Semiconductor in smartphones: what are the design wins? – Smartphone Design Win Monitor, Q2 2021

System Plus Consulting has published its latest update for the smartphone industry. Smartphone Design Win Quarterly Monitor for Q2, 2021 delves into detail, from die level to processors, power management and RF components of popular smartphone models. It goes beyond teardown to provide data at the semiconductor level to enable clear analysis and comparisons into smartphone supply chain trends.

The Smartphone Design Win Quarterly Monitor for Q2, 2021 looks at eight of the most popular smartphones according to market share and provides detailed information behind the data. Users can drill down into specific results, using the interactive, online dynamic dashboard to interrogate the results and discover more about the supply chain and technology evolution in the smartphone market.

In latest Smartphone Design Win Quarterly Monitor, the reverse engineering & costing company looks at two phones from Samsung (Galaxy Note20 Ultra and Galaxy S21+), the Apple 12 mini, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, LG’s Wing 5G, the Mi 10 Ultra by Xiaomi, the Axon 20 5G by ZTE and introduces the G90, a model from US company BLU. This diverse selection represents smartphone manufacturers, vendors and component-suppliers from Asia, the US and Europe.

Data is derived from detailed teardowns of the smartphones and their semiconductor content. An innovative, online dashboard allows customers to look closely at over 25 filters, such as phone manufacturer nationality, and die level filters, such as die manufacturer, die quantity, process nodes and wafer size and material. This provides an insight into the levels of technology used as well as the vendors and geographical regions which make up the teardown database.

The Monitor goes further than other market reports in its depth and breadth of information, taking in IC, package and die level data. The interactive dashboard allows users to investigate areas of interest, for example the nationality of the IC manufacturer, package dimensions and type, down to die manufacturer, die area, process node, wafer size and choice of wafer materials, to assess the technology advances and die optimisation of the smartphones.

Findings from Q2 2021

The largest element of a smartphone is the application processor. The Monitor shows some of the industry’s main application processor providers, says System Plus Consulting’s CEO, Romain Fraux.  Qualcomm’s application processors are in four of the phones, including one of the Samsung models, while the phone manufacturer uses its in-house developed Exynos in the other. Apple uses its own A14 in its phone, as does Huawei, under the HiSilicon brand, and BLU uses an application processor from Taiwan’s MediaTek. The package and die areas of the application processors are reported in the Monitor, with Samsung’s Exynos 2100, used in the Galaxy S21+ 5G occupying the largest package footprint and die area, and with MediaTek’s Helio P22 in the BLU G90 at the other end of the scale.

The RF element of a smartphone is also significant. The Monitor analyzes the RF content of each smartphone model. The eight smartphones in the Q2 Monitor consists of three 5G mmWave-compatible phones, four 5G Sub-6 and one 4G-only smartphone. The depth of analysis in the Monitor includes the die area in mm2 where the RF front end occupies the majority of the die area, followed by the RF transceiver and the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS element. The 4G BLU G90 alone does not include NFC functionality while both Samsung Galaxy models, Apple’s iPhone 12 mini and LG’s Wing 5G additionally have other RF components which occupy a small proportion of die area.

The supply chain is also analyzed by nationality as well as vendor. For example, a closer examination of die area in Huawei’s Mate and P series shows that the main suppliers are from Korea, China, Japan, and the USA, with China’s contribution remaining relatively flat at 25% over the generations. Also, since the P20, the USA’s share of die area has drastically reduced at an average of 5% whereas the increased memory content from South Korea’s Samsung or Japan’s Toshiba has resulted in peaks and troughs in the amount of die area supplied by these countries.

The US ban means that Huawei is now struggling using their own processors as it cannot use TSMC as a source foundry. It will change once again the share of nationalities’ content in new Huawei phones, like the P50.” commented Romain Fraux, System Plus Consulting’s CEO.

Design wins

Each component – however large or small – in a smartphone is measured as a design win. Having the largest share does not necessarily equate to the largest value in the phone, Romain Fraux clarified.  

