When it comes to Qualcomm, what we are familiar with is their strength in mobile SOC. To be sure, with their years of experience in communications, the US chip company has become a well deserved giant in the industry. But in fact, in addition to the accumulation of high pass AP and BP, they have established a solid position in many fields of chip.
Recently, they even said that they would become the industry leader by the end of this year.
Christian block, senior vice president and general manager of Qualcomm, said that by the end of this year, the company is expected to take the lead in the RFFE market, and there will be more growth opportunities next year. The company aims to occupy more than 20% of the RF front-end (RFFE) market by the end of 2022. It may not be too hard for us giants to do that.
According to the report of global mobile chip market share in 2019 according to counterpoint statistics, Qualcomm won the first place in 2019 with a market share of 33.4%. In other words, if they can persuade mobile phone manufacturers using their SOC to try their RFFE, the market share will be absolutely considerable. In fact, this is the process that Qualcomm has been promoting.
In fact, looking back on the past development of Qualcomm, this is the way they have been practicing.
Develop new RF Market
Qualcomm is not a new recruit in the RF field. According to the data, the earliest time that the company did RF work can be traced back to around 2011. At that time, they dug up some experts and began to study CMOS Pa. after that, they also took many detours. However, in recent years, the growth momentum is insufficient, and the acquisition of NXP was rejected, Qualcomm can not wait to tell its investors the new “story” of RF business and sell it to its customers.
From the data point of view, the development of Qualcomm in the RF field in recent years is really good. In the second quarter of this year, the RFFE (RF front-end) business of Qualcomm increased continuously and year by year, and the revenue increased by more than 50%.
In the RF front-end field, the current market structure is relatively stable, mainly dominated by a few giants such as Broadcom, skyworks, qorvo and Murata. Relying on its leadership in mobile SOC, it is possible for Qualcomm to challenge this competitive pattern in the 5g era. Qualcomm also believes that these products have differentiated competitiveness compared with their counterparts such as Broadcom, skyworks and qorvo. In today’s 5g era, this plan of Qualcomm is even more dramatic.
Because of the increase of bandwidth and speed, 5g brings more complexity to equipment OEM. Relevant statistics show that, compared with 4G, the total number of RF band configurations required in 5g equipment is expected to increase by about 10 times, especially when considering carrier aggregation. The number has skyrocketed from about 1000 combinations today to more than 10000 of the early deployment 5GS worldwide. The area occupied by RF can be seen in the figure below.
An analysis from ABI research on the recent disassembly of 5g smartphones is consistent with the view of Qualcomm. The company found that the combination of frequency bands and other 5g considerations are making smartphone OEMs increasingly complex, especially RFFE related components. ABI said the content of RFFE was moving towards a full-scale integrated Modem RF design, and as 5g adoption became more widespread, the company saw RFFE as the key to success.
“The transition to 5g requires integrating the entire 5g cellular system design from modem to antenna into OEM equipment to address all aspects of end-to-end performance. This level of complexity includes the integration and deployment of new 5g modems and RFFE components, functions and features, leading to significant changes in mobile device design. ” ABI research wrote.
Block also believes that the complex nature is part of the reason why Qualcomm believes that RFFE market growth is driven by its end-to-end capabilities, which make it “a leader in RF front-end”. Qualcomm has a wide range of products including pamid, MMPA, filter, power tracker, millimeter wave antenna, modem and transceiver module. Taking advantage of 5g, high pass RF is soaring. In addition to its own R & D and rapid error correction, acquisition also plays an important role in this achievement.
After deciding to cut into RF, Qualcomm later acquired a company called black sand because they believed that the CMOS PA it provided was the trend of the times. However, the development of the following years proves that CMOS PA can not meet the needs of LTE era. On the one hand, the frequency of LTE is relatively high; on the other hand, LTE requires higher linearity of PA, especially the latter, which makes the industry return to GaAs PA, and high pass is no exception.
They started moving to GaAs PA around 2015. During this period, in order to create better RF front-end modules, in addition to continuing to expand its RF product line, Qualcomm also began to cooperate with TDK’s EPCOS.
In January 2016, Qualcomm and TDK announced an agreement to form a joint venture, rf360 holdings Singapore Pte, which plans to deliver RF front-end (RFFE) modules and RF Filters fully integrated systems into mobile devices and fast-growing business sectors, such as the Internet of things (IOT), UAVs, Robotics (15.600, – 0.02, – 0.13%), automotive applications. The joint venture will leverage TDK’s capabilities in micro acoustic RF filtering, packaging and module integration technologies, as well as Qualcomm’s expertise in advanced wireless technologies, to provide customers with cutting-edge RF solutions with fully integrated systems.
