The semicondustor market in 3Q21 is red hot with total revenue of the global top 10 IC design (fabless) companies reaching US$33.7 billion or 45% growth YoY, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. In addition to the Taiwanese companies MediaTek, Novatek, and Realtek already on the list, Himax comes in at number ten, bringing the total number of Taiwanese companies on the top 10 list to 4.
Qualcomm has been buoyed by continuing robust demand for 5G mobile phones form major mobile phone manufacturers with further revenue growth from its processor and radio frequency front end (RFFE) departments. Qualcomm’s IoT department benefited from strong demand in the consumer electronics, edge networking, and industrial sectors, posting revenue growth of 66% YoY, highest among Qualcomm departments. In turn, this drove Qualcomm’s total 3Q21 revenue to US$7.7 billion, 56% growth YoY, and ranking first in the world.
Second ranked NVidia, is still benefiting from gaming graphics card and data center revenue as the annual revenue growth for these two primary product departments reached 53% and 48%, respectively. In addition, professional design visualization solutions only accounted for 8% of total revenue. However, due to enduringly strong demand for mining and customers actively deploying the RTX series of high-performance graphics cards, NVidia’s product department revenue grew 148% YoY with overall revenue increasing by 55% to US$6.6 billion.
Third ranked Broadcom’s main revenue stream came from their network chip, broadband communication chip and storage and bridge chip businesses. Driven by post-COVID hybrid working models, companies are accelerating migration to the cloud, increasing demand for Broadcom chips, and driving revenue growth to US$5.4 billion or 17% YoY. AMD’s Ryzen, Radeon, and EPYC series of products in the fields of games, data centers, and servers performed well, driving total revenue to US$4.3 billion, 54% growth YoY, and fifth place overall.
In terms of Taiwanese companies, MediaTek continues to expand its global 5G rollout and, benefiting from optimization of product portfolio composition, product line specification enhancement, increase in sales volume, increases in pricing, and other factors, revenue of MediaTek’s mobile phone product line increased 72% YoY. Annual revenue of other product lines also posted double digit growth with total revenue in the 3Q21 reaching US$4.7 billion or 43% YoY, a fourth place ranking. Novatek continues to focus on its two primary product lines of system-on-chip and panel driver chips. The proportion of its OLED panel driver chip shipments has increased, product ASP has risen, and shipments have been smooth with 3Q21 revenue reaching US$1.4 billion or 84% YoY. In addition, Realtek’s revenue surpassed Xilinx to take the eighth position due to higher priced Netcom chips in 3Q21. Himax also saw significant growth in its three main product lines of TVs, monitors, and notebooks due to large-size driver chips. Revenue from large-size driver chips increased 111% YoY, driving total revenue to exceed the US$400 million mark, a 75% increase, and enough to squeeze onto this year’s ranking.
Overall, 3Q21 revenue for major IC design (fabless) companies has generally reached historic levels. Rankings for the top 7 companies remained the same as in 2Q21 with change coming in ranks 8 to 10. Looking forward to 4Q21, TrendForce believes Taiwanese IC design (fabless) companies will generally lean conservative. In addition to the electronics industry moving into the traditional off-season, a slowing of demand for consumer applications and customer-end materials supply issues reducing procurement will make continued revenue growth a challenge. In addition to consumer electronic products, global industry leaders are focused on the positive development of server and data center products to maintain an expected revenue growth trend.
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Regarding the shipment of various end products in 4Q21, the quarterly shipment of notebook computers is expected to remain about the same as 3Q21 figures, as prior component gaps were partially resolved during the quarter, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. As such, since PC OEMs’ DRAM inventory has lowered by several weeks, TrendForce has also further reduced its forecast of DRAM price drops for 1Q22. Even so, the overall demand for DRAM will still enter a cyclical downturn in 1Q22, during which DRAM ASP will also maintain a downward trajectory with an 8-13% QoQ decline. Whether this price drop will subside going forward will depend on how well suppliers manage their inventory pressure and how DRAM purchasers anticipate further price changes.
Decline in PC DRAM prices will narrow somewhat as PC OEMs reduce inventory
Whereas demand for Chromebooks has noticeably slowed down, demand for consumer and commercial notebooks remains strong. Furthermore, certain components which were previously in shortage are starting to experience improved lead times. Hence, quarterly shipment of notebook computers for 4Q21 will likely surpass earlier projections. Looking ahead to 1Q22, not only will the demand side undergo a cyclical downturn, but the sufficiency ratio of PC DRAM will also surpass 3.0% following 4Q21’s high base period for comparison. These factors will result in DRAM prices undergoing a noticeable decline, although PC OEMs will carry a lower inventory of DRAM in 1Q22 compared with 11-13 weeks of inventory in the previous quarter, thereby helping to curb the price drop of PC DRAM products. On the other hand, as mobile DRAM prices begin to drop, certain DRAM suppliers have begun reallocating some of their production capacities from mobile DRAM to PC DRAM. As a result, PC DRAM bit supply will likely undergo a corresponding increase in the short run. In sum, although the above factors are able to provide some upside momentum that narrows the price drop of PC DRAM products, they are not enough to result in an upturn. In particular, DDR4 and DDR5 PC DRAM will experience QoQ declines of 5-10% and 3-8%, respectively, for 1Q22, although the latter product will not noticeably impact the overall PC DRAM ASP, as its penetration rate is still relatively low.
