中国手机芯片产业将大一统,对手只剩MTK和高通

上网时间: 2013年11月26日? 作者:Junko Yoshida? 我来评论 【字号: ? ?小】

关键字:中国手机芯片? 中国手机IC产业? 本土智能手机芯片?

Merger Pits Mysterious Tsinghua Unigroup vs. MediaTek

Junko Yoshida

PARIS -- The industry landscape among China's fabless chip companies -- fragmented among too many little players fighting for a low-margin smartphone chip business in the domestic market -- is about to change.

Through Tsinghua Unigroup's initiative to acquire the leading TD-SCDMA baseband chip vendor Spreadtrum Communications (announced in July) and now China's RF IC leader RDA Microelectronics (disclosed earlier this week), hopes are running high in China that its domestic electronics industry might finally get a consolidated entity powerful enough to compete with Taiwan's MediaTek, if not quite an equivalent to Qualcomm in the United States.

According to several sources in China's electronics industry EE Times talked to this week, getting acquired by Tsinghua Unigroup is the most logical and probably the best option left for Spreadtrum, which needs to compete with MediaTek on the high-end smartphone business while fighting off RDA on the low-end of the market.

Further, consider that both Spreadtrum and RDA are "competing in a low end market where the profit is razor thin, and the market is declining," one Chinese executive noted. "The consolidation of the two companies is a good thing for China electronics." He expects to see this happen more in the future. The Chinese semiconductor industry, with a lot of smart people working but all of them competing on lower and lower margins, is not sustainable, he explained.

While many Chinese industry sources see the recent development positively, opinions differ about what comes next. Some Chinese executives view Tsinghua Unigroup's move as "a pure financial play," while others put more stock in a behind-the-scenes ploy by the Chinese government to strengthen China's electronics industry. Others even go further, predicting a doomsday scenario for other Chinese fabless companies such as Allwinner and Rockchip.

About Tsinghua Unigroup

Little is known about Tsinghua Unigroup -- especially in the West. When it comes to details of the group's business and people involved in running the business, it's not all that clear even in China, either.

Here are the basics. Tsinghua Unigroup is 51 percent owned by Tsinghua Holdings, a 100 percent state-owned limited liability corporation funded by Tsinghua University in China. Forty-nine percent of Tsinghua Unigroup is owned by private entity -- Jiankun Investment Group Co., Ltd. -- controlled by Zhao Weiguo.

Weiguo serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tsinghua Unigroup.

According to one Chinese electronics industry executive, Weiguo is "playing the whole game by leveraging Tsinghua resources and getting enough bank loans for supporting this deal." He called Weiguo "a real businessman and understands China economics/complicated politics and capital market very well." In short, Weiguo is "somebody who can smell blood from thousands miles away." He is set to make money investing in the high-tech sector, rather than the real-estate business, which isn't looking good right now in China.

It's important to note that Tsinghua Unigroup is paying a premium to buy both Spreadtrum and RDA.

Tsinghua Unigroup's acquisition of Spreadtrum is a $1.78 billion deal, while RDA is selling itself to Tsinghua Unigroup for about $910 million. The $18.50 per share deal announced by RDA earlier this week represents a premium of 5.5 percent to RDA's Friday close of $17.53 on the Nasdaq.

The question is, then, how is Tsinghua Unigroup financing all these deals.

Another Chinese industry source said, "The notable thing about Tsinghua Unigroup is that it has a market cap of $820 million, less than what they proposed to RDA." He suspects that the real buyer of RDA is "not Unigroup, but a $2-$3 billion fund which is related to Unigroup." He then added, "That's the beauty of China's state-owned public companies: there is nothing transparent."

The Tsinghua Unigroup's website shows that the group has its hands in various fields ranging from information technology, energy/environment, science of life, and science of materials to occupational education, finance services, international trade, and real estate.

Pure financial play

Those who see Tsinghua Unigroup's acquisitions as "a pure financial play" pose a three-step scenario. First, the consolidation of China's two leading fabless chip companies (Spreadtrum and RDA are currently both public companies traded in Nasdaq) will help them both survive before the two companies get clobbered by MediaTek. Second, by going private again under the umbrella of Tsinghua Unigroup, the two companies will gain more leeway in business development -- in addition to access to the IP portfolio of Tsinghua Unigroup and Tsinghua University. Third, the new Spreadtrum, consolidated with RDA under Tsinghua Unigroup, will "go public in the near term," the sources said. Tsinghua Unigroup won't waste time making a big financial gain by doing so, they added.

Complementary

Where everyone agrees is about the complementary roles RDA and Spreadtrum can play under the new structure.

One Chinese semiconductor industry observer explained, "Spreadtrum is weak in everything except TD-SCDMA, while RDA is strong in RF. Both are weak in application processors." Further, he added, "Spreadtrum's IC R&D is weak, but strong in software. Meanwhile, RDA is very strong in IC R&D, but has no real software development." As a result, combining these two "means doomsday for Allwinner and Rockchip," he noted, because Spreadtrum and RDA could ramp up tablet application processor efforts.

The Chinese industry's expectation is that the final entity (new Spreadtrum-RDA) will focus more on new wireless technology R&D, while they will spend less time competing in a declining low-end market. As for the market in feature phones for GSM, the serious competition comes down to just MediaTek and Spreadtrum, they explained.

Asked about the latest shopping spree by Tsinghua Unigroup, Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts (Tempe, Arizona), noted that he knows almost nothing about Tsinghua Unigroup. But he added, "Actually, if you wanted to create a China-based company that could (with a lot of work and a lot of money) someday rival Qualcomm, Spreadtrum and RDA are the two companies that I would pick."

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