Qualcomm gearing up to take top MCU vendor spot

Release time:2017-06-13
source:EE Times U.S.

Qualcomm claiming the microcontroller lead next year shows how the industry's unprecedented level of large-scale consolidation is reshaping vendor ranking lists.

Acquiring rival Freescale Semiconductor has helped Dutch chip vendor NXP Semiconductor NV secure the top spot in global microcontroller sales in 2016. Next year, that mantle could well belong to Qualcomm, assuming its $39 billion acquisition of NXP is finalized by the end of this year as planne.

Following the December 2015 close of its $12 billion Freescale acquisition, NXP saw its 2016 microcontroller sales total increase by 116% to $2.91 billion, good for about 19% of the total market, according to market research firm IC Insights Inc.

ICInsights_MCU-rankings (cr)

Figure 1: Leading MCU suppliers (Source: IC Insights)

That Qualcomm—a fabless chip giant best known for its cellular chips that has never marketed a microcontroller—could claim the microcontroller lead next year illustrates the degree to which the semiconductor industry's unprecedented level of large-scale consolidation in recent years is reshaping the industry and vendor ranking lists.

The microcontroller segment in particular has undergone tremendous upheaval, with the ranks of the top three vendors being redrawn already several times in the past two years.

But Rob Lineback, senior market research analyst at IC Insights, told EE Times that Qualcomm should have little trouble adjusting to the microcontroller business. After all, Lineback noted, most of the microcontrollers in NXP's portfolio are based on the ARM architecture, just like Qualcomm's chips.

"It is a different type of business than application processors, but similarities in the architecture and development tools should help Qualcomm be successful in microcontrollers," Lineback said in an email exchange.

Qualcomm has also been singled out by Apple as its toughest foe (See: Why Qualcomm is iPhone's real competitor). This year, we're about to see the major rivalry of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the to-be-announced Apple iPhone 8. But under the hood of the S8 is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor versus the Apple-designed A9 or possibly a speculated-about newer model A10. The performance of these new mobile phones will be directly attributable to which processor platform best satisfies mobile users.

But with so many market dynamics in flux, Qualcomm's reign as top MCU vendor might well be short, Lineback added. "We'll see," he said. "The competition is fairly intense and other acquisitions are likely."

NXP's rise in the microcontroller rankings in 2016 edged Japan's Renesas Electronics from the top spot, a position it held for several years. Renesas, which as recently as 2011 sold one in three microcontrollers worldwide, has suffered a precipitous fall in sales in recent years due largely to the weak yen exchange rate, punctuated by a 19% decline in 2015. Renesas's microcontroller sales declined another 4% in 2016 to $2.5 billion, good for about 16% of the total microcontroller market, according to IC Insights.

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Taking its legal battle with chip making giant Qualcomm to the next level, Apple has claimed it wanted to use Qualcomm modems in its 2018's iPhone models but the chip maker refused to sell them after being sued by the iPhone maker over its licensing practices.The US Federal Trade Commission(FTC) has accused Qualcomm of operating a monopoly in wireless chips, forcing companies such as Apple to work with it exclusively and charging excessive licensing fees for its technology.According to Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams's testimony in court during the FTC trial against Qualcomm, the latter refused to sell its 4G LTE modems to Apple because of the companies' licensing dispute, the CNET reported late on Monday.The chip making giant continues to provide the iPhone maker with chips for its older models, including the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus."The strategy was to dual-source in 2018 as well. We were working toward doing that with Qualcomm but in the end they would not support us or sell us chips," the report quoted William as saying.Apple reportedly dialled Intel's CEO at the time, Brian Krzanich, to ask the company to supply all modems needed for the iPhone instead of only half the volume.However, Williams' comments appear to contradict testimony from Qualcomm's CEO Steven Mollenkopf.Mollenkopf on Friday had said on the stand that as of spring 2018, Qualcomm was still trying to win a contract supplying chips for iPhones but that it hadn't "had any new business" from Apple since its previous contracts expired, the report added.
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Qualcomm has announced its next-generation modem purpose-built for Internet of Things (IoT) applications such as asset trackers, health monitors, security systems, smart city sensors and smart meters, as well as a range of wearable trackers.The Qualcomm 9205 LTE modem has been designed to bring together key innovations required to build cellular-enabled IoT products and services in a single chipset, including global multimode LTE category M1 (eMTC) and NB2 (NB-IoT) as well as 2G/E-GPRS connectivity, application processing, geolocation, hardware-based security, support for cloud services and accompanying developer tools.“The innovations included in the Qualcomm 9205 LTE modem are critical to support many of the 6 billion IoT devices expected to use low-power, wide-area connectivity by 2026,” said Vieri Vanghi, vice president, product management, Qualcomm Europe. “LTE IoT technologies are the foundation of how 5G will help connect the massive IoT, and we are making these technologies available to customers worldwide to help them build innovative solutions that can help transform industries and improve people’s lives.”“The Qualcomm 9205 modem is expanding the IoT ecosystem by providing a solid foundation for future-proof, multimode LTE-M and NB-IoT Cinterion Modules designed to enable worldwide LPWAN connectivity as networks evolve,” said Andreas Haegele, SVP IoT products, Gemalto. “Our security enhancements provide a strong framework for unique Gemalto services such as Device Lifecycle Management that help drive down TCO for device makers and IoT service providers.”
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