The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 1H20 seemed at first poised to devastate the IC design industry. However, as WFH and distance education became the norm, TrendForce finds that the demand for notebook computers and networking products also spiked in response, in turn driving manufacturers to massively ramp up their procurement activities for components. Fabless IC design companies that supply such components therefore benefitted greatly from manufacturers’ procurement demand, and the IC design industry underwent tremendous growth in 2020. In particular, the top three IC design companies (Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Nvidia) all posted YoY increases in their revenues, with Nvidia registering the most impressive growth, at a staggering 52.2% increase YoY, the highest among the top 10 companies.
According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, Qualcomm was able to overtake Broadcom for the leading position in the top 10 list primarily due to two reasons: First, the sudden demand surge for network devices; and second, Apple’s decision to once again adopt Qualcomm’s baseband processors. Incidentally, US sanctions against Huawei also prompted other smartphone brands to ramp up their production volumes in an attempt to seize additional market shares. Taken together, these factors collectively drove up Qualcomm’s revenue last year. Likewise, although the US-China trade war hampered Broadcom’s performances in 1H20, its smartphone RF front-end became a crucial part of Apple’s supply chain in 2H20. Even so, Broadcom fell to second place in the rankings, since its revenue growth was relatively minor. The Mellanox acquisition substantially bolstered the depth and breadth of Nvidia’s data center solutions, which generated nearly US$6.4 billion in revenue, a 121.2% increase YoY. Owing to its data center solutions and gaming graphics cards, which performed well in the market, Nvidia posted the highest YoY revenue growth among the top 10 companies, at 52.2% as previously mentioned.
The three Taiwanese companies delivered remarkable performances as well. In particular, MediaTek’s revenue underwent a 37.3% YoY increase in 2020, an overwhelming improvement over the 1% YoY increase in 2019. MediaTek’s growth last year took place due to several reasons, including the skyrocketing demand for notebooks and networking products, the success of MediaTek’s 5G smartphone processors, and improved specs as well as cost optimizations for MediaTek’s networking products. Novatek’s revenue grew by 30.1% YoY, as the US-China trade war and the stay-at-home economy brought about by the pandemic resulted in strong sales of its driver ICs and TV SoCs. Finally, Realtek benefitted from the high demand for its various offerings, most notably networking products and notebooks, although sales of its audio products and Bluetooth chips were also respectable. Realtek’s revenue increased by 34.1% YoY.
Capitalizing on the capacity limitations of Intel’s 10nm process, AMD made significant inroads in the notebook, desktop, and server CPU markets, resulting in a $9.7 billion revenue, a remarkable 45% increase YoY. Although Xilinx’s revenue declined by 5.6% YoY in the wake of the US-China trade war, recent QoQ changes in Xilinx’s revenue show that the company is well on its way to recovery going forward.
Although vaccines are being administered across the globe at the moment, the pandemic has yet to show any signs of slowdown in 1Q21. While device manufacturers remain active in procuring components, the shortage of foundry capacities is expected to persist throughout the year. IC design companies are likely to raise IC quotes given the need to ensure sufficient foundry capacities allocated to IC products, in turn propelling IC design revenue to new heights in 2021.
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Given the forecasted recovery of the smartphone market and the corresponding rise in TDDI IC demand throughout this year, total smartphone TDDI IC shipment for 2021 is expected to reach 760 million units, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Tablet TDDI IC shipment for 2021, on the other hand, is expected to reach 95 million units.
TrendForce indicates that the overall demand for consumer electronics and IT products has been gradually intensifying since the COVID-19 pandemic began to slow down in 2H20. At the same time, smartphone manufacturers restocked their component inventories, while Huawei was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Commerce. These events marked an upturn in demand for smartphone components, including IC products. However, although foundries ramped up their capacity utilization rates in response to soaring end-product demand, semiconductor component supply has been lagging behind the rising demand.
Case in point, TDDI IC prices have been increasing due to the component’s tightening supply. As foundries’ production capacities at their 12-inch fabs’ 80/90nm nodes are unable to meet the global demand for TDDI ICs, IC design companies have been stepping up the pace to transition the manufacturing process of their higher-end TDDI IC products from the 80/90nm nodes to the 55nm node instead. Smartphone and tablet manufacturers, on the other hand, have expanded their procurement activities for TDDI ICs owing to a forecasted shortage of these components. These factors propelled smartphone TDDI IC shipment for 2020 to 700 million units, a 25% increase YoY.
Tablet TDDI IC shipment for 2021 is projected to reach 95 million units as the tablet market becomes the next battleground for IC design companies
Smartphone manufacturers have been ramping up TDDI IC adoption in light of smartphone TDDI ICs’ increasing maturity. In addition, as 8-inch capacities become fully loaded across the foundry industry, IC design companies are accelerating the transition of traditional discrete DDIC architecture to TDDI IC, which is primarily manufactured with 12-inch wafers. This transition is expected to result in even higher demand for foundry capacities. As previously mentioned, wafer capacities at the 80/90nm nodes have been in severe shortage. Therefore, to mitigate the risk of tight wafer supply in 2020, IC design companies are now not only transitioning their TDDI IC manufacturing process towards the 55nm node, but also looking to secure a stable supply of wafer capacities by outsourcing their manufacturing operations across a diverse number of foundries. As smartphone demand rises going forward, smartphone TDDI IC shipment for 2021 is expected to reach 760 million units, an 8.6% increase YoY.
Likewise, IC design companies have also turned their attention to the budding tablet market and started releasing TDDI ICs for tablets. IC design companies are primarily interested in developing TDDI ICs for tablets for two reasons: First, a mid-range or high-end tablet contains double the number of TDDI ICs per unit compared to smartphones. Secondly, most of these tablets feature active stylus compatibility, which means the ASP for their display ICs is relatively high. For the past two years, Huawei in particular has been ambitious in cultivating its tablet market and developing TDDI ICs. However, other IC design companies are now following suit and participating in this market as IC design technologies become more mature, and more tablet manufacturers become proactive in adopting TDDI ICs for tablet use. Tablet TDDI IC shipment for 2020 is estimated at 65 million units, whereas this number is projected to reach 95 million for 2021, an impressive 46.2% increase YoY.
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