that liquid crystal-on-silicon alternatives may be replacing MEMS-based wavelength selective switches (WSS).

How this scenario develops could have a significant negative impact on this part of the MEMS market this year, especially as WSS is currently forecast to amount to more than 50 percent of the optical MEMS space for telecoms.

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