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5G mobile operators turn to urge the baseband/RF component market to shift

  • Categories:News Center
  • Time of issue:2021-01-29 11:27
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(Summary description)5G mobile commercial services have been launched. The technical vision of 5G's low latency and high transmission rate, as well as the new millimeter wave frequency band, have brought new challenges to the baseband and radio frequency chips of smart phones, and also caused changes in the market layout. Some companies have announced their withdrawal from the 5G terminal business, and others have expanded their 5G baseband and RF chip layout.

5G mobile operators turn to urge the baseband/RF component market to shift

(Summary description)5G mobile commercial services have been launched. The technical vision of 5G's low latency and high transmission rate, as well as the new millimeter wave frequency band, have brought new challenges to the baseband and radio frequency chips of smart phones, and also caused changes in the market layout. Some companies have announced their withdrawal from the 5G terminal business, and others have expanded their 5G baseband and RF chip layout.

  • Categories:News Center
  • Author:Wu Baiyu
  • Origin:
  • Time of issue:2021-01-29 11:27
  • Views:

5G mobile commercial services have been launched. The technical vision of 5G's low latency and high transmission rate, as well as the new millimeter wave frequency band, have brought new challenges to the baseband and radio frequency chips of smart phones, and also caused changes in the market layout. Some companies have announced their withdrawal from the 5G terminal business, and others have expanded their 5G baseband and RF chip layout.

In order to compete for the name of the world's first 5G mobile network operator, the US and South Korean telecom operators rushed to announce the launch of 5G mobile network commercial services in April 2019. Although in terms of current operating conditions, there is a gap between the actual experience and the high transmission rate and low latency that 5G is expected to bring to consumers, but it can be seen that telecom companies are actively deploying 5G services. In order to keep up with the pace of this wave of 5G mobile service providers, smartphone baseband and radio frequency (RF) front-end chip manufacturers have also continued to invest in 5G product development; however, as the complexity of 5G systems and technical barriers have increased, the baseband and antenna / RF market ecology has also changed.

Latency, upload/download rate, signal stability, and network coverage are all important indicators of mobile communication services. It can be observed from the current measurement of 5G mobile network services that although the network services launched by various telecom operators The download speed is faster than LTE, but the upload speed performance is not good; the Ping value representing the transmission delay is about 20~39ms, the performance is not ideal; in addition, the signal stability is not good, the signal in the building is weak, the subway The station can't even receive the signal, causing the network service to frequently switch to 4G. On the whole, it is necessary to optimize 5G mobile services from network equipment technology, base station deployment density and terminal device design to provide 5G mobile services that meet expectations.

In addition to technical challenges, Han Wenyao, senior industry analyst at MIC, said that with the acceleration of 5G mobile service providers, smart phone industry chain operators are also facing the problem of substantial increase in component costs. The main reasons for the increase in cost are antennas and The increase in the number of radio frequency components, the complexity of the design and the trend towards modularization, and the demand for high-speed and massive data processing require more and faster memory and cooling modules.

With the increasing difficulty of 5G technology, some development plans have changed, including the supply chain situation of smartphone components such as baseband, radio frequency and antenna.

The report rate may not be as expected as Intel withdraws from the 5G chip business

A few days ago Qualcomm (Qualcomm) and Apple (Apple) announced that they have reached a lawsuit settlement. Soon after this news was released, Intel (Intel) immediately announced that the company will withdraw from the 5G baseband chip market, casting a shocking bomb for the communications semiconductor market. Whether it is Apple's next step, or the layout strategies and trends of baseband chip factories such as Qualcomm, Samsung, Huawei and MediaTek, it has become the focus of attention from all walks of life.

Intel stated that the company will continue to invest in the existing 4G smartphone baseband chip product line to maintain its commitment to customers. However, due to the 5G smartphone baseband chip business, there is no clear profit opportunity and compliance. Expected returns. Although 5G will still be the focus of the company’s future development, it will mainly focus on 5G infrastructure and will not invest in the production of baseband chips for 5G smartphones, including those originally expected to release related products in 2020. The plan will also be cancelled.

Han Wenyao said that the three major application scenarios of 5G have increased the overall technology performance index (KPI) threshold. On the other hand, 5G not only adds new frequency bands (including high-frequency millimeter wave (mmWave)), and its modulation mechanism Beamforming (BeamForming) is also a new technology in the field of mobile communications, making the design of terminal devices more difficult.

