Wi-Fi 6E was commercialized in 2021 and, in addition to supporting the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands, it can also operate in the 6 GHz band. According to TrendForce research, Wi-Fi 6E is designed to reduce network congestion and interference through more numerous, wider, and non-overlapping channels (transmission channels for signals in communication systems), while Wi-Fi 6 and 6E’s regular wake-up mechanism (Target Wake Time) effectively coordinates network traffic and maximizes the battery life of smartphones. By 2025, the market share of smartphones supporting Wi-Fi 6 and 6E is estimated to surpass 80%.
TrendForce further indicates that the market share of Wi-Fi 6 and 6E will reach 58% in 2022, officially surpassing Wi-Fi 5 technology. This adoption is primarily driven by the fact that countries such as the United States, Britain, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan have already used the 6GHz frequency band for Wi-Fi technology, as well as the support from the two major mobile phone camps, iOS and Android, and the active deployment of related industrial chains.
In addition, since high-quality Wi-Fi in devices such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets and wireless access bridges (Access Point) require more efficient and reliable connection requirements and video, telemedicine, and navigation systems require larger bandwidth, the demand for lower latency is driving growth in connected traffic, in addition to the greater amount of automotive, IoT, and AR/VR solutions expected to enter the consumer market this year.
At the same time, Wi-Fi technology is also expanding into the commercial, industrial, and household sectors with the largest growth coming in the demand for smart home and smart lighting. Shipments of Wi-Fi-based smart home equipment will grow at a CAGR of 18% from 2021-2026, connecting home devices through Wi-Fi into a core home network and driving applications such as AR/VR, cloud gaming, 4K video conferencing and 8K streaming media. The continuous development of smart home networking technology has further bolstered the promotion of smart lighting connectivity. The appeal of smart lighting is convenience, safety, and energy efficiency. Currently, voice assistants such as Alexa, Cortana, and Siri can synchronize with smart lighting applications and enable voice commands to control functions such as the light switch, brightness, and color tone. Thus, smart lighting can also be used outside the home in factories, offices, and even outdoors.
According to TrendForce research, in general, revenue of Taiwanese IC design companies grew significantly in 2021 with many hitting record highs due to active procurement of various terminal applications and the effect of product price inflation. These companies also performed well in terms of gross profit margin and profitability. The top 10 Taiwanese IC design companies generated revenue of NT$906.16 billion, or 54.3% YoY. In recent years, MediaTek has contributed more than half of the output value of Taiwan’s top ten IC design companies and has become a primary factor in the growth of Taiwan’s IC design industry.
Looking at Taiwan’s top three IC design companies, MediaTek, Novatek, and Realtek, in 1Q22, MediaTek benefited from the increase in 5G penetration and successive shipments of Dimensity 9000. A mobile phone release in March 2022 produced revenue growth which can offset lower demand for certain consumer products due to seasonal factors while the proportion of high-margin products in each revenue category will increase. Thus, annual revenue growth is expected to exceed 20% this year.
As for Novatek, although DDI and TDDI stocking has entered the off-season for traditional industries and demand for consumer electronics has weakened, overall market demand is still greater than supply and Commercial Notebook and Automotive demand remain strong. New products such as OLED FoD, OLED TDDI, FTDDI, and Mini LED will drive continued revenue stability. This year, Novatek will integrate TCON, PMIC, etc. for package sales, so that there is a relative price support, but the company must still dynamically adjust its product mix according to market changes.
In terms of Realtek, positive demand in the enterprise, industrial, and automotive sectors in 2H21 will continue to 1H22. With the pandemic slowing down, purchasing of commercial laptops and equipment has ramped up, wired and wireless network infrastructure is being upgraded, the automotive market continues to grow, and relevant products such as Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, 5G Ethernet, and the new LE Audio Bluetooth IC are being launched successively, which will continue to improve Realtek’s performance. On the consumer market side, demand in the PC and consumer electronics markets will return to normal in 2022 and the TWS Bluetooth headset market will face a price war, which will lead to a suppression of Realtek’s shipments in relevant sectors. Regarding foundry price hikes, some customers have reported that they cannot afford further price inflation and are still in the process of negotiating terms of cooperation. In addition, Realtek has been destocking in 1Q22 due to the customer yearend inventory audits and component mismatching.
Taking a comprehensive look at 2022, TrendForce believes that the benefits of price inflation will gradually fade and demand for consumer electronics will moderate but not weaken significantly, while sustained strong demand for industrial, automotive, and high-speed computing will test the product portfolio optimization and cost pass-through ability of IC design companies.
