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2021-03-12

Impaired Shipment of Qualcomm 5G RFIC Expected to Lower 2Q21 Smartphone Production by About 5%, Says TrendForce

The Line S2 fab of Samsung in Austin, Texas sustained a power interruption, which has forced it to suspend operation since mid-February, under the impact from the winter storm. TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that the capacity utilization rate for the entire fab is not expected to climb back to over 90% until the end of March. In particular, Samsung manufactures several products that are highly important for the production of smartphones, including the Qualcomm 5G RFIC, Samsung LSI OLED DDIC, and Samsung LSI CIS Logic IC. Supply-wise, the first two products sustained the brunt of the winter storm’s impact, and global smartphone production for 2Q21 is therefore expected to drop by about 5% as a result.

According to TrendForce’s investigations, Samsung was able to prepare for the power interruption ahead of time as the company had been forewarned by the local utility. Hence, the loss of WIP (work in progress) wafers caused by the incident was minimal. However, the delay in the resumption of full operation at the plant is expected to last more than two weeks, during which the fab will suspend its wafer input. The incident on the whole will have a definite impact on the global foundry industry that is already experiencing a serious capacity crunch. In terms of wafer input, the Qualcomm 5G RFIC, Samsung LSI OLED DDIC, and Samsung LSI CIS Logic IC account for 30%, 20%, and 15% of the Line S2’s monthly production capacity, respectively.

Of the three aforementioned products, the Qualcomm RFIC is primarily supplied to smartphone brands to be used in 5G handsets. This product is delivered to clients as part of either AP bundles or 5G modems. The winter storm’s impact on the production of the Qualcomm RFIC is expected to take place in 2Q21, resulting in a 30% decrease in 5G smartphone production for the quarter. However, TrendForce expects this incident to impair the 2Q21 production of all smartphones by only about 5%, given smartphone brands’ existing inventory of 5G AP bundles and 5G modems, in addition to the fact that smartphone brands are likely to keep up their quarterly smartphone production by increasing the production of 4G handsets to make up for the shortfall in 5G handsets. Furthermore, TrendForce expects the Line S2 fab to prioritize resuming the production of RF products ahead of other products, in turn further mitigating the winter storm’s impact on global smartphone production.

On the other hand, the Samsung LSI OLED DDIC is primarily used in Apple’s iPhone 12 series. The winter storm’s impact on these DDICs will similarly take place by the end of 2Q21. Even so, Apple likely possesses sufficient DDIC inventory, at least in the short term, since the period of peak DDIC demand for the company’s existing smartphone models has already passed. Moreover, the iPhone 12 mini may reach EOL earlier than expected due to disappointing sales. Should Apple decide to cut iPhone 12 mini production, the company will be able to further minimize the impact of OLED DDIC undersupply. Finally, as sales of the iPhone 11 (which is equipped with an LCD, instead of OLED, panel and therefore does not require OLED DDIC) have been resurging recently, Apple may increase the share of iPhone 11 in its total smartphone production in order to keep up its quarterly production volume. In light of these factors, TrendForce believes that the production volume of iPhones in 2Q21 will suffer only limited impact from OLED DDIC supply disruptions.

On the whole, although the production of 5G smartphones will face a relatively considerable challenge in 2Q21, smartphone brands will be able to keep up their quarterly production volume by raising the production share of 4G smartphones instead. TrendForce thus projects the winter storm to impair smartphone production for 2Q21 by no more than 5%, while maintaining the previous forecast of 1.36 billion units produced for 2021. However, TrendForce also does not rule out the possibility that the winter storm will lower the penetration rate of 5G smartphones in 2021 from 38%, as previously forecasted, to 36.5%.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-03-11

Strong Growth Expected for Third-Generation Semiconductors in 2021, with GaN Power Devices Undergoing Highest YoY Increase in Revenue at 90.6%, Says TrendForce

The third-generation semiconductor industry was impaired by the US-China trade war and the COVID-19 pandemic successively from 2018 to 2020, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. During this period, the semiconductor industry on the whole saw limited upward momentum, in turn leading to muted growth for the 3rd gen semiconductor segment as well. However, this segment is likely to enter a rapid upturn owing to high demand from automotive, industrial, and telecom applications. In particular, the GaN power device market will undergo the fastest growth, with a $61 million revenue, a 90.6% YoY increase, projected for 2021.

