The smartphone SoC market in 2017 will likely be dominated by Qualcomm and MediaTek, but Spreadtrum is gaining ground in the lower-end smartphone market. In 2017, it is expected that the three players will carve their own niches in the industry, with Qualcomm equipping high-end smartphones while Spreadtrum and MediaTek supplying the chipsets of lower-end and mid-range devices. Within the last few months, Qualcomm further cemented its lead in the high-end market, with Chinese manufacturers like OPPO, Vivo, and Xiaomi purchasing its flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 835, for their own premium devices. These manufacturers formerly bought higher-end MediaTek SoCs, so the Taiwanese semiconductor firm was directly hit by Qualcomm's rise in China. To further illustrate the impact Qualcomm had on its rival's sales, Meizu, which formerly taps MediaTek for around 90 percent of its chipset needs, is now dealing with the American semiconductor company for a larger share of its SoC requirements.
The key reason why Chinese companies are now choosing Qualcomm SoCs over the cheaper MediaTek offerings is related to the Taiwanese firm's inability to produce a chipset equipped with an LTE Cat. 10 Modem. The aforementioned modem, which for quite some time is only available in Qualcomm chipsets, allows the user to reach higher maximum download speeds and support more complicated MIMO antennas. Altogether, these factors resulted in the big decrease in MediaTek's gross margin from around 50 percent to around 35 percent within the last 12 months. However, the semiconductor firm is expected to see a resurgence in profits and revenue due to its new flagship smartphone chipset, the Helio X30, and its new voice assistant device chipset. MediaTek is seeing increased demands for the latter product, with companies like Alibaba, Google, and Amazon designing voice assistant devices equipped with the company's MT8516 chipset.
While MediaTek and Qualcomm rule the mid-range and high-end smartphone markets, Chinese chipset vendor Spreadtrum is gaining ground in the lower-end market due to its cheaper device platforms. However, the company's mid-range offerings are still not yet competitive with similar offerings from its more established rivals. Thus, MediaTek will still likely retain its position as the key chipset supplier for mid-range devices. Nonetheless, Spreadtrum could still be a force to reckon with in the near future as its chipset offerings mature.