The China handset OEMs who make up 60 percent of Mediatek’s business are not household names. Some are what Hsieh refers to as second tier companies who have a respected brand in China, but no real export business. They include three Shenzhen companies Gionee Communication Equipment Ltd., OPPO Electronics Corp. Ltd, and BBK.
Then there is a wider group of third tier players. These companies have no brands of their own. They make handsets on an ODM basis for retailers mainly in India and China who slap their own names on the phones.
Many of these ODMs are more manufacturers than designers. Several reside in Shanghai where there are plenty of external R&D teams from chip makers like Mediatek and others to help with the engineering work. They include companies such Sim Com Wireless Solutions Co. Ltd.
With all these companies, Mediatek has adopted an approach of providing full reference designs to speed them to market. The handset maker typically specifies the industrial design, perhaps the display and the amount of memory. Mediatek’s engineers handle the rest, including a lot of the work customizing Google Android for the particulars of the design.
Mediatek claims it has hundreds of Android software engineers who can help wrestle the open source code into the needs of a particular design. Such expertise is highly valued in Taiwan these days where the big computer ODMs there are trying to make the shift from Microsoft’s pre-baked Windows to the wild and wooly world of Android.
The Taiwan chip maker claims it has a tech edge over Spreadtrum, its Shanghai based competitor that is reportedly undercutting it in prices. Mediatek’s latest offering, the MT6515, supports the China TD-SCDMA standard and can handle high-end features such as auto-stereoscopic 3-D, thanks to technology borrowed from Mediatek smart TV chips.
Mediatek was relatively early getting into the integrated handset chips, acquiring the baseband group of Analog Devices Inc. in 2007. Spreadtrum acquired baseband technology just last year with its investment in MobilePeak. In addition, Hsieh notes his latest chips are in 40 nm process technology and he will push into the 28 nm node with designs coming next year.
It remains to be seen whether China and Mediatek ride the next big wave in smartphones, a wave coming from the bottom rather than the top. But this is clearly the phone zone to watch.
Mediatek's latest reference design supports stereo 3-D and sells for less than $160.