TrendForce expects three factors to drive the rapid growth of the GaN and SiC markets in 2021: First, widespread vaccinations are projected to drastically curb the spread of the pandemic, thereby galvanizing a stable increase in the demand for base station components, as well as for components used in industrial energy transition, such as power inverters and converters. Secondly, as Tesla began adopting SiC MOSFET designs for its in-house inverters used in Model 3 vehicles, the automotive industry has started to place increasing importance on 3rd gen semiconductors. Finally, China will invest enormous capital into its 14th five-year plan starting this year and expand its 3rd gen semiconductor production capacity to ultimately achieve semiconductor independence.

Resurging demand from EV, industrial, and telecom sectors will bring about a corresponding increase in 3rd gen semiconductor device revenue

Although certain foundries, such as TSMC and VIS, have been attempting to manufacture GaN devices with 8-inch wafers, 6-inch wafers are still the mainstream. As the pandemic shows signs of a slowdown, the demand for RF front end in 5G base stations, for smartphone chargers, and for automotive on-board chargers has now gradually risen. As such, total yearly revenue from GaN RF devices is projected to reach US$680 million, a 30.8% increase YoY, in 2021, whereas GaN power device revenue is projected to reach $61 million, which is a 90.6% increase YoY.

In particular, the remarkable increase in GaN power device revenue can primarily be attributed to the release of fast chargers from smartphone brands, such as Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo, starting in 2018. These chargers enjoyed excellent market reception thanks to their effective heat dissipation and small footprint. Some notebook computer manufacturers are currently looking to adopt fast charging technology for their notebook chargers as well. Going forward, TrendForce expects more smartphone and notebook chargers to feature GaN power devices, leading to a peak YoY increase in GaN power device revenue in 2022, after which there will be a noticeable slowdown in its upward trajectory as GaN power devices become widely adopted by charger manufacturers.

On the other hand, 6-inch wafer capacities for SiC devices have been in relative shortage, since SiC substrates are widely used in RF front end and power devices. TrendForce expects yearly SiC power device revenue to reach $680 million, a 32% increase YoY, in 2021. Major substrate suppliers, including Cree, II-VI, and STMicroelectronics, are planning to manufacture 8-inch SiC substrates, but the short supply of SiC substrates will unlikely be resolved until 2022.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-03-10

Automotive Applications Projected to Account for More Than 3% of Total DRAM Bit Consumption in 2024 Owing to Autonomous Vehicle Industry Growth, Says TrendForce

There are four major categories of automotive DRAM applications, including infotainment, ADAS, telematics, and D-clusters (digital instrument clusters), according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Of the four categories, infotainment applications require the highest DRAM content, although DRAM consumption per vehicle across all four categories remains relatively low at the moment. In contrast to ADAS, infotainment applications present a lower barrier to entry for companies, since current legislations and automotive safety standards governing infotainment are not as stringent, making infotainment a highly attractive market for various semiconductor companies and memory suppliers. TrendForce expects infotainment to remain the primary driver of automotive DRAM consumption through 2024, while all four automotive DRAM applications will together likely comprise more than 3% of total DRAM consumption as autonomous driving technology progresses toward higher levels. As such, automotive DRAM applications represents an emerging sector whose potential for growth should not be underestimated.

TrendForce further indicates that the safety requirements of automotive parts are far higher than those of consumer electronics in terms of both quality and durability. As a result, the release of new vehicle models may take up to 3-5 years from development and verification to release. Vehicles still under development are therefore likely to greatly surpass existing models in terms of both memory content and specifications.

Infotainment will comprise the majority of automotive DRAM consumption, while total automotive DRAM consumption is still relatively low

Infotainment applications represent the highest bit consumption among the major automotive DRAM applications, due to the computing demand of basic media entertainment functionalities in vehicles now. However, most vehicles with these functionalities require only about 1-2GB (gigabytes) of DRAM, which is the current mainstream, since infotainment applications are still relatively basic. As infotainment systems evolve towards higher image qualities and higher video bitrates, solutions requiring 4GB in DRAM content are also under development, with high-end systems transitioning to 8GB in DRAM content. On the other hand, given the close viewing distance involved in automotive infotainment, video bitrates must be sufficiently high to minimize lag. DRAM specifications for infotainment applications are therefore gradually shifting from DDR3 2/4Gb (gigabits) to LPDDR4 8Gb in order to satisfy the high data transfer speed and bandwidth required to achieve a sufficiently high video bitrate and optimal viewing experience.

