Smartphone shipments remained strong in the final quarter of 2016. The market withdrawal of Samsung flagship Galaxy Note 7 turned consumer demand towards devices from other brands such as Apple, Huawei and LG. Thus, prices of mobile DRAM continued to surge during the period on account of the worsening undersupply situation. The latest research from DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, finds that the global mobile DRAM revenue for the fourth quarter increased by about 20% sequentially to reach around US$5.51 billion.
"In terms of mobile DRAM market share by fourth-quarter revenue results, leader Samsung still held on to more than half of the global market at 61.3%," noted Avril Wu, research director of DRAMeXchange. "Second-place SK Hynix and third-place Mircon catpured 24.2% and 12.3%, respectively. Together, the top three suppliers captured 97.8% of the global mobile DRAM market in the fourth quarter."
Wu added: "Looking at the revenue of the whole DRAM industry, mobile DRAM accounted for a share of 44.2% in the fourth quarter."
Samsung to retain its winning streak by accelerating its transition to the 18nm technology
In the technology competition among the three leading DRAM suppliers, Samsung is still the leader in mobile DRAM. In addition to developing the specifications for LPDDR4x, which is the latest low-power variation of LPDDR4, Samsung is also gradually transitioning from the 20nm process to the 18nm as to further reduce cost and maintain its technological advantage over the competitors. By taking these steps, Samsung's memory business will likely to achieve higher profits during 2017.
SK Hynix managed to stabilize the yield rate for its 21nm process in the fourth quarter of 2016 and will begin increasing the output from this technology in 2017, along with the capacity expansion of its M14 fab. These plans are to ensure that the supplier can meet the increasing demand from its customers. Additionally, SK Hynix will begin the production of its next-generation 18nm mobile DRAM in the second half of 2017. For the next-generation products, SK Hynix hopes to have them in mass production as soon as possible.
Micron is gradually moving its mobile DRAM production mainly onto the 20nm process. Inotera, which Micron recently acquired, has already made the complete transition to the 20nm technology. Micron's other subsidiary Micron Memory Taiwan also began mass production for its 18nm process this January. Micron Memory Taiwan aims to have 18nm account for 90% of its total DRAM bit output by the end of this year as the yield of the technology continues to improve.
Nanya achieved a sequential growth of 41.3% in its fourth-quarter mobile DRAM revenue, the highest among all DRAM suppliers. Its share in the global mobile DRAM market also went up from 1.3% in the third quarter to 1.5% in the fourth. Nanya's gain was mainly attributed to the general price upswing and the supplier's decision to increase the share of mobile DRAM in the overall DRAM output. In the aspect of technology roadmap, Nanya is currently transitioning to the 20nm process. This move is expected to bring additional revenue growth for the supplier later on.
Winbond increased its mobile DRAM revenue by 6% sequentially in last year's fourth quarter and took 0.7% of the global market share for product. In terms of technology, the share of Winbond's mobile DRAM output on the 46nm process has now come to 72%. Going forward, Winbond plans to have specialty and mobile DRAM products to be made on its newly developed 38nm technology this third quarter.
DRAM industry expected to be in profit for the entire 2017 as demand far outstrips supply
DRAMeXchange anticipates that the current capacity expansion efforts undertaken by suppliers will not have significant effects on the market until the second half of 2017. Therefore, the first half of this year will witness tight supply.
"In the smartphone market, the memory content for high-end smartphones this year is expected to start at 6GB," noted Wu. "For mid-range devices, their standard memory specifications will be in the 3GB to 4GB range. Using these memory specifications as references, DRAMeXchange estimates that the annual global bit demand growth for mobile DRAM this year will come to at least 30%. Under the market dynamics, the industry on the whole will stay in profit through the year."