Nearly 350 million smartphones shipped in 2015 supported LTE Carrier Aggregation (CA), representing 23% of total smartphone shipments for the year, according to ABI Research.
As the LTE market continues to migrate toward LTE-Advanced, notably LTE CA, the company anticipates this percentage to climb, with 61% of smartphones shipped in 2020 to incorporate LTE CA across various categories of basebands.
“Qualcomm, Samsung, and Huawei’s HiSilicon are all aggressively pushing LTE CA, making it extremely difficult for rivals to compete in the LTE baseband business,” says Malik Saadi, Managing Director and Vice President of ABI Research. “These three players managed to monopolize the market segment with a collective market share of 97% in 2015, leaving other suppliers to fight for the remaining 3%.”
While Huawei’s HiSilicon and Samsung both manufacture LTE CA basebands, they only use the chips for their own devices. Qualcomm is, therefore, the current and only supplier of LTE CA technology to the majority of mobile device vendors. MediaTek and Spreadtrum remain the weakest links in the LTE CA market, and there is no evidence to suggest that this will change in the foreseeable future.
LTE CA is available in a number of chip categories, ranked by the highest mobile broadband speed they support; categories 6 and 9 are the most deployed thus far. As the market develops, demand for even higher mobile broadband speeds will increase, and this will subsequently surge the market share of higher categories.
“The current technology leaders continue to make it hard for competitors to gain ground in this market, as they aggressively upgrade their baseband chips to offer higher mobile broadband speeds to customers,” continues Saadi. “Qualcomm already announced its X16, a new LTE Chip, which boasts category 16 capabilities and offers a downlink mobile broadband speed of up to 1Gbps. Commercial devices powered by this chip are expected to hit shelves the second half of this year.”
As the LTE CA market segment progresses, smartphones shipped in 2020 that support LTE CA categories 9 and 10, with downlink speeds of up to 450 Mbps, will represent the majority of the market and hold 35% share. However, smartphones supporting category 11 or higher, and thereby capable of supporting speeds between .5Gbps and 1Gbps, are expected to gain significant share over the next few years and be on track to achieve 21% of the market by 2020.
“Qualcomm is well placed to continue its predominance in the baseband market,” concludes Saadi. “However, there will be some traditional suppliers that see their share eroding as the market moves towards a wide adoption of higher LTE baseband categories.”