Server DRAM prices will decrease by about 8-13% QoQ due to slowdown in procurement activities
At the moment, CSPs and enterprise clients are carrying about 6-9 weeks and 8-10 weeks of server DRAM inventory, respectively. Although these levels represent a slight decline compared to the end of 3Q21, this decline will not substantially contribute to an increase in demand. Hence, server DRAM buyers will remain relatively conservative with regards to procurement activities before server DRAM prices reach a level that these buyers consider to be rock bottom. DRAM suppliers’ inventory of server DRAM, on the other hand, has been gradually rising in 1H21 owing to decreased demand. Furthermore, certain suppliers have ramped up their wafer input for server DRAM products, leading to an increased production. In addition, while both buyers and sellers have reached a consensus on the falling prices of server DRAM, supply chain-related component gap issues have become gradually resolved, meaning Tier 1 clients will lessen their server DRAM procurement in the upcoming off-season. As a result, suppliers will then be able to fulfill orders that were placed by Tier 2 clients but previously deferred because suppliers prioritized orders from Tier 1 clients. These Tier 2 client orders will provide some upside demand for server DRAM, which is a component that is in relative surplus compared to other components. TrendForce therefore expects server DRAM prices to decrease by 8-13% QoQ in 1Q22, during which server DRAM prices will experience the most severe declines compared to the other quarters in 2022.
Mobile DRAM prices will decline by about 8-13% QoQ in light of intensifying oversupply
Thanks to mobile DRAM suppliers’ aggressive sell-offs in 4Q21, smartphone brands still carry a high level of mobile DRAM inventory as of the end of 2021. Looking ahead to 1Q22, not only will the market welcome the arrival of the traditional off-season, but other issues with the supply of processor chip bundles and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will also result in a 10% QoQ drop in smartphone production for the quarter. Smartphone brands will become even more careful with respect to their procurement activities so as to avoid continually accumulating inventory. As smartphone brands revise down their production targets, market demand for mobile DRAM has therefore become weaker now than it was in 1H21, in turn exacerbating the oversupply situation, which is reflected in the persistently rising mobile DRAM inventory of DRAM suppliers. On the whole, the aforementioned issues of high inventory levels and oversupply situation will lead smartphone brands to further conservatize their production and procurement plans in 1Q22. Given that suppliers have suggested a sales strategy of negotiating for 4Q21 and 1Q22 prices collectively, and both buying and selling sides are confronted with inventory pressure, TrendForce thus forecasts an 8-13% QoQ decline in mobile DRAM prices for 1Q22.
Graphics DRAM prices will hold flat while demand improves and spot prices rises ahead of time
The application demand for graphics DRAM has been recovering noticeably in the recent period. Even so, it is worth pointing out that the graphics DRAM market is subject to a very high degree of fluctuations, and this situation is exacerbated by the introduction of the application demand from cryptocurrency mining in recent years. Because the values of cryptocurrencies can swing dramatically, GPU manufacturers such as NVIDIA and AMD have to constantly adjust their sales strategies and switch between bundling and de-bundling. In so doing, they are contributing to the rapid rise and fall of graphics DRAM demand. The graphics DRAM products that the three dominant suppliers are now producing belong to the GDDR6 series. The latest distribution of graphics DRAM output by chip type shows that suppliers are also gradually shifting their focus from 8Gb to 16Gb. Micron, in particular, is the most proactive in this transition. On the other hand, the mainstream graphics cards are still using 8Gb chips at this moment, so the demand for 8Gb graphics DRAM chips has actually increased. In addition, spot prices of both GDDR5 8Gb and GDDR6 8Gb chips have experienced huge price hikes. Due to this uptrend in spot prices, the difference between spot and contract prices is now negligible for graphics DRAM. Some spot transactions even reveal prices that are higher than contract prices. This latest development reflects the situation where buyers are more proactive in price negotiations. Prices of graphics DRAM products on the whole will be fairly constrained from declining further due to the rise in spot prices, the aforementioned demand turnaround, and Micron’s decision to scale back production for 8Gb chips. Taking these factors into account, TrendForce expects that the overall price trend will stay mostly flat.
