Undaunted by deadlocked US-Sino relations, the great pandemic of 2020, and the US Department of Commerce’s ban on Huawei’s use of software and equipment produced by US manufacturers in the same year, China’s packaging and testing industry has, instead, used these factors as stimulus get back on track. Faced with these three major challenges, the Chinese government has responded with policies such as domestically producing both equipment and semiconductors, allowing China’s packaging and testing industry to buck the trends set in 2020. According to TrendForce statistics, industry revenue in 2020 reached US$7.02 billion and approximately US$9.53 billion in 2021.
A brief summary of China’s packaging and testing industry in recent years is as follows: the US-Sino trade war has been raging since 2018 and, due to tariff issues and the gradual rise in personnel salaries, terminal manufacturers whom had already established plants or subsidiaries in China were forced to gradually relocate relevant factories to SE Asia and India in order to avoid growing overhead costs, moreover impacting the revenue performance of China’s packaging and testing industry. As of June 2019, the tariff issue remained unresolved due to dubious US.-Sino relations but this issue could no longer impede the revenue recovery momentum of China’s packaging and testing industry.
Packaging and testing and localized equipment skirts bans and a moderate threshold for technology research and development attracts overseas manufacturers
After the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed export control bans on Huawei, HiSilicon, and SMIC, the market mostly predicted that China’s packaging and testing industry would be hit next but this did not happen. According to TrendForce, the primary reason for this is that the nature of current back-end packaging and testing technology is relatively crude compared to front-end wafer manufacturing and, considering Chinese government’s recent policy of localizing equipment and the degree of substitutability of non-US equipment manufacturers, even if the U.S. Department of Commerce proposes further bans against the industry, its effects will be limited.
In response to the US-Sino trade conflict, the Chinese government has proposed relevant measures such as semiconductor autonomy which has driven a gradual mainstreaming of domestic equipment production plans. In addition, national funds have been continuously injected into semiconductor equipment manufacturers, even though the level of technological development at this stage remains inferior to major manufacturers in Europe, the United States, and Japan. However, for those with modest requirements for back-end process conditions, testing, and testing equipment, China’s domestic packaging and testing equipment does have a certain proportion and scale.
For example, relevant companies such as Hangzhou Changchuan and Shanghai Raintree have invested in the automatic optical inspection instruments (AOI) and testing equipment that are required in the latter stage of packaging and testing. On the other hand, due to the relatively low threshold for research and development of back-end packaging and testing equipment, many international companies such as Japan’s Advantest and Singapore’s Besi have also set up shops in China. Chinese packaging and testing and their equipment manufacturers are essentially unaffected by relevant export bans, so the industry can still anticipate technological and revenue performance in the next few years.
Smartphone shipments in the Chinese market have seen continued declines in recent years primarily because the penetration rate of smartphones in China has already surpassed 60%. Furthermore, smartphone hardware refreshes have gradually slowed down, with no killer app has emerged yet. Taken together, these factors have led to a decline in consumers’ replacement demand. While the COVID-19 pandemic began its spread last year, annual shipment of smartphones in the Chinese market for 2020 reached only about 330 million units, a 13.61% YoY decline.
Regarding the Chinese smartphone market in 2021, quarterly shipment underwent more than a 100% YoY increase for only the first quarter of the year due to the relatively low base for comparison in 1Q20. Starting from 2Q21, smartphone shipments saw YoY declines for each quarter of 2021. TrendForce, therefore, forecasts 345 million units in annual shipment for 2021 in the Chinese smartphone market, which represents a 4.55% YoY growth and a figure that falls below prior expectations. This disappointing performance can primarily be attributed to the shortage of components from the supply side, along with continued sluggishness from the demand side domestically.
As Honor confirmed its handsets will feature GMS (Google Mobile Services), Chinese smartphone brands look to dominate the overseas markets
Honor recently announced on its official Twitter account that it once again restored its partnership with Google and other suppliers. The Honor 50 series of handsets are equipped with GMS, which includes Google Play Store, Gmail, and YouTube, among other apps.
As a subsidiary of Huawei, Honor was previously unable to install GMS on its phones due to Huawei’s inclusion on the US Entity List, leading to a continued drop in Honor’s overseas market share. Now that it has been spun off from Huawei, Honor needs to restart negotiations with its suppliers. Initially, the company had a hard time expanding its presence overseas due to the lack of GMS functionality as well as the fact that it had to re-establish its global sales networks. After having received GMS authorization from Google, Honor is now able to compete with other Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo on an equal footing.
