RF Front-End Module Industry: Apple’s Gambit
Yole SystemPlus opens up hundreds of FEMs and components each year, to provide an overview of the RF FEM market for selected flagship smartphones. The company, part of Yole Group, offers this year again, different volumes of technical and cost comparisons of smartphone RF FEMs. Every comparison report focuses on a specific subject. It can be a particular player’s evolution, a specific technology or a comparison of flagship devices.
In its first 2022 volume, "RF Front-End Module Comparison 2022 – Vol. 1 – Focus on Apple," Yole SystemPlus provides insights into technology and cost data for FEMs and several components found in 18 smartphones from the Apple iPhone series since 2017. It features a comprehensive overview of the RF FEM architectures on the market, comparing available smartphones. Yole SystemPlus’ analysts reveals Apple’s dependency on specific component manufacturers, along with the different choices in the integration of communication technology, including mmWave signal support in the latest generation. Also, they reveal how the company maintains its leadership in the premium market. Indeed, Apple is not often the first mover on new technology, but once they go for it, they outperform the competition. This is what happened with 5G and with mmWave. To date, the iPhone’s RF front end is built to accommodate the most challenging cellular connectivity scenario. We can expect a similar strategy for next-generation technologies; for instance, satellite communication, for which the company chose a worldwide constellation. Apple is expected to offer state-of-the-art Wi-Fi 6E connectivity with cellular coexistence in mind.
Stéphane Elisabeth, PhD., senior technology and cost analyst at Yole SystemPlus said, “Recent advances are highlighted with filters, including BAW and IHP SAW filter for 5G and antenna tuners, with the penetration of pSemi into the bills of materials. Also, cost evaluation shows a slight increase in the total cost of the RF components while the number of components decreased compared to the twelfth generation."
During smartphone teardowns, the main RF modules and components are extracted and physically analyzed, from the output of the transceiver to the antenna. Packaging, sizes, and technologies are studied to generate a large panel of technical and economic choices and an overview of the market.
Every component has been analyzed to determine the manufacturing process cost.
Moreover, the report includes a technical and cost comparison of the modules. It also tries to explain the smartphone makers’ choices and supplier tendencies. All RF FEMs included in Yole SystemPlus’ reverse engineering and costing report are integrated, from baseband to antenna tuner, on 5G, 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and UWB .
From the test sockets side, the shift of system-level testing out of the laboratory and onto the test floor is proving to be a sustainable market driver. Four years of double-digit growth mean that US$265 million worth of test sockets are now sold into this market annually, explains Yole Intelligence, in Module III, Burn-In and Test Sockets, and the projection is for sales to grow at a CAGR of 14 percent over the next five years to reach a value of US$630 million by 2027.
Finally, in Module II, Yole Intelligence’s analysts investigate the advanced PCB market. Demand for advanced PCBs for semiconductor testing surged unexpectedly in 2021. This market typically grows at low single-digit rates, so it was a surprise to see a 19 percent jump in sales. A wide range of factors appear to be in play, but a step-change in board complexity that impacts both design and manufacturing costs seems to be the main driver. The demand is forecast to return to single-digit growth rates at the newly elevated level over the long term. The major suppliers in this highly fragmented market are TSE, CHPT and R&D Altanova.