DDR3 Consumer DRAM prices will drop by about 3-8% QoQ despite reduced supply
The demand for consumer (specialty) DRAM is expected to be relatively weak in 1Q22 due to the effect of the traditional off-season for consumer electronics. Also, demand will stay fairly depressed for TVs, which represent the leading source of in-home entertainment spending. This is because countries around the world will continue in their attempts to lift their pandemic-related restrictions. In addition to these factors, component gaps in the supply chain will still be a serious challenge for device manufacturers. As DRAM components are in excess supply relative to non-memory components, device manufacturers will be less willing to stock up on the former. Suppliers have been slow to scale back production for DDR3 products this year because prices of DDR3 products surged during the first half of the year. However, the downward pressure on prices has now become much more significant, so the two leading South Korean suppliers have taken the initiative to revise their product mix strategies. Hence, they will again transfer more of their mature wafer processing capacity from DDR3 products to CMOS image sensors or logic ICs. Turning to price trend, TrendForce points to the strong correlation between DDR4 consumer DRAM products and PC DRAM products. The latter were the first to experience a weakening of demand, and their prices have already made a downward turn in 4Q21. Looking ahead to 1Q22, contract prices of PC DRAM products will keep falling because of their significant difference with spot prices. This means that DDR4 consumer DRAM products will also suffer sliding prices for 1Q22 with QoQ declines reaching 5-10%. Looking at DDR3 consumer DRAM products, their prices will also drop even as their supply is shrinking. Contract prices of DDR3 2Gb chips are projected fall by 3-8% QoQ on average for 1Q22, whereas DDR3 4Gb chips are projected to register larger declines.
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Factors such as the rising popularity of topics related to the metaverse and UGC (user-generated content), as well as the rapid increase in AR/VR device shipment, will likely result in the creation of a growing body of virtual reality content in the market, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. TrendForce expects annual global virtual reality content revenue to grow at a 40% CAGR from US$2.16 billion in 2021 to US$8.31 billion in 2025.
TrendForce further indicates that gaming/entertainment, videos, and social interactions comprise the primary categories of virtual reality content. Incidentally, as the construction of the virtual world and the development of virtual reality content are unlikely to be accomplished by only a handful of companies alone, companies in this space will therefore place an increasing emphasis on UGC instead. Leading companies will likely leverage the build-out of virtual reality platforms/environments and the provisioning of developmental tools/interfaces in order to not only lower the barrier to entry for content creation, but also raise user participation, thereby driving up the content market for virtual reality applications.
In consideration of profitability, most companies still adopt a wait-and-see approach towards the virtual reality market because content development for the virtual world entails substantial time and expenses. The vast majority of UGC, however, is not profit-driven. Hence, TrendForce believes that UGC is likely a more suitable point of entry into the virtual reality market for most companies that wish to do so. Furthermore, companies that specialize in metaverse applications will place increasing emphasis on developing platforms, building comprehensive ecosystems, and lowering the barrier to entry for content creation through the appropriate development tools and interfaces.
On the whole, factors that affect the development of the global virtual reality content market include not only the availability of platforms and their respective contents, but also the build-out of hardware equipment and infrastructures, such as high-speed computing chip adoption as well as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 deployment. On the other hand, as the virtual world places a high demand on instant, lifelike, and stable interactions, the ability to resolve signal disruptions has in turn become a topic that demands attention. With regards to end devices, the penetration rate of AR/VR devices going forward will primarily be determined by suppliers’ pricing strategies. In light of the growth of virtual reality application content, companies will look to expand their user base via low-priced hardware devices and compensate for their reduced hardware profitability through software sales. Finally, in response to the demand for more immersive and interactive user experiences, the integration of more sensors and better feedback design is set to become the next major trend of AR/VR device development.
In light of the metaverse’s ability to satisfy the demands of WFH, virtual reality, and simulations, the smart manufacturing industry will also likely capitalize on the rise of the metaverse and undergo an accelerated growth of related technologies, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Global smart manufacturing revenue is expected to increase at a 15.35% CAGR across the 2021-2025 period and surpass US$540 billion in 2025. This growth can primarily be attributed to several factors. First, industrial applications take place in closed environments, and companies that utilize such applications have generally made good progress in terms of digital transformation. Furthermore, by utilizing simulation technologies, companies are able to significantly cut down on their labor costs, project time, and wasted resources. Simulation technologies, if developed as an industry 4.0 application, also serve as the backbone of CPS (cyber-physical systems). TrendForce therefore expects the smart manufacturing industry to be perfectly positioned with innate advantages and motivations as one of the main enablers of the metaverse.
