What is common between the 4G LTE modems from Samsung, Intel, Mediatek, Spreadtrum or Leadcore? All these chips are architecture with CEVA XC4000 family supporting 4G LTE-Advanced, LTE, HSPA/+, W-CDMA, TD-SCDMA, and legacy GSM/GPRS/EDGE. Samsung organization is vertical, the company design and manufacture DRAM, NAND and logic IC (System LSI) like Exynos 7420 octa-core application processor and Modem 300 Series, all these chips being integrated into the Galaxy S6 smartphone, as recently shown by Chipworks in this teardown: Samsung Shannon 333 Modem, Shannon 533 PMIC, Samsung S2MPS15 PMIC, Samsung Shannon 928 RF Transceiver and Samsung Shannon 710 Envelope Tracking IC.
Samsung is targeting high end smartphone market enjoying 326 million units shipped in 2014, directly competing with Apple (191 million units in 2014) on this segment. If you look at the modem market share, Apple integrates Qualcomm’s MDM9x35 cellular modem when Samsung integrate their in-house modem into the Galaxy S6 smartphone… except maybe in the US! In fact, In order to work properly on Verizon and Sprint networks in the United States, smartphones still need to support CDMA technology. More likely Qualcomm’s MDM9x35 cellular modem will be integrated into Samsung’s smartphone sold in the US. With more than 500 million units shipped last year, Apple and Samsung cumulated market share in the high end smartphone segment is in the 70-80% range. It’s reasonable to say that Qualcomm own 50% share… and that CEVA powered modem the remaining 50%, on the high end segment.
Global smartphone shipments totaled 1.167 billion units in 2014, but a strong part of these devices were not high price branded smartphones from Apple or Samsung. For example combined shipments of Chinese brands have reached 453.4 million units. And we have seen the emergence of the ‘super-mid’ market segment covered by chip vendors like Mediatek, Spreadtrum or Leadcore. You probably can’t sell many $600-800 smartphone in China, but if a local brand can price it in the $200 to $300 range (which is more or less equal to the Bill of Material for branded smartphone) then you can expect reaching much higher volumes. This was true in 2014, (453 million units shipped by Chinese brands) and will be even more true in 2015. Branded smartphone shipment are expected to stay flat and most of the growth will come from these Chinese brands integrating modem developed by the ‘super-mid’ market actors (see above) in parallel with much lower cost devices.
If we zoom to the smartphone supporting LTE, China’s LTE base is expected to treble to 300 million by the end of 2015, (overtaking the US). Targeting such production level is possible in China as OEMs are able to release LTE smartphone at a fraction of the cost of branded products. For example Xiaomi announced their first CEVA-powered LTE smartphone with Leadcore CPU – called the Redmi 2A – available for $80 at launch! This price is 10 to 15% of the latest iPhone or Galaxy selling price and that makes LTE smartphone affordable for many peoples in China. Reaching this target of 300 million LTE devices in 2015 becomes easier to reach with $80 if not $65 smartphone.
If you need another example, just look at this press release from Spreadtrum:
SHENZHEN, China, April 2, 2015 – “Spreadtrum Communications (“Spreadtrum”), a leading fabless semiconductor in China with advanced technology in 2G, 3G and 4G wireless communication standards, today introduced two new quad-core SoC platforms, the SC9830A, which supports 5-mode LTE, and the SC7731G, which supports WCDMA, both designed with 28nm process technology. Spreadtrum further announced that it has achieved volume shipments of these new smartphone solutions, which are now shipping in handsets launched by leading global brands designing smartphones for both China and global markets.”
Interesting to notice, Spreadtrum has targeted 28 nm process to develop this integrated (CEVA powered modem + Application Processor) solution, not the expensive 16nm FinFet, to serve the cost effective smartphone segment…
It will be interesting to evaluate who is the winner at the end of 2015 in term of LTE modem shipments. The chip maker Qualcomm, serving Apple (and maybe Samsung in the US) among other OEM or CEVA providing LTE solution to Samsung, Leadcore, Spreatrum, Mediatek or Intel through the DSP IP core integrated into the modems developed by these chip makers…