China’s smartphone chip champion Unisoc reaches new heights in global market
- The fabless chip firm saw its shipments of smartphone processors grow 147 times from a year earlier during the most recent quarter
- Unisoc’s rapid ascent comes amid China’s drive to increase technological self-reliance and reduce demand for foreign chips
Unisoc, China’s largest designer of chips for mobile phones, is quickly emerging as a rising power in the global market, as it seeks to challenge the dominance of traditional players such as Taiwan’s MediaTek and US giant Qualcomm.
The Shanghai-based fabless chip firm shipped 147 times more smartphone processors in the quarter ended September from a year earlier, reaching a record 4.1 million units, according to the results of a survey conducted by Chinese market research company CINNO released this week.
The jump in sales was buoyed by orders from clients including Huawei’s budget brand spin-off Honor, Nokia and Chinese smartphone brand Doov, said researchers. Unisoc’s flagship Tiger T610 chip – reportedly made by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company – is featured in Honor’s budget Play 5T and Changwan 20 phones.
While Unisoc is quickly gaining ground, the company still placed last among the five companies surveyed.
Taiwan fabless chip designer MediaTek topped the rankings with 28.8 million units shipped, up by 25 per cent year on year.
California-based Qualcomm came in a close second place with the same amount of units delivered, up by 32 per cent year on year. The US giant made incursions into the low-end and mid-range smartphone processor markets, taking advantage of the collapse of Huawei’s chip design unit HiSilicon, whose shipments plummeted 77 per cent amid US sanctions.
Qualcomm’s share in the mid-range market, consisting of chips for smartphones priced between 2,000 yuan (US$312) and 5,000 yuan, increased by 22 per cent.
Apple, in third place, shipped 9.4 million smartphone chips in the same period, up from 8.1 million units a year earlier, thanks partly to strong orders for the new iPhone 13 series launched in mid-September. Apple’s shipments are captive, as it does not sell to third parties.
Still, Unisoc’s rapid sales growth marked a bright spot for Tsinghua Unigroup, a sprawling conglomerate associated with China’s top university. The once high-flying company, which owns several semiconductor businesses, is weathering a bankruptcy restructuring process after investors took it to court in July. Unigroup has said it is looking for deep-pocketed new investors for a complete bailout to avoid having to sell its valuable semiconductor assets separately.
Unisoc’s ascent comes as China seeks to increase its mature chip-making capacity, focusing mostly on 28-nanometre or above technology node, as part of the country’s bid to strengthen its supply chain security.
China still relies heavily on foreign chips to manufacture its products, which are of high demand around the world. Between January and September, China imported US$312.6 billion worth of semiconductors and US$25.1 billion worth of chip-making equipment, up 24 per cent and 35 per cent year on year, respectively.