Shipping more than 10% of the domestic monthly total in smartphones, Honor has recently established a steady presence in the Chinese market. However, given the domestic market’s bearish trend in recent years, Honor, whose handsets now feature GMS functionality, will likely turn its focus to the European or Southeast Asian markets that Huawei once aggressively pursued.
The iPhone 13 series, which is about to be formally announced by Apple, has already had its exterior design speculated on by various media outlets and fans alike. TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that some of the notable hardware upgrades of the iPhone 13 pertain to the SoC (manufactured at the 5nm+ node, which enables improved performance and decreased power consumption), display, and camera. In addition, iPhone handsets featuring support for 5G mmWave will be available for sale in more countries after the release of iPhone 13.
The iPhone 13 will see a shift in its charging circuit board from the previous rigid-flex PCB design to a new design featuring SiP combined with flexible PCB. The space-saving feature of this new design will also likely result in increased battery capacity. As for retail prices, the iPhone 13 series is expected to remain similar to the iPhone 12 series assuming Apple is able to effectively control manufacturing costs, since the latest models do not come with significant hardware upgrades. As a result of this aggressive pricing scheme, iPhone shipment will likely maintain its growth trajectory for two consecutive years.
Huawei’s plight led to Apple’s rising market share in the Greater China region
Owing to heavy competition from Chinese brands, sales in the Greater China region accounted for a decreasing share of Apple’s iPhone revenue, from 19.44% in 2017 down to merely 16.33% in 2020. Nevertheless, this downtrend has been gradually reversing since 4Q20, primarily because of increased sanctions against Huawei.As Huawei was cut off from its chip supply in 4Q20, shipment of Huawei smartphones underwent a massive decline accordingly, in turn leaving vacancies in the flagship smartphone market in China. At the same time, while Apple released its new iPhone 12 models, flagship smartphone buyers in China began purchasing iPhones instead. Thanks to this shift, sales in the Greater China region began accounting for a growing share of Apple’s iPhone revenue, from 14.8% up to 19.13% in 4Q20. Since 4Q20, this figure has remained above 18% for three consecutive quarters.
Prior to being sanctioned by the US government, Huawei had enjoyed the highest market share in the high-end smartphone segment in China. After the sanctions were put into place, this segment then became highly sought after by other smartphone brands. However, because other Chinese brands had not previously placed significant emphasis on the high-end market, the iPhone was able to seize most of the market share in the high-end segment left in Huawei’s wake. Furthermore, although other Chinese smartphone brands have started developing their respective flagship models, it takes considerable time to build up their brand images in this segment and attract customers. TrendForce therefore believes that the iPhone will continue to dominate the high-end smartphone market in China for the next two to three years.
iPhones are expected to account for 16.7% of global smartphone shipment in 2021
An overview of iPhone shipments for the past few years shows that iPhone shipment went into a nosedive starting in 4Q18 because the iPhone XS/XR series featured limited improvements yet a significant price hike over its iPhone 8/X predecessor. Alarmed by this decline, Apple immediately revamped its sales strategy for the next-gen iPhone 11, which not only underwent a total overhaul in terms of specs but also experienced a price cut of US$50 for the entry-level model (the Pro model retained its previous-gen equivalent’s price). Apple subsequently released the brand-new iPhone SE in 2020, thereby reversing the downward trajectory of iPhone shipment as a result.
New iPhones saw a deferred released schedule in 2020 owing to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a 14% YoY decrease in iPhone shipment for 3Q20. However, as the new iPhone 12 models equipped with across-the-board hardware upgrades, including 5G functionality, were released in 4Q20, iPhone shipment saw a massive rebound during the quarter and reached a 12% YoY increase in 4Q20 and a further increase of 42% YoY in 1Q21.
Looking ahead to the shipment volumes of the new iPhone models for 2H21, TrendForce expects Apple to maintain its aggressive pricing strategy in order to boost shipment. In addition, as the iPhone 13 series will once again return to a September release, total iPhone shipment is expected to undergo a 30% YoY increase in 3Q21, but a 5% YoY decrease in 4Q21. As such, iPhone sales for 2H21 will likely surpass 2H20 figures. For 2021, iPhones are expected to account for 16.7% of all smartphone shipment, which is a step-up compared to last year.
Chinese and European suppliers of base station equipment are expected to once again account for a global market share of more than 70% in 2021, and the top three suppliers (along with their respective market shares) are, in order, China-based Huawei (30%), Sweden-based Ericsson (23%), and Finland-based Nokia (20%), according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Remarkably, although Huawei remains banned by the US government, the company still manages to dominate its competitors in terms of market share due to its products’ cost advantages as well as the enormous demand from the domestic Chinese market.
