SHANGHAI, China – Multinational semiconductor companies are no longer able to compete with China’s fabless chips vendors in the consumer electronics IC business, according to Vincent Tai, CEO of RDA Microelectronics Inc. “It’s game over” for them, Tai asserted in a recent interview with EE Times here.
RDA Microelectronics, founded here in 2004 and listed on the Nasdaq exchange since November 2010, is a leading Chinese fabless IC vendor supplying RF and mixed-signal chips for cellular and broadcast communications used by China handset manufacturers.
RDA is a major supplier to the Chinese mobile handset market. Tai, quoting IHS iSuppli estimates, claimed RDA already has the leading market share in power amplifiers, Bluetooth, FM tuners and DVB-S tuners for the domestic white label market.
Still, RDA has a long way to go to compete with the likes of Broadcom in the global semiconductor market. Still, according to Tai, being a leader in the Chinese market is a good place to be.
RDA’s enviable position foreshadows a growing trend here for companies like RDA to dominate global electronics markets, Tai noted. As evidence, he cited the fact that multinationals such as Analog Devices and Texas Instruments backed out of China’s baseband chip business. While technically not Chinese companies, MediaTek and MStar, two Taiwanese giants, grabbed that market by leveraging their Chinese ties.
Indeed, Tai boldly predicts that the days for multinational chip companies are numbered, especially in the Chinese mobile handset and set-top box markets. “It’s because the supply chain in China can’t allow you to have a 50 percent gross margin,” he explained.
When the entire ecosystem of foundries, design houses along with packaging and system OEMs resides here, “You need to be a local to play the game,” said Tai.
The RDA chief described four rules for surviving in the Chinese market:
Rule #1: The “cycle time” for Chinese handset manufacturers is extremely short. While it takes six months (or a year in the case of Nokia) to design a new mobile handset outside China, Chinese cellphone makers are spinning out new models every three months.
Rule #2: Chinese handset vendors provide chip suppliers will little information about market demand. Therefore, chip suppliers need to be “in touch with the market,” said Tai, so they can be ready when market demand spikes. Speed is the key. “You need to be able to live with the ups and downs on the China market,” he said.
Tai is right on the money and Junko is right. I've worked during the past 5 odd years in China, competing with the likes of RDA and I can tell you first hand I couldn't have picked more major reasons as Vincent articulated here. Let me share a few personal perspectives. Whenever I returned from my long stay in China to my bay area office it was like a day and night and I was entering into a strangely out-of-touch world here in bay area. Not generalizing, but I've seen this attitude of "China phone quality is bad, they can't sustain," from so many people in semi companies here in the bay area, that I confess feeling if I am siding with the losing team. Look, it's a hard lesson to hear when you are out here in the valley but hear me on this. We crow about the cheap quality of Chinese-made phones, but how many of us really think that it is really bad? How many actually used them? Have you used them in China Mobile network? The U.S. mobile service companies and phone companies have trained all of us into paying them exorbitant amounts of money for products and services and for that what do we get? Crappy service with dropped calls, and try switching phones from one network to another. In China, it is very common for the consumer to switch phones as often as they wish and China Mobile service is the best cell service ever I've experienced in all the world. How about that for better consumer experience? I guarantee you, you take one of these high quality iPhone/Android phones with a reasonable, 300Yuan phone from China and compare the consumer experience in AT&T network, you would be hard pressed to find many differences. Bells and whistles yes but basic functionality? No difference. So when we talk about China phone quality, we need to take into account the entire consumer experience and then evaluate. As a logical consequence, when we talk about China competitiveness, we need to look at how they service the markets and why they win.
Can't understand it. As the title says "'game over' for foreign chip firms in China". I was expecting a reaction of how it was wrong that almost all the western semi con companies had put all their eggs in the same basket. Does the term "monopoly" ring a bell? Honestly, are we not concerned that technology will someday be beholden to one country that can dictate its release depending on their interest and own internal policies?
Judging from the comments posted here, I realize that a lot of people are still stuck in the last decade -- when we all believed that China's products equal poor quality.
That may have been the case in the past, but I think it's time to rethink that. Not all products made in China are buggy. There were times when anything made in Japan was synonymous to cheap products in poor quality.
Of course they can pump out a new phone every 3 months with 5 to 10 people but the question is do you want to use it knowing that it is going to breakdown when you most want to use it? They don't care if the product is buggy or unstable becaues it is going to be replaced in three months. In addition, a lot of the design work are cut and copy which will of course cut down on the design cycle.
Long term I don't think China can build a sustainable chip industry on its ability accept lower margins and work harder.
Similarly, I don't think Western chip makers can sustain their higher margins and easier paces.
IMHO the two will have to meet in the middle in a future global industry.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.