According to statistics, by 2020, the business opportunity value of RFFE will be 18 billion US dollars, and the filter is the key driving force of this business opportunity. The filter assets currently held in rf360 holdings are among the top three in the industry.
In September 2019, Qualcomm announced an important milestone in its 5g strategy and leadership by completing the acquisition of the remaining interest in rf360 holdings Singapore PTE. The acquisition is the last step for Qualcomm to formally introduce more than 20 years of RFFE filtering expertise. Through this acquisition, Qualcomm technologies is able to provide customers with complete end-to-end solutions from modem to antenna, including the world’s first commercial 5g NR sub-6 and mmwave solutions, integrated power amplifiers, filters, multiplexers, antenna tuning, LNAs, switching and envelope tracking products.
But we must say that although high pass has completed the basic construction of RF, the filter is still their short board. In particular, 5g / baultra has entered a new era of competition with the 5g mobile filter.
According to the goal of Qualcomm, by 2022, the company will be the leader in the RF front-end industry. As a supplier with about 50% of the mobile phone SOC share, Qualcomm is promoting mobile phone manufacturers to purchase a complete set of solutions composed of RF chips and baseband chips (or SOC chips), instead of selecting RF front-end chips from other suppliers for integration.
If this is popular, then for independent RF suppliers, its impact can be said to be obvious! In fact, prior to RF, Qualcomm also consolidated the position of GPU, Bluetooth and WiFi in this way!
Brilliant achievements of Qualcomm integration
Generally speaking, a system on chip (SOC) is mainly composed of two core parts: AP (application processor) and BP (Baseband Processor). AP is a CPU based on arm, which is usually responsible for executing and operating OS and some specific settings and loading boot presets; BP (Baseband) is mainly used to send and receive various data, that is, it is closely related to communication.
It is true that with years of accumulation in communication technology, Qualcomm is a well deserved overlord in the field of mobile AP. According to statista’s research, Qualcomm has nearly half of the mobile AP market share, as shown in the figure below.
Global market revenue share of the world’s leading Smartphone Application Processor (AP) suppliers, 2014-2019
Looking back on the development history of baseband chips, Qualcomm has always maintained a leading position in the field of baseband chips. According to the latest baseband Market Research Report released by strategy analytics on April 16, Qualcomm, Hisense, Intel, MediaTek and Samsung LSI occupy the top five revenue shares in the global cellular baseband processor market in 2019. Qualcomm led with 41% revenue share, followed by Hisilicon 16% and Intel 14%.
However, the strength of Qualcomm in the field of mobile phone SOC is inseparable from its layout of GPU. Mobile GPU is a part of SOC chip, and together with the general processor (CPU) of arm architecture, it constitutes two important parts of SOC chip reflecting application performance.
The GPU business of Qualcomm can be traced back to 2004. In 2004, it reached a cooperation plan with Canadian graphic chip design company AIT technologies to integrate the company’s 3D graphics technology into its next generation chips. After that, Qualcomm introduced ATI’s imageon graphics platform and integrated imageon technology into Qualcomm’s 7000 series mobile site modem chip.
In this way, Qualcomm and ATI started several years of mobile chip cooperation, until in 2006, ATI was acquired by AMD. Later, in 2009, Qualcomm acquired AMD’s mobile device assets with $65 million in cash, and acquired AMD’s vector graphics and 3D graphics technology, as well as related intellectual property rights, without paying any technology licensing fees to AMD.
After acquiring part of AMD’s graphics technology, Qualcomm independently developed a brand new GPU brand system, Adreno. Most of Qualcomm’s Adreno products are integrated into the company’s own chipsets, and the products of other companies are not widely used. At that time, Qualcomm also provided CPU and 3G communication solutions, so its SOC chip integration was very high, which could provide excellent processing and display performance for mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets.
Since then, Adreno GPU has been blooming and fruiting, and has released dozens of products, which are widely used in mobile devices. As a key component of snapdragon heterogeneous computing, it helps to support the processing of intensive GPGPU computing tasks, and helps Qualcomm become a giant in mobile GPU.
In July this year, Qualcomm released snapdragon 865 plus with GPU, which provides higher performance for the next generation of 5g smartphones. Its CPU prime core is 10% faster, and graphics rendering on the Adreno 650 GPU is 10% faster than the previous generation. In addition, snapdragon 865 plus also features Qualcomm’s new fastconnect 6900 mobile connectivity system, which can be used for Wi Fi and Bluetooth with speeds up to 3.6 Gbps.
But in fact, in addition to cell phone SOC, Qualcomm also has a strong influence on wireless chips such as WiFi and Bluetooth. In recent years, Qualcomm has made great progress in the field of Wi Fi. Since 2015, more than 4 billion Wi Fi chips have been shipped by Qualcomm, which is one of the main reasons why Broadcom tried to acquire the company in early 2018. From the first quarter of 2015 to the end of 2017, Broadcom’s market share in Wi Fi fell from 37% to 27%, according to ABI research, a network tracking company. During the same period, Qualcomm increased from 24% to 28%, replacing the first place.
