Makers are likewise enhancing precision, reliability and compatibility. New categories with better performance are being explored.
China suppliers of RF connectors and coaxial cable assemblies continue to emphasize more compact, high-frequency units to meet evolving requirements in the communications sector. Many are launching miniaturized models that not only reduce installation space but also save material costs. SSMA, SSMB and MMCX are currently the mainstream small RF connector types. Variants in 1.9, 1.85 and 1mm profiles have also emerged. The number of SMD versions has likewise been rising in conformity with the modularization trend in application devices.
The ongoing shift from 3G to 4G, meanwhile, is pushing companies to release kinds with elevated frequency. RF connectors in 2.92, 2.4 and 1.85mm configurations, for example, have been upgraded to operate on 46, 50 and 65GHz, respectively. Those in 1mm forms have the highest value at 110GHz, making them suitable for military use. Large players are gearing up to launch plugs and cable assemblies supporting more than 100GHz this year and next to take advantage of climbing demand for upscale equipment.
Manufacturers are also raising the precision, capacity, compatibility, power, reliability and anti-EMI performance while reducing loss and standing wave. Some are developing units with fast clamping mechanism and multiple functions.
Many are setting their sights on board-to-board connectors because of the variant's low production costs and wide use in wireless equipment, including base stations, remote radio heads or RRHs and GPS devices. Several foreign enterprises have launched MCX, MMBX, IMP and SMP series. The last is composed of two connectors placed on two PCBs or modules and an adapter. In the next three to five years, these three parts are forecast to merge, which will help lower outlay and raise precision levels. Local makers therefore expect RF connectors to replace coaxial cable assemblies in board-to-board applications gradually. The latter, however, will continue to be the primary choice in the external connections of communication, military and industrial equipment.
Microwave connectors are likewise on suppliers' drawing boards. These boast elevated precision and are mainly adopted in military applications.
Customization remains a key trend. OEM and ODM services account for up to 60 percent of total sales of most manufacturers. This figure is expected to reach 90 percent for some in the next one or two years. Changzhou Kangdixin Electronic Co. Ltd has cooperated with Amphenol to develop new products.
Aside from boosting product performance and offering tailor-made models, enterprises are acquiring technology patents and IEC approval to strengthen competitiveness. Xian Foster's model STWX8 RF connectors and Shaanxi Huada's TMA series, for instance,have IEC certification. Companies and research institutes have passed applications for the 7-16, CQM, CQN and CQA series of RF connectors, and the 50-141 and 50-047 series for semiflexible coaxial cable assemblies. They hope the standards will be recognized internationally in the next one or two years.
Optical interconnect challenge
With the communications industry requiring higher data rates, many suppliers expect optical interconnects to replace RF coaxial counterparts gradually as the former allow faster transmission at longer distances. The first also boasts better performance in RRH applications, and offers lower costs. Some companies, however, said it will be long before optical rivals can replace RF coaxial models in the latter's traditional markets. In the general communications sector requiring 10Gbps bandwidth, RF connectors are considered more economical than fiber-optic plugs.
Strong demand from the space, aviation and military sectors is also keeping the line buoyant. The industry in China has been growing 10 percent annually in terms of output, a trend expected to persist in coming years.
One of the main drivers is the construction of 3G and FTTx in the country, with more than $58.8 billion to be invested in fixed assets by major communication service providers in 2011-14. The RF connectors segment is therefore estimated to achieve total sales value of $706 million by 2014, jumping over 30 percent from last year. That of coaxial cable assemblies, on the other hand, will rise from $358 million to $470 million during the same period.
The military field, meanwhile, has been experiencing a more than 30 percent growth rate annually. Because of the requirements for high frequency, quality and precision, products for this application come mainly from foreign-owned and large-scale manufacturers. Several midsize enterprises, however, plan to penetrate the sector in two years.
In preparation for a demand upturn, many manufacturers will expand output by 10 to 20 percent. They are optimistic of higher sales in the months ahead, particularly from overseas transactions. Zhejiang Wanma Group Special Electron Cable Co. Ltd, the largest domestic exporter of coaxial cable assemblies, achieved $60 million in 2010 from international trade. The maker projects up to 10 percent increase in export revenue by year-end. It also expects to maintain 25 percent share in the North America market.
There are about 500 suppliers in China, most of which are small players with a workforce complement below 50. The majority of them are located in Guangdong, Shaanxi, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.
One-third of the companies produce both connectors and cable assemblies, and the rest concentrate on just one category.
RF connectors from China include SMA, SSMA, SMB, SSMB, MMCX, SMP, SMZ, SMC, SA, BMA, BNC, TNC, N, K, F and SPC3.5. These commonly have nickel- or gold-plated contacts. Compact variants MMCX, SSMA and SSMB, and 1.9, 1.85 and 1mm units are popular because of the miniaturization trend in target applications. Communication, space, aviation, military, traffic and industrial equipment are the major adopters.
Jiangsu YIZN Electronical Co. Ltd is one of the active players in the line. F connectors made of copper account for 40 percent of its total output. Plated with nickel or gold, these come in male and female versions, and suit RG-58/U, RG-59/U, RG-6/U and RG-231/U cables.
Coaxial cable assemblies are available in semiflexible and -rigid, and superflexible types. Their length ranges from 0.3 to 10m, while the impedance is 50, 52, 75 or 93ohm. Units rated at 50 and 75ohm are mainly used in baseband and broadband applications, respectively. The best-sellers are the RG-6 and RG-57 75ohm, RG-11 and RG-58 50ohm, and RG-62 93ohm series. The line serves the communications, medical, military, radio and industrial segments.
Products comply with IEC, MIL and RoHS requirements, with RF connectors carrying additional DIN and local GB and GJB approval.
The key materials used in RF connectors are copper, stainless steel, gold, silver, nickel, PP, PS and PTFE. The first, aluminum, PE and PVC are the main inputs for coaxial cable assemblies. Most are sourced locally but may be imported for high-end models.
Requirement costs climbed by 10 to 20 percent last year. Labor outlay also increased, pushing the majority of companies to raise prices by up to 10 percent. Several are considering another round of adjustments in coming months should expenses continue to climb.