iPhone 5: Which semiconductor suppliers are the big winners?

September 14, 2012 – Now that the initial dust has settled after Apple’s debut of the new iPhone 5, industry watchers are taking a tally of which semiconductor suppliers stand to gain in the newest must-have smartphone.

Below is a quick tally of the key features and which suppliers likely benefit. (As usual teardown firms prepare their knives, TechInsights has cooked up a preliminary calculation of the iPhone 5’s bill-of-materials.)

Dual-band WiFi. 4G LTE connectivity, which dramatically accelerates speeds vs. previous models This technology (similar to what the Kindle Fire now uses) increases test times at the module test level, which is a sweetspot for TER’s Litepoint business, points out Credit Suisse’s Satya Kumar. TER already indicated that this unit already saw a boost in 2Q12 attributable to both the iPhone 5 and Kindle Fire. Going forward, this likely means other smartphone vendors will adopt this technology, and eventually 802.11ac next year — both of which "are particularly test-intensive" and thus positives for TER, he notes.

Barclay’s CJ Muse, meanwhile, calls out Qualcomm’s 28nm 4G/LTE baseband and Broadcom’s 40nm WiFi combo chip.

Upgrade to the A6 logic chip. Apple’s projections of nearly 300m iOS units for 2013 is such a sheer volume that "a seemingly benign metric like SoC die size for iPhone 5 [which is 95 mm2, 22% smaller than the A5] is actually meaningful enough to move the worldwide capex for semiconductor industry by 5% for every 10-sqmm variation," Kumar observes. He factors in 32nm capital intensity, Apple’s unit growth and die size, and determines that Apple’s chip partner Samsung could keep its logic capex spending flat in 2013 just to keep up with manufacturing the new A6 chips. (Apple also is using a dual-core ARM-A15 cores to run at 2× speed for the CPU, which Apple believes is better than Intel’s SoC core roadmap.

Barclays’ Muse points out that anything that means more 28/20nm chips means more litho-intensive processing, which "should benefit ASML disproportionally."

More DRAM memory content, no extra NAND. DRAM content in the iPhone 5 is doubled to 1GB; Kumar actually had expected an increase in NAND content in the iPhone 5, but apparently Apple’s keeping it steady at 16-32-64GB, which underscores "the cautious commentary on wafer starts and capex from NAND companies," he writes. Among chip tool suppliers possibly affected, KLAC has higher exposure to logic/foundry and LRCX is more heavy into NAND than peers, but the extra DRAM content in the iPhone 5 likely makes up for that. Thus, the extra DRAM and no extra NAND means it’s "a wash" for suppliers.

Upgraded to in-cell display technology. Putting touch sensors inside the panel, vs. adding a separate touch layer on top of the LCD panel, helps reduce the display’s thickness, which means the phone can be thinner or more features can be improved such as a bigger longer-life battery, explains Vinita Jakhanwal, director for small and medium displays at IHS iSuppli. LG, Sharp, and Japan Display are all potential suppliers of the in-cell display — if they can keep up with demand.

Audio, antenna upgrades mean more sapphire. Sterne Agee’s Andrew Huang points to Cirrus Logic as a big beneficiary of a new "wideband audio" feature that can fill up more frequency spectrum to improve voice sound quality. Magnachip Semiconductor gets extra business tied to Cirrus Logic, points out Barclays’ Muse. Another winner is Corning, whose Gorilla Glass 2 is likely used as the cover glass for the iPhone 5, he says.

Huang also points out the iPhone 5’s increased used of sapphire, both as a camera lens cover and as the substrate (silicon-on-sapphire) for the antenna switch to automatically switch antenna connections, is a trend worth watching: "Within the next 12-18 months, we believe sapphire content per mobile phones could increase," he writes, suggesting eventually it might supplant the cover glass material. The silicon-on-sapphire trend likely benefits Rubicon (SoS wafer sapphire substrate supplier) and Peregrine Semiconductor (SoS switch component supplier). [Corrected 9/20: Soitec makes the actual SoS wafers for Peregrine.] "Our checks indicate that Rubicon supplies ~30-40% of the market for SoS wafers," he writes, and although a number of other ingot makers are currently getting qualified, "it is much more difficult to core, slice and polish SoS wafers, which suggests margins for SoS wafers are comparable, maybe even lower than those of LED wafers." Muse adds that Magnachip gets a foundry-biz boost from Peregrine, too.

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