And the strength of Qualcomm on WiFi is inseparable from buying and buying these years.
Since 2004, Qualcomm began to lay out WiFi. One year later, it launched its first MIMO chip. In 2005, it acquired berkana wireless, a silicon valley based chip design company. According to the data, berkana is a supplier of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) radio frequency integrated circuits (RFIC) in the wireless industry, which enhances the strength of Qualcomm in radio frequency.
In 2006, Qualcomm acquired airgo networks, a WLAN technology provider. Data show that the company, founded in 2001, specializes in the development of multiple input multiple output (MIMO) wireless technology. In 2003, they delivered the world’s first MIMO-OFDM chipset. Through this transaction, Qualcomm has the ability to integrate wireless WAN and wireless LAN functions into one product, providing users with a seamless connection experience.
In addition, it should be mentioned that in 2006, Qualcomm also acquired a Bluetooth asset of RFMD to strengthen the layout of Bluetooth.
In 2011, Qualcomm spent another $3.1 billion to acquire Atheros, a WiFi chip company founded in 1998 by John Hennessy and Professor Meng huaiying, Dean of Stanford University’s School of engineering. They are one of the first three companies to develop 802.11a chips (the other two are Cisco and INTERSIL). Through this acquisition and complementary products, Qualcomm will be in an advantageous position to achieve a successful mobile strategy. At that time, the company had carried the chip of Chuang Rui Xun in its baseband processor, and had developed a platform to allow switching calls between cellular networks and Wi Fi hotspots.
In 2012, Qualcomm acquired another U.S. company called ubicom. Founded in 1996, the company develops communications and media processors (CMP) and software platforms for real-time interactive applications and multimedia in digital homes, and Wi Fi related products are the key application market of ubicom, which enables the company to establish a symbiotic relationship with Atheros. I believe this is also one of the reasons to promote the acquisition of this enterprise by Qualcomm. Qualcomm also launched its first WiFi 5 product this year.
In 2014, Qualcomm acquired wilocity, an Israeli start-up focusing on wireless communication technology and chip manufacturing. Data shows that the company’s main business is the development of 60GHz wireless communication chips. Its technology and products can greatly improve the wireless communication speed of mobile devices, consumer electronics and computer peripherals. According to Qualcomm’s point of view, the reason why they launched this acquisition is that although 802.11ac can realize the offloading of mobile traffic in Gigabit Wi Fi network, 60GHz technology brings Gigabit (GB) speed, which can significantly improve capacity and efficiency to meet the challenges of the next generation of multi-media applications. In the same year, Qualcomm launched its first four channel MU-MIMO network solution.
In 2015, Qualcomm launched another attack, paying $2.4 billion to acquire CSR, a British chip company focusing on radio, Bluetooth, audio processing and positioning products. “CSR’s complementary advantages in connectivity, audio technology and SOC will help strengthen Qualcomm’s position in the Internet of things and the automotive industry, while complementing a broad and extremely advanced product portfolio,” said Steve morenkov, then chief executive of Qualcomm. The first 2 * 2mu-mimo platform of Qualcomm also made its debut this year.
After the acquisition, the company has a lot of wings, and with its own research and development skills, as early as 2010, the company’s WiFi chip shipment has exceeded 500 million. In 2011, Qualcomm went even further, and for the first time, it shipped its self-developed WiFi chips with the snapdragon platform, creating a perfect pair of “Qualcomm mobile phone processor + Qualcomm WiFi”. Since 2015, the company has delivered 5 billion pieces.
With the advent of WiFi 6 era, Qualcomm has also demonstrated a number of muscles, such as the first Wi Fi 6 solution for mobile terminals, the first 8×8 Wi Fi 6 network solution and the first Wi Fi 6 SOC for automobiles.
From the technological evolution of Qualcomm, we can see that if a chip manufacturer can have a strong platform with high market share, develop a series of peripheral chip products and integrate them into its platform, which will bring more revenue to the company. This is also a matter of no criticism. MTK and Ziguang zhanrui are also taking such a road. But we also see that this needs excellent technology as support.
For those peripheral chip suppliers, how to develop and consolidate their own strength and avoid being abandoned is also a problem that needs attention. For example, in the past years, Qualcomm has made great efforts to develop ultrasound fingerprint technology, and wants to win all trades. However, the gap between their technology and huiding’s off screen optical fingerprint technology is obvious, which makes them lose the battle in this respect.
But if you want to be a sink top, you need to have good technology.