The number of design wins increased in Q2 to 774 units, compared with 706 units in Q1. Qualcomm has 16% of the design wins in Q2. Most of its 124 design wins are Snapdragon processors, RF components, such as transceivers and RF front end modules, and PMICs. The rest of the field was led by Qorvo (9%), Murata (7%) and NXP (4%), followed by Samsung, Infineon Technologies, EPCOS, Skyworks, STMicroelectronics, HiSilicon, Broadcom, TI through to Winbond, Diodes, Richtec, Knowles, AKM, Taiyo Yuden and ACT with 1% each.

Companies based in the USA represent 42% of Q2 design wins (e.g., Qualcomm, Qorvo, Skyworks, Broadcom, onsemi (formerly ON Semiconductor), Texas Instruments and Cirrus Logic). Companies from Japan make up 13%, followed by companies from China (10%), with Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Switzerland and Austria also represented.

In terms of die area utilization, Samsung leads the field in Q2, 2021, with 5,097mm2 or 46% of the total die area. The total die area has increased in Q2 to 11,094mm2, an increase from 10,339mm2 in Q1. Memory is the main driver for the rise in die area between the two periods.

Examination at this level provides insight such as die optimization. “The die area of the Exynos processor is close to 125mm2, which is more than the others, but it is using the same technology and is comparable in terms of performance, leading us to conclude that Samsung has less silicon optimization compared to Apple, for example,” said Romain Fraux.

The dynamic dashboard also allows customers to examine the wafers used, both size and technology nodes. The majority of wafers (71%) used in the smartphones examined in Q2 were 300mm (12-inch), with 28% 200mm (8-inch) and only 1% at 150mm (6-inch). Of these, leading edge technologies, i.e., 14 – 5nm, make up 27% of the technology nodes in the die areas, principally in processors, application processors and DRAM. This is equalled by the percentage of 28 – 16nm process nodes used.   

Based on the calculated area, the Quarterly Monitor estimates wafer production and supply. For example, it estimates 200,000 units of 150mm wafers, 5M units of 200mm wafers and 5.4 million units of 300mm wafers would be required to fulfil the 342M smartphone units shipped in Q2 2021. It also estimates that this would consist of 2.1 million units each of 14 – 5nm and 28 – 16nm and 1.3 million wafers based on 90 – 32nm technology nodes.

Wafer materials are dominated by Silicon (92%) with the remainder being SOI (5%), LT/LN (2%), III-V and Glass.

In addition to accessing the interactive dashboard, System Plus Consulting customers can directly access analysts to ask further questions about the data presented in the Smartphone Design Win Quarterly Monitor.

 A monitor to look beyond…The Smartphone Design Win Monitor looks beyond the smartphones’ processor to provide an examination of the die area inside the packages, allowing users to monitor the evolution of the smartphone. It goes beyond teardowns to focus on semiconductor content at the package, IC and die levels as well as providing metrics that are not typically provided or easy to obtain.

Looking at the suppliers and the countries of origin of semiconductor wafers, ICs and components can offer a unique, bespoke insight for decision makers, integrators and anyone who seeks trends in smartphone production and supply chain.

About the author

Romain Fraux System Plus Consulting

Romain Fraux is the CEO of System Plus Consulting, part of Yole Group.  System Plus Consulting focuses on Reverse Costing analysis of electronics, from semiconductor devices to electronic systems.

Supporting industrial companies in their development, Romain and his team are offering a complete range of services, costing tools and reports. They deliver in-depth production cost studies and estimate objective selling price of a product, all based on a detailed physical analysis of each component in System Plus Consulting laboratory.

Romain has been working for System Plus Consulting for more than 15 years and was previously the company’s CTO.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Heriot-Watt University of Edinburgh (Scotland), a master’s degree in Microelectronics from the University of Nantes (France), and a Master of Business Administration.

Smartphone Design Win Quarterly Monitor

The first-ever smartphone technology monitor covering the latest components, packaging, and silicon chip choices of smartphone makers.

Related articles

… The two highlighted US companies are designing totally different phones, with totally different supply chains, here is the explanation as to why this is:

  • BLU Products’ strategy is to integrate mostly mid-end and low-end components from Chinese and Taiwanese suppliers
  • Apple chooses to integrate its own high-end custom components with those from US-based semiconductor companies

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