According to TrendForce research, due to the vigorous stocking of various terminal applications causing a shortage of wafers in 2021, the global IC industry was severely undersupplied. This, coupled with spiking chip prices, boosted the 2021 revenue of the global top ten IC design companies to US$127.4 billion, or 48% YoY.
TrendForce further indicates three major disparities from the 2020 ranking. First, NVIDIA surpassed Broadcom to take the second position. Second, Taiwanese companies Novatek and Realtek rose to sixth and eighth place, respectively. Originally ranked tenth, Dialog was replaced at this position by Himax after Dialog was acquired by IDM giant Renesas.
Qualcomm continues its reign as number one in the world, primarily due to 51% and 63% growth YoY in sales of mobile phone SoC (System on Chip) and IoT chips, respectively. The addition of diversified development in its RF and automotive chip businesses was key to a 51% increase in revenue. NVIDIA implemented the integration of software and hardware, demonstrating its ambitions in creating a “comprehensive computing platform.” Driven by the annual growth of gaming graphics card and data center revenue at 64% and 59%, respectively, NVIDIA successfully climbed to second place. Broadcom benefited from the stable sales performance of network chips, broadband communication chips, and storage and bridging chips, with revenue growing 18% YoY. AMD’s computer and graphics revenue grew by 45% YoY due to strong sales of the Ryzen CPU and Radeon GPU and rising average selling price. Coupled with accelerating demand from cloud companies, the annual revenue of AMD’s enterprise, embedded, and semi-customized divisions increased by 113%, driving annual growth of total revenue to 68%.
In terms of Taiwanese firms, MediaTek’s strategy of focusing on mobile phone SoC has produced miraculous results. Benefiting from an increase in 5G penetration, the sales performance of MediaTek’s mobile phone product portfolio surged by 93% and the company has committed to increasing the proportion of high-end product portfolios, resulting in 61% annual revenue growth. Novatek’s two major product lines of SoC and display driver IC have both grown significantly. Due to improved product specifications, increased shipments, and beneficial pricing gains, revenue grew by 79% YoY, the highest among the top ten. Realtek has been driven by strong demand for Netcom and commercial notebook products, while the performance of audio and Bluetooth chips remains quite stable, conferring an annual revenue growth of 43%. Himax joins the top ten ranking for the first time in 2021. Due to significant annual revenue growth in large-sized and medium/small-sized driver IC of 65% and 87%, respectively, and the successful introduction of driver IC into automotive panels, total revenue exceeded US$1.5 billion, or 74% YoY.
Looking forward to 2022, after AMD completes the acquisition of Xilinx, other players will fill out the rankings. In the broader picture, intensifying demand for high-specification products such as high-performance computing, Netcom, high-speed transmission, servers, automotive, and industrial applications will create good business opportunities for IC design companies and drive overall revenue growth. However, terminal system manufacturers face the correction of component mismatch issues. In addition, growing foundry costs, intensifying geopolitical conflicts, and rising inflation will all be detrimental to global economic growth and may impact an already weakened consumer electronics market. These are the challenges IC design companies face in 2022 and by what means can product sales momentum be maintained within existing production capacity, R&D efficacy strengthened, and chip specifications upgraded, will become the primary focus of development in 2022.
From 2020 to 2025, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12-inch equivalent wafer capacity at the world’s top ten foundries will be approximately 10% with the majority of these companies focusing on 12-inch capacity expansion, which will see a CAGR of approximately 13.2%, according to TrendForce’s research. In terms of 8-inch wafers, due to factors such as difficult to obtain equipment and whether capacity expansion is cost-effective, most fabs can only expand production slightly by means of capacity optimization, equating to a CAGR of only 3.3%. In terms of demand, the products primarily derived from 8-inch wafers, PMIC and Power Discrete, are driven by demand for electric vehicles, 5G smartphones, and servers. Stocking momentum has not fallen off, resulting in a serious shortage of 8-inch wafer production capacity that has festered since 2H19. Therefore, in order to mitigate competition for 8-inch capacity, a trend of shifting certain products to 12-inch production has gradually emerged. However, if shortages in overall 8-inch capacity is to be effectively alleviated, it is still necessary to wait for a large number of mainstream products to migrate to 12-inch production. The timeframe for this migration is estimated to be close to 2H23 into 2024.
