Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Qualcomm and MediaTek see challenges in smartphone SoC market

Both Qualcomm and MediaTek recently reported financial results for the fourth quarter of Q4 2014 and made projections for future periods. Both companies are seeing challenges that are already affecting their revenues and market share now or later in 2015.

Qualcomm lowers forecast for 2015 due to weakness at major customer

In their financial report for Q4 2014, Qualcomm lowered their outlook for 2015, citing as one of the reasons reduced demand from a major customer as that customer has not selected the Snapdragon 810 processor for an upcoming flagship product. This is widely believed to refer to Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S6. In fact the trend of increasing use of in-house Exynos processors already started last year, as models such as Galaxy Alpha, Galaxy S5 Mini and Galaxy Note 4 already saw increasing use of Samsung's own Exynos processors, including modem technology in some cases.

Qualcomm also mentions a share shift among major OEMs that will result in relatively more modem chips as opposed to SoCs (clearly referring to Apple, which only uses Qualcom's modem chips), as well as heightened competition in China. Recently, Qualcomm also recently announced a resolution of the anti-trust investigation by authorities in China, which amounts to a reduction in the patent royalty rate it charges to customers in China.

Qualcomm's total market share currently still strong

At the moment, Qualcomm's market share for smartphone SoCs is still strong as shown by unit shipments and revenues for Q4 2014 and Qualcomm's estimates for Q1 2015, although its product mix has shifted to lower-end products. In comparison to competitor MediaTek, Qualcomm is doing much better in terms of maintaining or growing unit shipments (with Qualcomm in fact seeing a 14% increase in unit shipments in Q4 2014), suggesting that Qualcomm is taking market share from MediaTek as products such as Snapdragon 410 and the new Snapdragon 210 take over large parts of the low-end cost-sensitive market (especially in China) where MediaTek's 3G solutions where previously dominant.

MediaTek losing market share despite successful new products

Meanwhile, although MediaTek has seen widespread adoption of its new MT6752 and MT6732 SoCs with integrated LTE modem for the cost-sensitive mid-range market, the company saw lower unit shipments in Q4 2014 and predicts a 10 to 18% revenue decline for Q1 2015, suggesting its smartphone SoC shipments are under pressure. Given the fact that the new 4G chips have higher selling prices than existing 3G chips, the revenue decline probably reflects a relatively dramatic decline in shipments of existing 3G solutions, with resulting loss of total market share, although price reductions may also play a role. MediaTek has been affected especially by the late introduction of integrated 4G solutions and the lack of a low-end 4G solution and to a lesser extend the delayed introduction of the high-end MT6795.

Captive mobile SoC use becoming more important

Within the total smartphone SoC market (and also in the tablet maket), captive supply (whereby a smartphone manufacturer uses its own SoCs in its smartphone models) is becoming more important, which affects the market opportunity for companies such as Qualcomm and MediaTek. I already mentioned Samsung's increasing use of Exynos processors, which has a significant impact as Samsung is one of the two largest smartphone manufacturers. A major Chinese manufacturr, Huawei, is also increasingly using SoCs from its own HiSilicon division, also extending to lower end models. Apple's gains in market share also has an effect (especially on the high-end market) since it uses proprietary SoCs.

In the tablet market, the low-end and Chinese white-box market is seeing a sharp reduction in shipments in Q1 2015, with market share shifting to brand names (where captive solutions are more important, such as at Samsung) as total shipments are estimated to decline dramatically. This greatly affects traditional players in the tablet SoC market such as Rockchip, Allwinner and MediaTek. Intel's strategy of subsidizing tablet SoCs has also had an impact. According to DigiTimes, the total tablet market will decline 30% sequentially in Q1 2015, with estimates of a decline of 12% for the whole year 2015.

Sources: DigiTimes (tablet market article), DigiTimes (MediaTek results), Qualcomm, MediaTek

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