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Components | August 18, 2011

Mobile DRAM market hits USD 2<em>bn</em> threshold in Q1

In another sign of the growing prominence of mobile platforms like smartphones, handheld gaming devices and tablets, revenue in the 1Q for mobile dynamic random access memory (DRAM) exceeded the USD 2 billion level for the first time on a quarterly basis, writes IHS iSuppli.
Global revenue for mobile DRAM hit an astonishing USD 2.07 billion during the first three months of this year, up 10% from an already hefty USD 1.88 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010. Showing how far the industry’s revenue levels have progressed, the increase between the two quarters of about USD 190 million was equivalent to almost the entire mobile DRAM market in the first quarter of 2009, when revenue amounted to just USD 205 million. Revenue in the first quarter this year is also up an impressive 150% from the same time last year.

Mobile DRAM is the DRAM variant currently preferred for use in mobile applications, including a variety of consumer electronics devices.

“As mobile devices consume more memory to carry out an ever-expanding range of highly sophisticated tasks, shipments of mobile DRAM likewise are set for outstanding growth,” said Ryan Chien, researcher for memory and storage at IHS. “Unit shipments and densities for mobile DRAM will increase sharply during the coming years. For example, smartphone mobile DRAM density is anticipated to grow by nearly a factor of six between 2010 and 2015. Meanwhile, density in handsets overall will increase eightfold. In terms of units, just 43% of shipped cellphones in 2010 used mobile DRAM—so plenty of opportunities remain for mobile DRAM to penetrate the handset space.”

Tablets spur mobile DRAM growth

Prospects are even more bullish in the fast-growing tablet market. Given the expected proliferation of 8Gb and 16Gb chips during the next few years, mobile DRAM densities will rise by a factor of almost 14 for tablet devices. Unit shipments of mobile DRAM also can be expected to grow, given that tablet shipments are projected to multiply 15 times between 2010 and 2015.

In the handheld gaming market, mobile DRAM usage will rise during the coming years. Both the PlayStation Portable by Sony Corp. and the 3DS by Nintendo Corp. already have 64 megabytes of mobile DRAM, and Sony’s forthcoming PSP Vita handheld likely will have memory content of 256 megabytes—similar to that of its non-handheld PlayStation 3 gaming console. The handheld gaming market ships about 30 million units annually, making for another healthy segment in which mobile DRAM can play.

Players look to join lucrative market

The remarkable outlook for mobile DRAM has prompted a number of companies to enter the market during the last five quarters, including Taiwanese firms Winbond Electronics and ProMOS. However, newcomers will find it hard to challenge the incumbent leaders like South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and Hynix Semiconductor, as well as Japan’s Elpida Memory—given that all three comprise almost 95% of mobile DRAM shipments and revenue.

Samsung was the top mobile DRAM manufacturer in the first quarter with revenue of USD 1.13 billion, followed by Elpida with USD 434 million and by Hynix with USD 391 million. Far behind in fourth place was U.S.-based Micron Technology with USD 84 million, while fifth-ranked Winbond had USD 13 million and ProMOS in sixth place had just USD 3 million.

The mobile DRAM market will have strong sales momentum for years to come, IHS believes, with revenue this year likely to hit USD 6.9 billion. The stunning forecast for mobile DRAM is in direct contrast to the pallid prospects facing the general DRAM space, with annual revenue this year projected to drop more than 10% due to slowing increases in density in PCs.

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