Yole Group Viewpoint – Semiconductor strength in mobile phones

Mobile and Consumer electronics represent ~60% of semiconductor demand worldwide. Mobile alone consumes 55% of this Mobile & Consumer semiconductor demand. This explains the importance of mobile semiconductors and how technology changes have become a key element of competition within the market, as it represents one-third of the global semiconductor industry.

More Moore – Advanced logic NODE

Moore’s law has determined the technological pace since the onset of the semiconductor industry. While initially this law dealt with the doubling of computing performance for a given amount of dollars, mainly affecting computers, it also includes the doubling of density, which means smaller form factors. At the turn of the millennium, the mobile market benefitted from this. The smartphone form factor embodied a promise: “an iPod, a phone, an internet communicator” (S. Job 2007). We were at the dawn of market disruption as enhanced computing performance was needed along with a small form factor and low power consumption. Fast forward to 2024, and the consequence is that Mobile leads the demand for advanced node semiconductors. Apple has introduced TSMC’s 3nm A17 chip in its latest lineup – that we tore down to reveal all its secrets – while Samsung is answering with 4nm chips from either Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 or Samsung Exynos 2400 – which we will also analyze as soon as it becomes available. Three years ago, Huawei was next in line in the smartphone OEM ranking but was demoted due to the U.S. regulator’s ban on advanced node technology. In September 2023, the Huawei Mate 60 Pro came to market incorporating the SMIC 7nm Kirin 9000s, with a complete analysis available below on this page. This advanced chip promises a new start for the company. Huawei, along with Apple and Samsung, are all competing on advanced node scaling and will eventually race toward the 1nm node by 2030.

More Moore – Advanced packaging

A look at Apple’s and Samsung’s application processor units (APU) reveals technology competition at its best, including for semiconductor packaging. Apple has introduced a Package-on-Package (PoP) stack between the Application Processor (APU) and the DRAM memory. This started on the A15 bionic chip and is now still a key differentiator for the A17 bionic chip. This technology is key for Apple as it saves space for its large APUs, allowing them to outgun the competition in terms of processing power. Samsung’s latest APU, the Exynos 2400, also introduced an advanced packaging technique, fan-out wafer-level packaging (FOWLP). This approach allows for better thermal management of the processor, which can run for longer periods at full capacity. Advanced semiconductor packaging will continue to provide differentiators to Mobile players; it has actually taken center stage in the very recent years and will stay there for the foreseeable future. Our report on high-end packaging can be accessed via a link below on this page.

More than Moore – Analog RF

While Processors and Memory semiconductor content represent 55% of the Mobile electronic bill of material (eBOM) the rest is More than Moore. This is what differentiate the Mobile segment from the rest of the consumer electronic category, this large dependency on the More than Moore technologies. Within this category lies a first type of devices governing the communication aspects, such as 5G communication but also Wifi, Bluetooth, USB, GPS. These are driving most of the demand for Analog RF devices representing 30% of eBOM. Access to baseband modem and RF front-end chips is critical for players like Apple who thought it could detach from Qualcomm dependency. In 2023 this dream was put to an end. In the meantime Huawei subsidiary Hisilicon has successfully developed a 5G modem and RF front-end module for the Mate 60 Pro without access to Qualcomm nor Broadcom intellectual Properties (IP). The analog RF domain remains a key area of competition, by 2030 a new step toward 6G including space connectivity will come into play.


More than Moore – Power

Less known within the semiconductor community, the mobile eBOM does not contain any power device; however, it is, in fact, a key element of the mobile charger. The 3rd largest OEM in the world with respect to phone volume sales – Xiaomi – is a technology leader in this respect. The use of innovative power devices has allowed 300W charging in 2023, which means a full phone charge in under 5 minutes. Gallium Nitride (GaN), a specific compound semiconductor that was previously seen only in military radar or mobile infrastructure antennas, has now broken through into consumer products. As fast and more efficient charging is becoming a critical aspect of all electrically powered devices, this trend will only accelerate in the future.

More than Moore – Imaging

Another key More than Moore addition to mobile is the image sensor. Originally meant for taking pictures, they represent about ~10% of the eBOM of high-end phones. On the rear side, three cameras have different optics: one wide angle, one ultra-wide, and a telephoto. This last telephoto provides zoom capabilities from x5 to x10 and is a new frontier for competition. In 2023, Apple chose to compete with a camera module technology called ‘dual prism periscope’ on the iPhone 15, while Samsung is developing its own super high-resolution imager reaching 200MP on the S24. The typical resolution of imaging sensors is in the range of 50MP to 64MP in 2023. Other image sensors are added for other sensing purposes, such as to provide additional depth map information on the rear side for the Apple Lidar and on the front side for the face recognition “face ID” camera. Cooperation between Qualcomm and event-based companies could soon bring a new video deblur camera to market. In an era when social interactions are defined by TikTok or Instagram video streams, camera features and performance will only grow in importance.

More than Moore – Sensing and Actuating

Mobile phones would not be the same without this category. MEMS devices have been key enablers, providing the microscopic gyroscopes and accelerometers that handle screen orientation and the compass, BAW filters for orientation and communication, and microphones and now micro-speakers for audio. They represent ~5% of the mobile eBOM. Usually packaged in complex MEMS modules, they are at the pinnacle of material science and semiconductor technology.



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