The 5G technology blueprint brings significant impacts and challenges to the design of baseband and RF front-ends in smartphones, especially the design of baseband chips requires a large investment of resources, let alone 5G sets higher performance requirements , And this may be the reason why Intel's assessment of 5G baseband chip reports may not be as good as the company's expectations.

The situation in the baseband chip market becomes clearer and three factors drive the 5G mobile phone market

After Intel announced its withdrawal, the main players in the 5G baseband chip market have also been determined. The players currently in the war include Qualcomm, Samsung, Huawei's subsidiary HiSilicon, MediaTek and UNISOC. The mobile phone market is also expected to begin to grow steadily after each manufacturer's layout is ready (Table 1).

Table 1 Major players of 5G baseband chips
Source: various companies, MIC collation (5/2019)
As for Intel's exit from the 5G baseband chip business, what impact will the entire 5G smartphone development have? In this regard, Han Wenyao pointed out that the biggest impact of Intel’s exit is nothing but Apple, and from the perspective of the baseband chip market situation, after Intel’s exit, Qualcomm and Samsung will become potential partners of Apple’s 5G mobile phone supply chain. At present, Apple has also reached a settlement with Qualcomm to rebuild the cooperative relationship.

And further observation of Samsung's trends, you can find that the company has been very active in expanding its semiconductor business recently. In the 5G field, in addition to actively investing in the research and development of its own chips and terminal products, it is also actively seeking opportunities for external cooperation, hoping to export its 5G baseband chips. Therefore, it is not ruled out that Samsung and Apple or other Chinese mobile phone manufacturers will cooperate in the 5G business in the future.

MediaTek is unlikely to enter Apple's first wave of 5G supply chain

But from the perspective of chip manufacturers' 5G layout strategy, even though Intel announced its withdrawal from the competition, the probability of MediaTek entering Apple's first wave of 5G mobile phone chip supply chain is still very small. Because the United States is the main target market for Apple mobile phones, and as shown in Table 2, the 5G frequency bands that have completed spectrum auctions in the United States are n71 (600MHz), n41 (2.5~2.7GHz) and millimeter wave band n257 (26.5~29.5GHz) And n260 (37~40GHz), which does not include the sub-6GHz mainstream n77 (3.3~4.2GHz) frequency band. And MediaTek has announced earlier that the first 5G baseband chip Helio M70 only supports the 5G sub-6GHz frequency band, and the next generation of products is planned to support the millimeter wave frequency band.

Table 2 Current status of 5G spectrum auction or allocation in major countries
Source: MIC (5/2019)
As for the detailed millimeter wave chip launch schedule, Liang Zhengbai, director of MediaTek’s communications division, revealed at the Taipei 5G summit that the company is actively overcoming the challenges faced by millimeter wave mobile communications, including RF signal attenuation and poor signal coverage. For issues such as good, a baseband chip supporting millimeter wave will be launched as soon as 2021.

In other words, according to MediaTek’s development strategy, the company is not a possible partner for Apple, so this wave of market changes will have little impact on it.

Han Wenyao pointed out that from the perspective of mobile phone manufacturers, it is bound to hope to cooperate with more than one chip manufacturer to diversify risks. This is also Apple's consistent strategy in the past 4G era. Based on the above reasons, the spectrum opening/auction situation in various countries, and the 5G product planning and layout actions of various chip factories, it is speculated that in addition to Qualcomm, Samsung may also become Apple's 5G baseband chip supplier.

Although Intel's withdrawal from the baseband market will inevitably bring about some fluctuations, overall, the ecological situation of 5G smartphones has gradually become clear. The MIC observation and prediction of the Council of Information and Planning, 5G SoC plans will be released in 2020, and the product line will be slow. Slowly extending from flagship phones to mid-to-high-end models; in terms of commercial transfer progress in various countries, in addition to the United States and South Korea, which have officially launched 5G commercial transfers, China and Japan will also join the commercial transfer ranks in 2020; and for smartphones, Apple After reaching a settlement with Qualcomm, the possibility of the company launching 5G mobile phones in 2020 has greatly increased. Driven by three factors, it is expected to drive the growth of 5G mobile phone shipments. It is predicted that the shipment volume will exceed 430 million units in 2023. .

5G power consumption/size issues exacerbate SoC architecture has more advantages

In addition to the baseband chip market ecology, the integration of 5G smart phone application processors and baseband chips is also a topic worthy of attention. Han Wenyao said that in addition to Apple in the 4G era, the top smart phone manufacturers have integrated application processors (AP) and baseband chips into SoCs. The main purpose is to save printed circuit board (PCB) area and cost. , It also helps to reduce system power consumption. However, Apple only launched an application processor, and did not develop its own baseband chip, making it the only one among the top 4G mobile phone manufacturers that did not introduce SoC architecture.