Regarding the diverse mainstream smart manufacturing tools, digital twins, which major adopters believe to be a significant application of industry 4.0, empower the simulation of the physical world through digital data, bridge the virtual world with the real world, and subsequently serve as a key technology shaping the metaverse during its infancy. In particular, Microsoft has included digital twins in its metaverse technology stack due to their ability to generate rich digital models. It should be pointed out that the vast majority of digital twins currently used for industrial applications deliver digital simulations for either a single product or a single production line primarily because the reliability of simulated models requires a database containing sufficient data from the modeled product itself. Some examples of digital twins in action include Boeing utilizing digital twins to build engines, Unilever using simulated production lines to cut down on waste production, and Siemens Energy and Ericsson respectively leveraging Nvidia’s Omniverse platform to operate power plants and perform predictive maintenance as well as simulating equipment allocations for 5G networks.
Digital twin technologies will progress towards wider deployments and deeper operations in response to the rise of the metaverse and to the growing complexity of digital simulation models used for constructing products. Hence, relevant digital twin technologies will also begin to emerge in the market. In terms of width of deployment, digital twins need to model more comprehensive and extensive virtual objects and spaces that form the operating environment in the metaverse in order to achieve better predictive accuracy. Relevant technologies include 5G, WiFi 6, cloud and edge computing, smart sensors, as well as more resilient communication environments/computing platforms, and more diverse sensors. In terms of depth of operation, developments in technologies used for industrial drones, cobots, and machine vision feature improved precision and operability that enable AI-based decisions made in the virtual space to be applicable to decision-making scenarios in the real, physical world.
On the whole, taking into account the rapid development of AR/VR and HMI technologies, as well as other factors including economic outcomes, feasibility of operation, and the overall industrial environment, TrendForce believes that the direction of metaverse-based digital twin application development for industrial purposes will focus on human resource training, remote diagnostics, energy monitoring, and predictive maintenance in the short and medium terms. For instance, Rockwell, Siemens, ABB, Advantech, Ennoconn, and Delta are some of the companies that have made good progress in this area. In the long term, on the other hand, individual companies will likely be able to construct virtual factories in the collaborative industrial metaverse and thereby connect their various factory locations or even engage in cross-industrial collaborations. With regards to long-term applications, then, companies that are competent in industry 4.0 development and possess various lighthouse factories and vast databases will likely to be pioneers in the industry; leading examples include Bosch, Schneider Electric, Haier, and Foxconn.
The growth of the metaverse will drive an increasing number of companies to participate in the build-out of the virtual world, with use cases such as social communities, gaming/entertainment, content creation, virtual economy, and industrial applications all becoming important points of focus in the coming years, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Apart from increases in both computing power of semiconductors and coverage of low-latency, high-speed networks, the metavere’s development will also depend on the adoption of AR/VR devices by end users. TrendForce expects global AR/VR device shipment for 2022 to reach 12.02 million units, a 26.4% YoY increase, with Oculus and Microsoft each taking leadership position in the consumer and commercial markets, respectively.
TrendForce further indicates that the success of AR/VR devices in the consumer and commercial markets will be determined by their retail prices and degree of system integration, respectively, while these two factors are also responsible for leading companies’ continued competitive advantages. However, gross and net profit considerations regarding AR/VR hardware have made it difficult to not only price these devices competitively, but also increase the volume of AR/VR device shipment.
Even so, the growing popularity of the metaverse will drive more and more hardware brands to enter the AR/VR market and push online service platform providers to either directly or indirectly propel the growth of the hardware market in 2022. Regarding the consumer market, AR/VR device suppliers may look to expand their user base and increase their market penetration via low-priced yet high-spec devices, while compensating for their reduced hardware profitability through software sales. Oculus, for instance, has adopted such a strategy to maintain its advantage in the market, thereby raising the market share of the Oculus Quest products to a forecasted 66% next year.
Regarding the commercial market, there has been a growth in applications ranging from remote interactions and virtual collaborations to digital twins; hence, enterprises have become increasingly willing to adopt AR/VR devices. Compared to the consumer market, which is mainly driven by products with low prices and high specs, the commercial market is comprised of enterprises that are more willing to choose high-priced and high-performance products, although such products must be paired with a full system integration solution or customized services. Possessing substantial competency in the industrial ecosystem, Microsoft enjoys a relatively large competitive advantage in the commercial market, as the company’s HoloLens 2 became one of the few commercial AR devices with an annual shipment exceeding 200,000 units this year.
It should also be pointed out that, given the rapid advancements in high-speed 5G networks, video-based remote assistance applications enabled by low-priced AR glasses and 5G smartphones’ computing and networking functions will become yet another commercial AR/VR use case. TrendForce believes that these applications can serve as a low-cost, easily deployable early trial that will not only raise enterprises’ willingness to adopt more AR/VR commercial applications going forward, but also accelerate the development of commercial services related to the metaverse.