China-based Spreadtrum's application processor (AP) shipments have been dropping since China Mobile began subsidizing dual-core smartphones, as opposed to single-core models, in June 2013, and the company so far is showing no signs of recovery. Spreadtrum's parent company Tsinghua Unigroup's acquisition of China-based communication chipmaker RDA Microelectronics did not provide much benefit to Spreadtrum's operation and instead caused issues over their merging process and delayed Spreadtrum's product planning due to internal struggles.
Spreadtrum's smartphone AP shipments have been mostly TD-SCDMA chips in the first half of 2014, with processors having more than dual cores accounting for almost 50% of the volume. The company's shipment share of WCDMA chips have also risen slightly.
Spreadtrum's SC7715 and SC7730 APs both have competitive pricing, but are unlikely to start shipping until the second half of the year due to software issues. Although Spreadtrum has said it has plans to release LTE products in 2014, the company may only be able to maintain its revenues through its existing products since Digitimes Research believes the chipmaker is unlikely to release any actual LTE products until 2015.
On the other hand, the lower technological threshold required in the feature phone business, combined with the company's competitive pricing, has driven Spreadtrum's chip shipments to reach over 20 million units per month, about the same level as Taiwan's MediaTek. Because of strong feature phone demand, related chips may suffer from shortages at the end of second quarter.
Since Spreadtrum's product lineups for the mid-range and high-end segments are clearly less competitive compared to its competitors, Digitimes Research believes that if Tsinghua Unigroup is unable to resolve issues over internal management and the acquisition of RDA Microelectronics, the company may quickly lose its competitiveness in the smartphone AP market in the future, especially if Spreadtrum is unable to significantly improve its technology.