However, the advantages of SoC architecture may become more obvious in the 5G era. As 5G adds many new frequency bands, under the NSA architecture, 4G and 5G frequency bands must be supported at the same time; in addition, 5G also introduces technologies such as Massive MIMO, so the number of components and prices required for antennas and RF front-ends will be greatly increased. Power consumption also increases accordingly. It is even more important that the design of 5G smartphones takes into account system performance, size, power consumption and cost. It can also be observed from the 5G mobile platform solutions published by various chip manufacturers that SoC will become the mainstream trend of 5G smartphone basebands and processors. Qualcomm, MediaTek and Huawei have all indicated that they will develop products towards SoC architecture. Integrate the baseband chip with the application processor to reduce the burden on size and power consumption.

In other words, the system space problems faced by 5G have increased the necessity for the integration of baseband and processor, which also makes Apple's next step a lot of attention. Some people in the industry have speculated that Apple will invest in baseband technology development and launch its own 5G baseband chip to integrate with its application processors. However, the technology and knowledge threshold required for baseband development is high, and it takes at least 5 years to complete product development. The actual layout actions and development status are worthy of further observation.

5G terminal RF/antenna heading towards modular development

There are also some new changes in the market ecology of 5G terminals' RF and antenna modules. In the sub-6GHz part, the main suppliers are still players in the past 4G era. Antenna suppliers include Murata, Zhending, Jialianyi, Taijun, Xinwei Communications, etc.; and RF components (including filters, power amplifiers, RF Switches, antenna tuners, low-noise amplifiers) include Skyworks, Qorvo, Broadcom, Murata and other manufacturers. Since 5G will mostly run on the NSA architecture in the early stage, the terminal must support both 4G and 5G frequency bands. Therefore, in addition to upgrading 4G radio frequency components, manufacturers must also invest in 5G antenna/module development to meet the needs of 5G.

The market situation of 5G sub-6GHz antenna/RF components is roughly the same as that of the 4G era, but there will be new trends in RF and antenna design. Han Wenyao pointed out that because 5G needs to support more frequency bands and higher technical requirements, the amount and complexity of antennas and radio frequencies will increase, and the highly integrated modular architecture has become the general trend of smart phones. In the past, manufacturers may adopt a separate architecture and select radio frequency components provided by different manufacturers to form a radio frequency system; however, in the 5G era, more modular designs will be seen, and the initial stage of development may be based on regional modules ( Modules only support frequency bands used in specific areas), and when 5G develops more mature, it is also expected to see globalized (full frequency) antennas and RF modules.

Baseband chip factory becomes the main player in the terminal millimeter wave RF/antenna market

It is worth noting that the main players of 5G terminal device millimeter-wave RF/antenna module manufacturers are not the existing RF and antenna manufacturers in the 4G era mentioned above. Instead, it is the baseband industry players such as Qualcomm, Samsung Electro-Mechanics (SEMCO) and MediaTek. It has invested in the development of millimeter wave radio frequency antenna modules for terminal devices, and Qualcomm has also launched related products.

In response to 5G terminal millimeter wave antennas and radio frequency design trends, Han Wenyao pointed out that because millimeter wave antennas are easily shielded by obstacles and cause signal attenuation, coupled with the small size of millimeter wave antennas, various manufacturers are currently leaning toward integrated Module development is based on a modular design framework for regional frequency bands. In package design, the CMOS process is used to integrate the millimeter wave antenna and RF components in the same package. For example, Qualcomm’s QTM052 and QTM525 use this process to integrate antennas and RF components into AiP (Antenna in Package).

Although the RF and antenna manufacturers in the 4G era have not yet entered the millimeter wave terminal market, Han Wenyao said that the design trends brought about by 5G are still beneficial to the existing RF and antenna module manufacturers, because even if they only look at sub- In the 6GHz part, the amount of radio frequency components will be greater than in the 4G era, and the profits brought by modularization will also be better than in the past.

To sum up

In summary, the introduction of new 5G technologies and the improvement of their performance requirements have brought many challenges to mobile phone design, and have also led to changes in the overall ecosystem of existing 4G mobile phones. But after the main players of 5G chips and components are ready, the supply chain ecosystem of 5G mobile phones will gradually take shape, leading to the steady development of the 5G commercial market.


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