PMIC and Audio Codec gradually transferred to 12-inch production, alleviating shortage of 8-inch production capacity
At present, mainstream products produced using 8-inch wafers include large-sized panel Driver IC, CIS, MCU, PMIC, Power Discrete (including MOSFET, IGBT), Fingerprint, Touch IC, and Audio Codec. Among them, there are plans to gradually migrate Audio Codec and some more severely backordered PMICs to the 12-inch process.
In terms of PMICs, other than certain PMICs used in Apple iPhones already manufactured at 12-inch 55nm, most mainstream PMIC processes are still at 8-inch 0.18-0.11μm. Burdened with the long-term supply shortage, IC design companies including Mediatek, Qualcomm, and Richtek have successively planned to transfer some PMICs to 12-inch 90/55nm production. However, since product process conversion requires time-consuming development and verification and total current production capacity of the 90/55nm BCD process is limited, short term relief to 8-inch production capacity remains small. Effective relief is expected in 2024 when large swathes of mainstream products migrate to 12-inch production.
In terms of Audio Codec, Audio Codecs for laptops are primarily manufactured on 8-inch wafers, and Realtek is the main supplier. In the 1H21, the squeeze on capacity delayed lead times which affected notebook computers shipments. Although the stocking efforts of certain tier1 customers proceeded smoothly in the second half of the year, these products remained difficult to obtain for some small and medium-sized customers. At present, Realtek has partnered with Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) to transfer the process development of laptop Audio Codecs from 8-inch to 12-inch 55nm. Mass production is forecast for mid-2022 and is expected to improve Audio Codec supply.
In addition to PMIC/Power Discrete, another mainstream product derived from 8-inch manufacturers is the large-sized panel Driver IC. Although most fabs still manufacture 8-inch wafers, Nexchip provides a 12-inch 0.11-0.15μm process technology used to produce large-sized Driver ICs. As production capacity at Nexchip grows rapidly, the supply of this product has been quite smooth. However, TrendForce believes that this is a special case. Mainstream large-sized Driver ICs are still manufactured on 8-inch wafers and there is no trend to switch to 12-inch wafers.
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Exponential demand growth for remote and unmanned terminals in smart home, logistics, manufacturing and other end-user applications has driven iterative updates in Wi-Fi technology. Among the current generations of technologies, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) is mainstream while Wi-Fi 6 and 6E (802.11ax) are at promotional stages, according to TrendForce’s investigations. In order to meet the connection requirements of industry concepts such as the Metaverse, many major manufacturers have trained their focus on the faster and more stable next generation 802.11be Wi-Fi standard amendment, commonly known as Wi-Fi 7. Considering technical characteristics, maturity, and product certification status, Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are expected to surpass Wi-Fi 5 to become mainstream technology in 2022, with global market share expected to reach 58%.
TrendForce states, in common residential applications of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6E supports 6GHz and expands bandwidth by at least 1200MHz, delivering higher efficiency, throughput, and security than Wi-Fi 6, and can optimize remote work, VR/AR, and other user experiences. Moreover, in terms of the vertical IoT sector with the highest output value, smart manufacturing still mostly employs Ethernet and 4G/5G mobile networks as the central communication technologies in current smart factories. However, as early as 2019, major British aerospace equipment manufacturer, Mettis Aerospace, and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) conducted phased testing of the practicality of Wi-Fi 6 in factories, and they believe that Wi-Fi 6 can be widely adopted for manufacturing.
Market not yet mature, practical application of Wi-Fi 7 must wait until the end of 2023 at the earliest
TrendForce believes that the introduction of Industry 4.0 technology tools will become more common and the degree of digitalization within companies will increase in the post-pandemic era, with 5G and Wi-Fi expected to bring complementary and synergistic effects to the manufacturing field. The primary reason for this is that 5G characteristics include wide connection, large bandwidth, and low latency. In addition, multi-access edge computing (MEC) and standalone (SA) network slicing can improve computing power and flexibility, all of which significantly upgrade smart manufacturing tools. Although the transmission range of Wi-Fi is small, it resists interference and enhances the physical penetration of wireless signals at smart manufacturing locations. Wi-Fi also reduces the cost of 5G distributed antennas and small base stations while extending communications range and improving equipment battery life.
Looking forward to next generation Wi-Fi 7, companies such as MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Broadcom, are already laying the groundwork for their forays into this standard. TrendForce believes, even though focus is currently shifting to Wi-Fi 7, scheduled application of Wi-Fi 7 is expected to fall between the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024. Challenges remain in terms of overall development and issues such as equipment investment, spectrum usage, deployment cost, and terminal equipment penetration must all be overcome in order to demonstrate the technical benefits of Wi-Fi 7.