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Microwave Tubes Still a Billion-Dollar Business

UHF TV broadcasters know tubes are on top for high-power UHF amplifiers based on cost and efficiency. It may not be as obvious that high-power microwave and millimeter vacuum electron devices (VEDs) represent close to a $1 billion market.

This market includes traveling wave tubes, klystrons, magnetrons, crossed-field amplifiers and gyrotrons.

Some of the companies selling these devices are well known to broadcasters and include Burle Industries Inc.; e2v; L-3 Communications; Thales Components; and Communications and Power Industries (CPI).

The size of the high-power microwave tube market is detailed in the report, Microwave and Millimeter Wave High-Power Vacuum Electron Devices and the Gallium Nitride Threat, from ABI Research.

“ABI Research’s recent investigations of the high-power RF vacuum electron device market revealed a total market size that was surprising even to those who were familiar with the technology and its history,” said ABI Research director Lance Wilson in the report. “Because of this, I believe there is a latent thirst for knowledge in this area.”

Wilson commented that while tube technology may seem dated to some, it still has an important role.

“Vacuum electron devices may at first seem anachronistic, but in some cases there is no other way to generate such high levels of RF power within an acceptably small space,” he said. “Certain klystrons and gyrotrons can generate megawatts, and it would take tens of thousands of transistors to do that.”

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Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.