With regards to ADAS, development is currently divided into two architectures: centralized vs. decentralized (or distributed) systems. Decentralized systems include such devices as reverse parking sensors, which require about 2/4Gb of DRAM. Centralized systems, however, require 2/4GB of DRAM, since data collected from various sensors located throughout the vehicle are transferred to and computed in a central control unit in centralized ADAS. Most vehicles with autonomous driving capabilities currently available on the market are still equipped with ADAS levels 1-2 and therefore require relatively low DRAM content. Going forward, as the development of autonomous driving technologies moves to level 3 and beyond, along with the potential inclusion of AI functionalities, vehicles will need to be able to integrate and process enormous amounts of data collected from sensors in real-time, as well as perform immediate decision-making with the collected data. Given the high bandwidth required for such operations, there will be a corresponding increase in automotive demand for higher-spec DRAM as well, and automotive DRAM for ADAS applications is expected to transition from DDR3 to LPDDR4/4X and even LPDDR5 or GDDR5/HBM later on, though this transition will require more time before it can take place, due to existing regulations.

The mainstream memory products used for telematics, or automotive communication systems, are MCP (Multi Chip Package) solutions. Due to the frequency and compatibility requirements of baseband processors contained in these systems, all telematics applications require the use of LPDRAM. As V2V and V2X gradually become necessities in the auto industry, automakers will place a high importance on memory bandwidth, meaning automotive DRAM for telematics will gradually shift from mainstream LPDDR2 solutions to LPDDR4/LPDDR5. Even so, the growth of telematics will depend on the pace of global 5G infrastructure build-out, since telematics requires 5G networks for fast peer-to-peer connections. As for D-clusters, DRAM bit consumption per vehicle for this application category comes to either 2Gb or 4Gb, depending on the individual vehicle’s degree of digitization for its instrumental panel. However, DRAM consumption for D-clusters is not expected to undergo significant future growths, and D-clusters may potentially be merged with infotainment into a single centralized system going forward.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-03-09

Prices of Client SSDs for Notebook Computers to Enter Early Uptrend in 2Q21 with 3-8% Increase QoQ, Says TrendForce

Demand for notebook computers is expected to remain strong throughout 2Q21 due to the persisting stay-at-home economy that arose in the wake of the pandemic, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. In response to the high demand for notebooks, PC OEMs are actively raising a consistent inventory of components, including client SSDs. Nonetheless, client SSDs are now in increasingly tight supply because the preexisting shortage of NAND Flash controllers is now exacerbated by the power outage at Samsung’s Austin-based semiconductor plant. SSD manufacturers are therefore preparing to raise the prices of SSDs. Accordingly, TrendForce has also revised up its forecast of client SSD prices for 2Q21 from “mostly flat” to a 3-8% increase QoQ instead.

As previously mentioned, Samsung’s semiconductor plant in Austin, Texas (here referred as Samsung Austin) was affected operationally by a severe winter storm that blanketed the entire state last month. As a result, production activities at the plant were mostly suspended from mid-February to March 2. TrendForce’s investigation of this incident finds that the plant is starting to recover operationally. Even so, the capacity utilization rate of the whole plant is not expected to return to the level of above 90% until the end of March, and this delay has had a palpable impact on Samsung’s chip production. With regards to product mix, there is no wafer input for NAND Flash at Samsung Austin. Nevertheless, 10% of its production capacity is used to manufacture in-house controller ICs for Samsung’s own branded SSDs. TrendForce’s investigation also finds that most controller ICs made at Samsung Austin are for client SSDs shipped to PC OEMs. In particular, among Samsung’s client SSD offerings, products based on 128L NAND Flash are expected to be directly affected by the incident.

It should be pointed out that, after kicking off mass production of 128L client SSDs in 4Q20, Samsung originally planned to take advantage of the release of Intel’s Tiger Lake CPUs to expand Samsung’s market share of PCIe G4 SSDs through aggressive pricing. After all, its competitors have been slow in ramping up production of PCIe G4 SSDs due to the negative impact of the pandemic and due to the longer-than-expected qualification process from PC OEMs. In light of the shortage of controller ICs, however, all SSD manufacturers are now forced to extend the lead times for their SSD orders, making it difficult for any manufacturer to increase their supply of SSDs and compelling them to in turn raise 2Q21 prices of client SSDs.

