Market and Technology Trends
Cellular RF Front-End Technologies for Mobile Handset 2021
By Yole Intelligence —
5G reaching the mass market is an opportunity and threat for RF front-end legacy players, and is unifying Chinese companies.
- Ecosystem analysis and US/China trade war analysis
- Market fo...
- Ecosystem analysis and US/China trade war analysis
- Market forecast and shares extracted at die level
- RF front-end bill of material analysis
- RF front-end architecture analysis
Table of contents 4
Scope of the report 5
Methodologies and definitions 6
About the authors 7
Companies cited in this report 8
What we got right, what we got wrong 9
3-page summary 10
Executive summary 14
Why this report? 11
Key takeaways 52
Market forecasts 54
Market segmentation 56
RF Front-End market forecast ($M, Mu) 70
Component level market
forecast ($M, Mu) 85
Technology breakdown ($M, Mu) 92
Wafer starts (kwafers) 108
Market trends 117
5G market dynamics 118
Spectrum and network status 135
Market shares and supply chain 151
Smartphone market shares 152
RF Front-End market shares 156
Component market shares 159
Focus on top RF FEM maker 165
Ecosystem and technology landscape 169
Technology trends 187
Radio access technology trend 188
Focus on 5G key features 198
RF architecture trend 218
Technology and components 227
Outlook and conclusions 254
Related reports 257
5G TO BOOST THE RF FRONT END MARKET
A sharp transition toward 5G is ongoing in mobile devices. The number of 5G phones will more than double in 2021 compared to 2020. This is a significantly faster penetration rate than the LTE standard 10 years ago. And 5G is leading to an unprecedented increase in content of radio frequency (RF) devices, while previous radio standards still need to be supported. As a result, hundreds of RF components must be fitted into handheld format devices. This is now impacting mid-tier and entry-level phones, not only flagships. 5G features implemented in handsets focus on improving download speed and make the uplink more robust. In addition, there is an entirely new radio path created at millimeter wavelength (mmWave) frequencies, though this only applies to flagships right now. We estimate the RF content as $5-$8 higher in a 5G phone compared to a 4G version and an additional $10 for a mmWave version. As a result, the RF front-end market is booming. It should reach $17B by the end of 2021, up from $14B in calendar year 2020. From there, RF front-end market growth should slow. Average Selling Price (ASP) erosion will be stronger when 5G is mainstream and competition grows further. Overall, we expect an 8.3% annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2019, the year of 5G’s introduction, and 2026, leading to a $21B RF front-end market.
A CHANGE IN THE HANDSET MARKET DYNAMIC
5G has entered the cell phone industry at a tough time, with health and geopolitical issues to be resolved. Despite this, the industry has remained fully committed to deliver 5G, from Mobile Network Operators, who are highly motivated to demonstrate the new technology’s value, to smartphone manufacturers and their suppliers. The initial 5G pull came from South Korea and China. Now post-COVID recovery is ongoing, 5G is spreading across North America, Europe and through the rest of the world. As a result, most smartphone manufacturers’ projects related to network connectivity are about 5G, which relates to the number of 5G phone models available or to be launched. With 5G becoming the new normal, competition between OEMs is increasing and the question of profitability is being raised. As an example, LG is giving up its mobile business. For others, 5G is about a growth opportunity, especially with Huawei facing supply difficulties. Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi are among those gaining stronger momentum and growing their footprint in China. Samsung and Apple will also likely reinforce their market positions in Europe.
