Report Analyzes RF Front End Components Used in Leading Smartphones

After many years of continuous growth, the global smartphone market saw a slowdown in 2018. This slowdown had a direct impact on the RF Front-End market which also saw a decline in demand last year. According to a recent Yole Développement (Yole) report, 5G will come to the rescue and drive the RF Front-End market to grow at a CAGR of 8% from 2018 to 2025. The market was estimated to be USD $15 billion in 2018, and is expected to reach USD $25.8 billion by 2025.

With LTE, RF front-end market growth came from carrier aggregation and MIMO technologies. 5G will augment RF front-end market growth with additional frequency bands, dual connectivity implementation, and the transition to 4×4 MIMO in the downlink direction and 2×2 MIMO for the uplink.

Apple is also playing an important role in this growth. The new iPhones use modules from Qorvo and Skyworks, along with advanced filter and packaging technology from Broadcom, formerly Avago Technologies. This technology is now available in all versions of the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR models. This FEM is the first from Broadcom to include a flip-chip power amplifier on GaAs substrate and advanced EMI shielding, allowing frequency band sharing in the same SiP.

According to the report, the Integrated module growth is forecasted at an 8% CAGR from 2018 to 2025, while discrete parts will grow 9% over the same period, asserts the report. Among discrete parts, the antenna tuner will grow the most with a 13% CAGR because of the combined implementation of higher-frequency bands and 4×4 MIMO, leading to an increasing number of antenna and/or antenna tuners.

High-end smartphone OEMs are seeking new ways to integrate more functionality into one device, along with better isolation techniques for all the front-end communication devices. To keep track of the industry’s evolution and see what’s coming, System Plus Consulting, a Yole Group company, performed a comparative analysis to identify and understand the numerous integration strategies developed by the leading smartphones companies. Click here for the RF Front-End Module Technical Comparison 2019.

Familiarity with the mobile phone’s RF front-end architecture is critical to understanding this market. Yole and System Plus Consulting combine their technical expertise and industrial knowledge to deliver a comprehensive description of the RF industry evolution. In particular, System Plus Consulting, with its US-based team is developing dedicated intelligence. With more than one smartphone analyzed per week, their analysts are creating a huge database with detailed information on devices used. An overview of System Plus Consulting’s tear downs is available on the website, reverse-costing. System Plus Consulting and Yole, together are building an overall and up-to-date picture of the RF front-end architecture across devices.

According to the research team, the main phone manufacturers differentiate from each other in the RF field by adopting either an integrated or a discrete approach. In the former segment, market leaders Samsung and Apple, along with smaller OEMs like Sony, LG, Google, and ZTE, are moving towards integration with complex RF modules from Broadcom, Skyworks, Qorvo, Qualcomm, and Murata.“Integrated” players prefer to focus on the user experience with innovative features like “Face ID”, wireless charging, AI camera, gesture recognition, and the human machine interface, thus leaving most of the RF front-end’s complexities to the RF module makers.

Meanwhile, markets challengers like Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo favor a discrete approach whenever possible. This allows them to keep the RF BoM as low as possible in order to offer aggressive selling prices in this competitive market. A comparison of teardowns for Huawei’s P20 Pro and Samsung’s S10 illustrates these opposing strategies. The P20 Pro RF board is made of 45 discrete components and four integrated modules, incorporating 25 components, while the Samsung S10 comprises of 17 discrete components and eight integrated modules with 71 components.

Consequently, the BoM for the RF front-end in the S10 ends up being double that of the P20 Pro, even though both devices exhibit similar downlink-speed performance. Also, both devices support more than 30 bands and use similar technologies, such as carrier aggregation and 4×4 MIMO.

All year long, Yole and System Plus Consulting are delivering their results during presentations and interviews. As an example, last month, Cédric Malaquin from Yole had the opportunity to debate with Rich Ruby, Director of FBAR Technology, and William Muller, Principal Technology Strategist, at Broadcom. Together, they share their vision of the future and 5G implementation.

Yole’s RF team is at the European Microwave Week (EuMW) in Paris (Booth #B577). If you are at the event stop by to learn more about their reports. Or read the full market report here - 5G’s Impact on RF Front-End Module and Connectivity for Cell phones 2019.

Application Note