It should be pointed out that Samsung has similarly benefitted from its relatively low costs and successful 5G commercialization efforts, both of which helped propel its market share this year to 12.5% and secure the fourth place in the global ranking. Not only is Samsung supplying base station components to the three largest mobile network operators in Korea, but it is also collaborating with operators in the US (including AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon) while having established supply agreements with NTT DoCoMo in Japan. On the other hand, Japanese supplier NEC has received its first ever overseas orders this year, from British mobile network Vodafone. Japan-based Fujitsu, likewise, has also been chosen by the British government as an alternative supplier of 5G base station equipment in place of Huawei.
TrendForce indicates that the proliferation of distance learning and WFH applications has brought about a massive 40% increase in average global network bandwidth consumption as the world works to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. As such, the 5G network is able to satisfy the current market demand due to its high bandwidth and low latency characteristics. Furthermore, as 5G commercial demand rises in various countries, the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) announced that “the number of announced 5G devices has surpassed 800 for the first time and now stands at 822 announced 5G devices”. These products, including both consumer and enterprise applications, have been released in response to the demand for faster, more convenient network connections across a broad range of applications. In sum, all of the aforementioned factors are drivers of increased 5G base station build-out worldwide.
Key to Huawei’s market share leadership, 5G users in China account for 90% of the global total in 2021
Owing to the ongoing China-US trade war, both Huawei and the three largest mobile network operators in China have been barred from engaging in investment-related activities with US companies. In addition, in July 2021, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) finalized a US$1.9 billion plan that subsidizes domestic telecom companies to replace base station components from Chinese suppliers, such as Huawei and ZTE, that the FCC considers a potential risk to US national security. Huawei and ZTE have subsequently become unable to acquire key RF front-end components from US suppliers, thereby prompting Huawei to shift its base station infrastructure business towards the domestic Chinese market instead.
Regardless, TrendForce’s findings indicate that, as of late-2020, the number of 5G users in China surpassed 160 million, which represented about 89% of the global total. As of July 2021, the three largest mobile network operators in China, including China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom, have established 916,000 5G base stations domestically, which comprise 70% of the global total. Not only does this number point to the impressive magnitude of the Chinese telecom market, but it has also been the key to Huawei’s leadership in the base station market for nearly two years.
In response to consumers’ growing emphasis on camera performance as a major selling point of smartphones, smartphone brands have successively released multi-camera handsets to target this rising demand and seize market shares, in turn driving up the annual shipment volume of smartphone camera modules, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Case in point, despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the smartphone market in 2020, total smartphone camera module shipment still underwent a 3% growth YoY due to the increasing number of camera modules featured per handset as a result of smartphone brands’ competition over camera hardware. Given that the upward trajectory of smartphone camera module shipment will likely persist this year, TrendForce therefore forecasts an annual shipment volume of 5.07 billion units for 2021, an 11% growth YoY.
In addition to increasing the number of camera modules per handset, smartphone brands have also been raising the specifications of their smartphone cameras. First, with regards to the primary camera, certain Android phones will feature up to 64MP camera modules, which will surpass a 20% penetration rate in 2021 (making this particular pixel count spec the fastest-growing among all primary camera specifications), whereas the latest iPhones will likely continue to feature a 12MP primary camera, since Apple is mainly focused on the overall image quality of photos as opposed to megapixel count. Second, with regards to CMOS image sensors, certain smartphone brands, such as Apple, Huawei, and Xiaomi, are expected to increase their smartphone cameras’ sensor sizes to one inch in order to improve these cameras’ performances in low-light or night settings.
Third, with regards to ultrawide cameras, Apple will look to strengthen the autofocus performance of its flagship iPhone models by equipping the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max with VCMs (voice coil motors), which are devices that drive autofocus systems. On the other hand, Huawei and OPPO will incorporate FreeForm Lens technology to address the distortion effect commonly found towards the edges of photos taken with ultrawide cameras.
Finally, with regards to periscope cameras, their widespread adoption by Android smartphone brands in 2020 resulted in a massive 429% growth YoY. Compared to the telephoto cameras found in iPhones, which offer 2.5x optical zoom, periscope cameras are capable of 5x optical zoom at the bare minimum, which delivers much higher image clarity in long-range photography situations. However, the forecasted decline in smartphone shipment of Huawei and Honor, which are the most aggressive in the industry in terms of periscope camera adoption, will in turn negatively affect total periscope camera module shipment for 2021 as well. TrendForce believes that a return to massive growth will not take place unless periscope camera modules capable of continuous autofocus are successfully mass produced, and smartphone brands are willing to adopt such modules for their handsets.
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