The future of Unisoc is unclear as the parent company is in trouble • The register


A Chinese smartphone chip designer has come out of nowhere to take on capitalist rivals, though questions remain as to whether the company can continue its meteoric rise amid its parent company’s financial troubles.

The Energizer E241S Feature Phone runs on Unisoc’s SC9820E (Spreadtrum), a system-on-chip for low-end devices

Ziguang Zhanrui, known for developing Unisoc mobile processors, shipped 4.1 million units in China in the third quarter, which, according to a study by Cinno Research, represents an astonishing growth of 14,726.1 percent compared to the same quarter last year.

Judging by these numbers, Ziguang Zhanrui has risen to become the fifth largest manufacturer of mobile chips in China after Mediatek, Qualcomm, Apple and HiSilicon. However, the company’s volume was close to zero last year (see table below).

Volume (millions) Volume (millions) Volume (millions) percentage percentage
1 MediaTek 28.8 26.4 23.1 9.3% 24.6%
2 Qualcomm 28.8 26.4 21.8 9.0% 32.1%
3rd Apple 9.4 10.5 8.1 -10.5% -15.3%
4th HiSilicon 5.8 7.5 24.8 -22.7% -76.5%
5 Unisoc 4.1 2.1 0.0 95.7% 14,726.1%

According to Cinno Research, Qualcomm’s market share grew 32.1 percent year-over-year, while Mediatek’s grew 24.6 percent. Qualcomm showed strength in the Chinese market for low-end smartphones and took away MediaTek’s dominance.

According to the monthly sales surveillance data from China smartphone market analysts, MediaTek’s kit accounted for about 52 percent of the low-end smartphone market, down about 17 percent year over year. Qualcomm’s share of the cake rose to 34 percent, an increase of around 20 percent over the previous year. Companies will struggle with the announcements of new flagship chips in the high-end market by the end of this year.

Volume (millions) Volume (millions) Volume (millions) percentage percentage
1 MediaTek 8.6 10.6 5.4 -18.5% 59.2%
2 Qualcomm 8.4 10.2 8.7 -17.4% -2.8%
3rd Apple 3.7 2.8 2.5 32.5% 43.6%
4th HiSilicon 1.6 2.2 6.2 -27.7% -74.8%
5 Unisoc (Ziguang Zhanrui) 1.2 1.4 0.0 -19.1% 10,291.3%

However, Ziguang Zhanrui’s growth could slow down just as quickly as its heavily indebted parent company Tsinghua Unigroup is under pressure from creditors to file for bankruptcy, according to the South China Morning Post. Alibaba is one of the companies that are applying to take over parts of Unigroup, which also includes the cloud computing division Unisplendour.

According to Cinno, the silicon slinger chips are used in smartphones from Honor, China Telecom, Duowei, Nokia and Gionee. Its most powerful chips are the eight-core Unisoc Tiger T618 and T700 processors, manufactured using the 12 nm process, with LTE modems and ARM Cortex A75 and A55 CPUs.

Ziguang Zhanrui was formerly known as Spreadtrum and invaded western markets. The company worked with Intel on mobile chips, making the SC9861G-IA chip for mid-range cell phones, which was based on Intel’s Atom x86 chip design and a PowerVR GT7200 graphics core, but was never sold.

Trade disputes between the US and China have affected the ability of chipmakers in both countries to sell semiconductors.

Ziguang Zhanrui is a long way from catching up with Mediatek and Qualcomm, which both shipped 28.8 million units in China in the third quarter, with Mediatek slightly ahead.

Apple was the third largest chip supplier in China with 9.4 million units and grew 15.3 percent year-on-year. The company is poised for a big fourth quarter with iPhone 13 shipments. Apple held a market share of 73 percent in the high-end market, while Qualcomm was well behind with 12 percent.

Ziguang Zhanrui fills a void left by the demise of Huawei HiSilicon, which saw a dramatic decline in its market position due to trade sanctions. HiSilicon, whose Kirin chips are primarily used in Huawei phones, ranked fourth with 5.8 million units shipped, a massive drop from 24.8 million in the prior-year quarter when it took the top spot. ®

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