Robotics and 5G to spur growth of SoC industry – report
Big OEMs hogging production and COVID causing supply issues
The system-on-chip (SoC) side of the semiconductor industry is poised for growth between now and 2026, when it's predicted to be worth $6.85 billion, according to an analyst's report.
Chances are good that there's an SoC-powered device within arm's reach of you: the tiny integrated circuits contain everything needed for a basic computer, leading to their proliferation in mobile, IoT and smart devices.
The report predicting the growth comes from advisory biz Technavio, which looked at a long list of companies in the SoC market. Vendors it analyzed include Apple, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, TSMC, Toshiba, and more. The company predicts that much of the growth between now and 2026 will stem primarily from robotics and 5G.
Robots are being deployed in increasingly diverse situations, Technavio says, and small, purpose-built SoCs are ideal for such applications in the automotive, electronics, healthcare and defense industries.
The report also says there's growing demand for collaborative robots that assist workers as well as for fully autonomous robots.
The 5G industry will be the other big growth factor for SoCs, the outfit predicts. Citing the Gartner statistic that 5G infrastructure revenue grew by 39 percent from 2020 to 2021, making it worth $19.1 billion, Technavio said that the SoC market will benefit from that.
Geographically, Technavio predicts three-quarters of the growth in the SoC market will originate in the APAC region, where many semiconductor manufacturers are already located. According to the report, much of the growth in APAC will be driven by increased interest in the deployment of 4G/LTE and further commercialization of 5G.
Long term trends
While the report details the effect that COVID-19 had on the SoC industry, especially given that much of its production happens in China, it also says that large-scale initiatives to get people vaccinated in APAC have allowed life to return to a semblance of normality with some exceptions. This, the report says, indicates "the demand for SoCs has increased, which will lead to regional SoC market growth during the forecast period."
That period extends all the way to 2026, and does not take into account what's currently happening in China in mid-2022, where rolling lockdowns have caused companies like Apple to decrease their sales forecasts by considerable amounts – $8 billion in Apple's case.
Some manufacturers have been so hurt by shortages that they've taken to ripping chips out of old washing machines to be repurposed in industrial hardware.
We've asked Technavio about whether that implies a complication for its own prediction, although that is admittedly longer term. The report appears to make little to no mention of the chip shortage, although previously the analyst predicted that "semiconductor chips will be in short supply throughout 2022... and that "the chip shortage will last for 24 months before it recedes."
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One SoC industry challenge the report gets right is the challenge presented by IP core providers, which are companies using third-party foundries to manufacture chips that are their own intellectual property.
The report says that large companies are increasingly dominating production time. "Technavio expects that the vendors with high financial resources will increase their footprint, and small vendors will find it difficult to compete with them in terms of quality, technology, and price," it adds.
Large vendors outmuscling smaller OEMs is already an issue, and one that's been exacerbated by supply chain problems and material shortages. When manufacturers prioritize big orders, OEMs will place bigger orders to ensure they get priority. Don't blame SoC makers for that, though: "Semiconductor manufacturers completely rely on IP providers for the development of high-performance SoCs," the advisory firm concludes. ®