不和高通苹果拼高端,展讯在中低端市场很滋润

上网时间: 2013年03月25日? 作者:Junko Yoshida? 我来评论 【字号: ? ?小】

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Spreadtrum flourishes as $50 smartphones boom

Junko Yoshida

The story of the mobile market globally in 2012 was the big surge in demand for smartphones in China. The big beneficiaries among smartphone chip suppliers were MediaTek and Spreadtrum. SHANGHAI – The story of the mobile market globally in 2012 was the big surge in demand for smartphones in China. The big beneficiaries among smartphone chip suppliers were MediaTek and Spreadtrum.

The story of 2013 will continue to be the growing smartphone market, as the trend spreading far and wide, into India and Southeast Asia.

Leo Li, Chairman and CEO of Spreadtrum, told EE Times Monday (March 18), “We are so busy. We can’t keep up with the growing smartphone demand.” This might sound like a gratuitous remark, but Li actually means it.

Earlier this year, market research firm Canalys predicted that China will cement its lead as the world’s largest smartphone market in 2013, with the nation expected to sell 240 million smartphones, roughly one third of global shipments. In contrast, the United States, the world's second-largest smartphone market, is likely to absorb 125 million, the market research firm said.

However, the hot smartphones in China, India and elsewhere in Southeast Asia are different from those sold in the United States. U.S. models are “heavily influenced by Apple’s iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy S3,” and their smartphone market is “much more mature and saturated,” explained Spreadtrum’s Li. In contrast, handsets purchased by China’s first-time smartphone buyers are cheaper, usually under $50 per handset, and feature typically a 3.5-inch screen. They run on an Android 2.1 operating system.

The story is similar in India, too. Eighty percent of handsets sold by Micromax, India’s leading mobile handset brand [in which Spreadtrum invested), are the low-end smartphones designed to work in India’s EDGE network, Li said.

Source: Canalys

As global smartphone chip suppliers like ST-Ericsson, Renesas Mobile, Marvell and Nvidia struggle to break into the high-end smartphone market dominated by Qualcomm and Apple, Spreadtrum and MediaTek, are having a field day in sharing what appears to be a wide-open mid- to low-end smartphone segment.

Notwithstanding the price, such low-end smartphones are nothing to be sneered at. Li touted their usefulness and high performance. Good examples are Spreadtrum’s 1GHz Android low-cost smartphone platforms such as SC8810 (TD-SCDMA) and SC6820 (EDGE/GPRS/GSM), said Li. While both are based on an integrated baseband/apps processor using a single ARM Cortex A5 core, they can drive low-end smartphones with performance as good as Apple’s iPhone 4, he claimed.

Wait. Is Li really talking about his single-core apps/baseband processor?

On par with iPhone 4?

“Of course, our handset customers are equally skeptical, when it comes to the performance of CPU/GPU performance of our chips. So before they decide to use our chips, they run a test. They use, for example, Geekbench, an application designed to offer a comprehensive set of benchmarks to quickly measure processor and memory performance,” said Li. “Our 1-GHz low-cost smartphone platforms can process data as fast as that of iPhone 4. Our Geekbench score is as high, or even better than that of iPhone 4.”

MediaTek vs. Spreadtrum

If both MediaTek and Spreadtrum are carving up what appears to be an explosive mid- to low-end smartphone market in China, what’s Spreadtrum’s game plan to compete against MediaTek?

“That market is so big that the two companies can comfortably coexist,” said Li.

Well, not quite. Spreadtrum leads in China Mobile’s TD-SCDM-based smartphone market with its single-core smartphone platforms. The company is said to have had more than a 50 percent market share among China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA handsets in 2012. Spreadtrum is expected to hang onto a similar 50 percent share also in 2013. MediaTek focuses on the mid-range smartphone market, armed with its dual-core solution. More important, MediaTek leads in non-China Mobile segments with its WCDMA solutions.

Spreadtrum is finally ready to move into the WCDMA market sometime between the second and the third quarter this year, according to Li. “Our first product will be using a 40-nm process, but we are quickly moving to a 28-nm process by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. in the fourth quarter.” Spreadtrum’s first WCDMA-based smartphone chip will be based on a single core. But the company plans to jump to a new quad-core solution in the fourth quarter, Li said.

No dual core?

“We’ll address that later. But for now, we see the dual-core market is a busy area, very crowded. We want to pick a spot to move into the quad-core segment first.”

Competing with MediaTek on the WCDMA market won’t be easy. But “whatever number of WCDMA chips we can sell this year, we will be contributing to what used to be a zero market share for us,” said Li.

Working on LTE

Meanwhile, Spreadtrum has been working on LTE for almost three years. The company rolled out in 2012 its first TD-LTE solution (CAT 3), which Li said cleared all China Mobile requirements, and it’s being designed into data cards. The company’s second-generation LTE solution (CAT 4), scheduled to be out in the fourth quarter, uses a 28-nm process. It will feature five-mode basebands (TDD-LTE, FDD-LTE, WCDMA, TD-SCDMA and EDGE), he added.

Given that Marvell and others are also hot-to-trot on the five-mode baseband, wouldn’t Spreadtrum like to be first to offer a five-mode LTE baseband chip?

“Although we were the first to cultivate the TD-SCDMA market, we haven’t necessarily been the first mover. Qualcomm is.” In Li’s opinion, meaningful volume for LTE smartphones in China won’t emerge until the second half of 2014.

More important for Spreadtrum than being the first mover in LTE is to be equally effective as MediaTek is with its turnkey solutions, whose playbook MediaTek wrote.

By “a turnkey solution,” Li explained, “We offer all the components necessary to build an entire handset. It allows a company with only 20 to 30 engineers to turn a phone around very quickly.”

As China Mobile moves to split sourcing 50 percent of its handsets through central procurement in Beijing, with the rest from the open market, chip vendors supplying to design houses, OEMs/ODMs need to get ready for that change. While typically central procurement seeks a minimum of 700,000 units per a single model, the open market consists of smaller design houses who ask chip vendors to supply different solutions for a vast array of models, with each order in the 100,000-200,000 range, explained Li. Each model demands different features and different User Interfaces, he added.

To absorb such varying demands from local design houses and OEMs/ODMs, “you need to be nimble, you need to be local.”

Spreadtrum CEO Leo Li, in front of a fish tank at his office in Shanghai

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