On the other hand, the power outage has had an impact on enterprise SSD prices as well, since enterprise SSDs and client SSDs are highly correlated in terms of prices. Furthermore, clients in the data center segment are expected to ramp up their procurement activities for enterprise SSDs in 2Q21 after the previous bearish period, meaning there will likely be successive QoQ increases in the volume of enterprise SSD orders going forward. Enterprise SSD prices are therefore expected to enter an impending upturn, and TrendForce has in turn revised up its forecast of enterprise SSD prices for 2Q21 from a 0-5% decrease QoQ to a 0-5% increase QoQ instead.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

2021-03-09

Persistent Shortage Results in Near 7% MoM Increase in Average Contract Price of Specialty DDR3 4Gb Chips in February, Says TrendForce

As the three dominant DRAM suppliers (Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron) are currently experiencing a shortage in their production capacities, the corresponding shortage situation in the DRAM market has yet to be resolved, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Taking advantage of the fact that the whole DRAM market has entered a period of cyclical upturn in 1Q21, DRAM suppliers have significantly raised quotes for specialty DRAM products. This extraordinary development has led to price hikes that are almost double digits for some specialty DRAM chips. Furthermore, the magnitude of the price hike especially widens for products belonging to the lower part of the density range and the more niche applications. Looking at MoM changes in contract prices of specialty DRAM products for February, DDR2 and DDR3 chips saw the largest price hikes. Prices of DDR4 chips also went up due to the influence of the rising quotes for DDR3 chips. The average contract price of DDR3 4Gb chips, which are still mainstream for specialty applications, jumped 6.8% MoM.

As for DDR3 2Gb chips that are primarily promoted by Taiwan-based suppliers, TrendForce indicates that there is not enough supply even as quotes are being offered. With this situation becoming the norm, the price range (i.e., the difference between the high and low prices) has also expanded dramatically. The average contract price of DDR3 2Gb chips rose by nearly 9% MoM in February. Samsung significantly raised quotes for DDR4 4Gb chips in response to the sharp upswing in prices of DDR3 chips. The low and average prices of DDR4 4Gb chips for specialty applications both climbed around 6% MoM. The average price of DDR4 8Gb chips went up by around 4% MoM as the price trend of this product aligns with the general price trends of mainstream PC DRAM and server DRAM products. However, it should be pointed out that the hikes in contract prices of specialty DRAM chips were mainly the result of the adjustments made to monthly contract deals and thus reflected the market situation of February. By contrast, prices held steady for quarterly lock-in deals with tier-1 clients.

While the three dominant DRAM suppliers have been slowing down their DDR3 manufacturing, Taiwanese suppliers are constantly adjusting their capacity allocation to maximize profits

With demand getting hotter in the specialty DRAM market, DDR3 products are starting to surpass DDR4 products and logic ICs in profit margin. Consequently, DRAM suppliers are also changing their strategies. Looking at South Korean suppliers, Samsung will continue shifting the wafer production capacity of Line 13 to CMOS image sensors over the long term. However, this reassignment has now been scaled down for this year due to the recent surge in specialty DRAM prices. Likewise, SK Hynix will keep the DRAM production capacity of its older fab M10 relatively constant through 2021 after reducing it in 2020. As for Micron, it has raised the yield rates of the 1Z-nm and 1-alpha processes, so the output shares of products based on these more advanced technologies will gradually expand. Since the available fab space in Taiwan is limited, Micron will relocate the 20nm and more mature processes to Fab 6 in the US. In sum, the output of DDR3 products from the three dominant suppliers will continue to shrink, but the pace of the reduction is now slower than originally expected.

Regarding Taiwan-based suppliers, Nanya has shifted some 20nm and 30nm production capacity from DDR4 products back to DDR3 products. Winbond has been focusing on Flash products in the recent years, and its DRAM production capacity will remain fairly limited until the completion of its new fab in Kaohsiung. Nevertheless, Winbond is concentrating its DRAM production efforts on low-density DDR2 and DDR3 products (i.e., 1Gb and 2Gb chips). It actually has the advantage of being able to raise prices as its market share for low-density products is fairly large. As for PSMC, it has been focusing on foundry manufacturing of logic ICs for a while. However, with prices now rising for foundry manufacturing of DDR3 products, PSMC now wants to shift some wafer production capacity back to DRAM. Going forward, the three Taiwan-based suppliers will keep adjusting their capacity allocation strategies in accordance with changes in the profit margins of different products. Nevertheless, even as suppliers are now changing their product mixes to take advantage of the latest market situation, TrendForce projects that specialty DRAM products will be in undersupply at least through 1H21. The magnitudes of price hikes for various types of specialty DRAM products will depend on suppliers’ capacity allocation strategies.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

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