OPPORTUNITIES AND THREATS FOR THE RF FRONT-END PLAYERS
The introduction of 5G adds complexity to phones along with RF content. Building 5G phones using discrete components while keeping an acceptable form factor is a challenge, driving more integration. The RF front-end market leaders all have flexible module offerings adapting to multiple market requirements. Besides that, some also have custombuilt modules for the flagships. As a result, Skyworks, Murata, Qualcomm, Qorvo and Broadcom together share 85% of the RF front-end market. Skyworks is the market leader. Qualcomm has the strongest growth. However, a variety of companies coming from China are emerging and experiencing double digit growth in the RF front-end space. Most started in the discrete business with standalone Low Noise Amplifiers (LNAs) or switches, which enabled them to accumulate know-how and establish trust with OEMs. The next step for these fabless Chinese companies is to bring integrated modules to the market. This has been supported by more investments in China over the past two years. It’s likely that not all will succeed, but we can expect more cooperation and consolidation over the next few years. A major difficulty for success will be the access to wafer capacity. There is not a shortage of RF components per se, more like tightness in the industry. This is pushing long term supply agreements that only big players can afford.
Active Semi, AGC, Airoha, Akoustis, Anhui YUNTA Electronic, Apple, ASE, Asus, AT&T, AwinIC,AXT, Broadcom, CanaanTek, Cavendish Kinetics, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, ChipBetter, CoolPad, Corning, Cypress Semiconductor, DB-HiTek, Dowa, EE, Elisa, Epic MEMS, Ericsson, Etisalat, EtraSemi, Ferfics, Freiberger, GlobalFoundries, Global Wafer, Google, HH Grace, HiSilicon, HMD Global, Honor, HTC, Huawei, Huntersun-MEMS, Infineon, Intel, IQE, Jio, JRC, KDDI, KT, Kyocera, Lansus, Lenovo, LG, LG Siltron, LG U+, Maxscend, MediaTek, Meizu, Menlo Micro, Microgate, Murata, NationZ, Nokia, NSI, NTT Docomo, NXP, Okmetic, Omnivision, ON Semiconductor, OnePlus, Onmicro, Oppo, Orange, Pinnacle Microwave, pSemi, Qorvo, Qualcomm, Radrocktech, Realme, Resonant, Richwave, RoFS microsystems, Sappland Microelectronics, Samsung, Samsung Electro Mechanical, Sana, SAWNICS, Shin-Etsu, Shoulder, Siltronic, SK Telecom, Skyworks, Smarter Micro, SMIC, SoftBank, Soitec, Sony, Sprint, ST Microelectronics, Sumco, Sumitomo Electric, Sumitomo Metal Mining, Sunrise, Sunway Communication, SWI, Swisscom, Taiyo Yuden, TCL, TDK EPCOS, Telefonica, Telia, Telstra, TIM, T-Mobile, Toshiba, Tower Semi, Tpsco, TSMC, UMC, Unisoc, USI, Vanchip, Verizon, Vivo, Vodafone, WaveTek, WillSemi, WIN Semiconductors, WIPAM, Wisol, Xfab, Xiaomi, Xinpletek, Xpeedic, Yamaju Ceramics, Yuzhen IC, ZTE.
Key features of the report
- RF front-end market forecast 2015–2026, in Munits and $M
- Market share $M and ecosystem analysis
- RF front-end technology breakdown forecast
- Wafer-start forecast per year 2015–2026
- 5G market trends and key features
Objectives of the report
The cellphone industry has entered a transition toward 5G. First use cases of the technology have matured and Mobile Network Operators (MNO) are proposing new services to the consumer. MNOs are strongly motivated to invest more resources and to demonstrate 5G’s added value to the consumers, as 5G is not the first thing they are thinking about. In addition, MNOs have developed advantageous commercial 5G packages, particularly in China, adding some more motivation to consumers to upgrade. In this context, 5G has strongly penetrated the smartphone market in 2020 and is expected to further grow as the network is expanding in China, in Europe and in the USA. A 5G phone is relatively more complex than a 4G phone at the RF Front End level. Therefore, it’s worth analyzing the technical trends and anticipating future changes to understand this complex market better. Indeed, as for every new air standard, 5G represents a significant opportunity for industry players to differentiate, innovate and win the market in the end. In this report, we give our view on RF Front End market evolution and its associated ecosystem.
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