Why Qualcomm can still be so calm as Google and Samsung squeezed into the market

Dec 15, 2020 Hardware HUAWEI Xiaomi


In April this year, a new report claims Google and Samsung are working on a new custom system-on-a-chip (SoC) more advanced than the 865, which is expected to be put into use next year, and will subsequently be carried on Google notebooks.

In early November, Samsung preempted Qualcomm and MediaTek to release a 5nm process integrated 5G mobile phone chip. As Samsung abandoned its own research architecture with its product roadmap back on track, it will first be equipped in Vivo flagship mobile phone series, next year may supply chips to OPPO, Xiaomi and other mobile phone manufacturers.

Mobile phone chip market is full of uncertainty. Qualcomm, as a chip giant, is challenged by old and new rivals.

More and more companies chose to design their own mobile phone chips in order to save costs and better grasp their own destiny, but they can not really get rid of Qualcomm.

Companies like Google and Apple still need Qualcomm modems (responsible for mobile phone communication functions of the chip). It means that Qualcomm can check and balance its competitors such as Samsung, Huawei and MediaTek.


Qualcomm cuts into consumer 5G pain point scenarios


Not long ago, Qualcomm kicked off its annual Snapdragon Tech Summit Digital 2020. As Qualcomm's most important annual conference, it is not only a concentrated public display of Qualcomm's technical R&D strength over the year, but also sets the tone for the next year's mobile phone chip market trend.

In the mobilel phone chip market segment, manufacturers are competing fiercely and users have limited choices. For competitors or mobile phone manufacturers, the annual new technology iteration of Qualcomm is an important event, which is related to their own product design line and product release rhythm.

The conference was held in a virtual format this year owing to the pandemic, but none of the parts has been omitted.

Qualcomm combined with 5G scenario applications, giving many labels to its own chips. For example, Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon joked that Qualcomm attaches importance to the development of mobile image processing technology and is actually a camera company. Imaging technology capabilities include mobile phone photography, video calls, games and other scenarios, and 61% of consumers choose mobile phones based on the photo function. The mobile game market is the largest segment of the game industry, with an annual growth of over 13%, one of the most promising scenarios for the consumer market.

Qualcomm cuts into consumer 5G pain point scenarios to leverage commercial chip market. 

After the meeting, Mr. Frank Meng, Chairman of Qualcomm China, said that the market landscape will change with the evolution of 3G and 4G, and it is the norm that the market landscape will change again in the 5G era. So the market opportunity opened by 5G has just begun.

Indeed, the market competition in the 5G era has become multi-dimensional. There are old rivals competing for the market and new rivals stirring the pot.

These variables will undoubtedly have a direct impact on Qualcomm, and can the new Snapdragon 888 chip cope with the impact of these variables?


Qualcomm is in a favorable position in the coming 5G era


The year 2019 is the first year of 5G, and 5G commercialization has started. In 2020, with the further freezing of 5G R16 standard, 5G commercialization will speed up in the future.

Qualcomm cited a set of figures that, five times as many operators launched 5G commercial services in the first 18 months of commercial deployment as the 4G era. Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 450 million to 550 million in 2021 and more than 750 million in 2020.

It can be said that the current is in the eve of the 5G switch wave, 5G switch wave will come faster than 4G, and what kind of mobile phone commercial chips launched this year will play a decisive role in mobile chip market share next year, and even the year after.

After the release of the last generation of Qualcomm high-end flagship chips 865, 865 Plus, both chip performance and chip design did not get industry expectations. In particular, unlike the modem integrated design from Huawei, MediaTek and Samsung, Qualcomm high-end chip 865, 865 Plus are using external chip design, resulting in increased mobile phone costs, power consumption and memory occupied.

Qualcomm explained that this move is to allow the baseband performance to the best level, certain manufacturers rushed on the integrated design, but damages the baseband performance. However, Qualcomm's explanation has not been recognized by the industry. Some foreign media even posted the 2012 Qualcomm press release on chip integration to refute that external design leads to an overall degradation of the user experience, "usually, the more chips involved in the phone, the greater the challenge of maintaining battery life, phone performance, integrated design can save power consumption."

This year, as a key year for 5G commercial use, Qualcomm has made some progress on key design aspects of high-end chips, with the Snapdragon 888 using an integrated third-generation X60 baseband design. Some industry insiders have commented that Qualcomm's new products this year have no weaknesses to attack.

In terms of chip design, Qualcomm is back to the mainstream market, and the market environment is also quite favorable to Qualcomm.

Counterpoint data show that in 2020 Q2 global mobile phone chip market share ranking, Qualcomm, MediaTek, Huawei, Apple were ranked in the top four with 29%, 26%, 16%, 13%, respectively (Note: Samsung and Apple tied for fourth). Qualcomm not only to face the challenges from MediaTek, but also need to deal with non-commercial chips from Huawei, Apple, Samsung in the technical level of the rivalry.

Huawei is unable to manufacture Kirin chips through third-party foundries due to the impact of U.S. entity list, and can only use third-party chip companies such as Qualcomm to apply for sales licenses as a breakthrough to continue the lifeline of the mobile phone business.

Meanwhile, Honor is not limited by the list of entities after being split from Huawei. The latest news says that Qualcomm and Honor have already been in discussions of supplying Qualcomm chips for Honor devices.

Therefore, it can be expected that in the future, with the release of the chip sales license, the huge demand gap caused by the original Kirin chip will be quickly filled by Qualcomm. And Qualcomm can further expand its share advantage in such a year.

However, it does not mean that Qualcomm can rest easy, after all, the butterfly effect brought by the 5G era variables can not be ignored.


Google, Samsung into the game, Qualcomm's position is still solid


In April, it is reported that the chip, code-named Whitechapel, was designed in cooperation with Samsung, whose state-of-the-art 5-nanometer technology would be used to manufacture the chips, according to a source familiar with Google's effort. And, recently, the news is spreading again.

Last year, Samsung began to prepare for the Orion chip from self-use to commercial use, while MediaTek continued to attack the high-end chip market where Qualcomm was located.

More and more companies choose to design their own mobile phone chips in the cost-saving considerations. However, these companies can not really get rid of Qualcomm. Therefore, Qualcomm can completely check and balance other new and old competitors by patent licensing.

The important thing is that Qualcomm has got the ticket to win the global market in advance.

In the global mobile phone market, Chinese mobile phone brands occupy nearly 70% to 80% of the proportion, so the importance of the Chinese market is self-evident. Taking the Chinese mobile phone brands means winning half of the game.

This year Qualcomm pays more attention to the Chinese market, for example, the Snapdragon 888 chip naming is closely related to the Chinese market. Qualcomm's president Cristiano Amon said in an interview that Chinese customers have always been a top priority in Qualcomm's global business, that China came out of the epidemic earlier than other countries, and that the mobile phone market is recovering far faster than other countries, all of which have determined that the Snapdragon 888 chip naming is full of Chinese elements.

At the end of Qualcomm's first day technology summit, almost all Chinese firms including OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi, ZTE, Lenovo and others, stood in full force for Qualcomm's new flagship.

As Qualcomm's president Cristiano Amon said, "Smartphones have become the largest consumer electronics product and the largest technology platform ever, becoming one of the most competitive segments of the semiconductor industry."

Taking this piece of cake not only requires the original technology, but also need the accumulation of channel resources partners. Thus, it is quite difficult for Google and Samsung to beat Qualcomm in the short term.

This is an article from WeChat official accounts GeekPark (ID: geekpark), written by Zhao Chenxi, translated by Chris Yuan.