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Market Opportunities for Thermal Management Components in Smartphones

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How can smartphones deal with growing heat management challenges? 


The growing smartphone market, expected to reach almost 2.1 billion smartphones annually by 2022, represents a great opportunity for suppliers of different smartphone components and technology solutions.

Thermal management of handheld devices, such as smartphones, is becoming increasingly challenging. As detailed in the report, the main reasons for this are the growing number of smartphone functionalities and raised customer requirements for processing speed, leading to increased heat dissipation. Additional components needed to ensure new smartphone functions desired by customers, including wireless charging, high-resolution cameras, 3D gaming, security, authentication, and high-speed streaming, also result in denser component integration, making thermal management even more difficult.

Actually, smartphones contain several components that generate heat, and components whose performance and lifetime is negatively impacted by heat. Excessive heating of some components, such as lithium ion batteries, has to be avoided for safety reasons. The processor is the hottest component in a smartphone. Amongst other heat-generating components in a smartphone are image sensors, light sources and the battery.
Suitable thermal management solutions are now sought to avoid hot spots in smartphone and keep the component temperature at acceptable levels. The enclosure temperature, or skin temperature, must be also kept relatively low to avoid users feeling uncomfortable when using the smartphone.

Main heat sources in a smartphones


Smartphones pose a significant challenge to the implementation of traditional cooling schemes, such as heat sinks and fans, due to form factor limitations and the specific way the device is used by customers.

As detailed in the report, there are different approaches for thermal management, based both on hardware and software solutions. Software thermal management (STM) has several advantages. It enables additional design flexibility and an optimal reaction to a given thermal event and can be improved by a software update in existing products. Contrary to hardware solutions, such as heat pipes, STM does not take additional space in smartphone.

The optimal way to deal with heat in smartphones would be to reduce heat generation, by using higher performance chips. Significant improvements have been made in chip manufacturing, with the 10 nm node introduced in 2017, and chip architectures, including multiple core architectures, with “high-power” and “low-power” cores, associated with appropriate software control. However, in the future, processor improvements might be not fast enough to follow rapidly elevating customer requirements for smartphone functionality and performance.

So other thermal management solutions will increasingly be needed. As shown in the report, similar trends were observed in the past, when thermal transfer sheet performance was not sufficient to dissipate heat from poorly thermally designed processors, leading to heat pipes being introduced into the first smartphones from NEC and Sony. Today, the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G5, Google Pixel 2 XL are just a few examples of smartphones relying on heat pipes to improve their thermal management.

Alternatively, vapor chambers might perform better than heat pipes in the near future. Ultrathin vapor chambers are already under development by several players, such as Furukawa Electric, TaiSol, AVC and Delta, but still face difficult technology challenges.

Vapor chamber vs.existing thermal management solutions


Until recently, the thermal management in smartphones was only of minor interest to smartphone component and device designers.
Beside some “dedicated” thermal management components like heat pipes and thermal transfer sheets, most smartphone components have been designed and built without thermal performance in mind.

According to Yole Développement’s analysis, this will greatly change in the future. A fierce battle for each mm3 of volume available in smartphones to implement components enabling new functionality and for larger batteries will lead to efforts to enhance thermal characteristics of existing smartphone components, instead of adding dedicated bulky thermal components.

Future efforts will be focused mainly at the packaging level, in chip packaging and Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). These two solutions will account for more than ¾ of the $3.6 billion market for thermal components solutions by 2022. Fan-out packaging solutions and high-density thermally-enhanced PCBs will especially attract interest. Amongst other, leading PCB suppliers such as Mektec, Samsung Electro-Mechanics, AT&S and Unimicron, and leading packaging suppliers such as Amkor Technology, ASE, TSMC and STATS ChipPAC will take part in this spectacular thermal transition in smartphones. The integration of several function into one component is another promising approach for future smartphones.

Despite cost barriers in the cost-sensitive smartphone industry environment, the huge quantities of thermal management components needed result in attractive market value. Moreover, new technology solutions add more product-differentiating value compared to their competitors and open market opportunities in other applications areas, such as medical, gaming, pico-projectors, virtual reality and drones.

Smartphone thermal management component market


This report’s objectives are to:

  • Provide a clear overview of the smartphone thermal management solutions, covering “hardware” solutions and software thermal management
  • Furnish market data for thermal management components in smartphones
  • Present the technology trends for smartphone thermal management components
  • Deliver an overview of the main suppliers of key components
Bundle offer available with the Thermal Management in Smartphones: Technology Comparison 2017 at EUR 7 990, contact us!
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Introduction 7 

Executive summary   12

Global smartphone market trends 43 

Thermal issues in smartphones 48 

> Main reasons why a smartphone gets hot
> What are the main heat sources in a smartphone?
> Thermal management priority levels
> Thermal management solutions in smartphones
> Classification of thermal management solutions in a smartphone
> Different ways to deal with heat in a smartphone
> TM solutions at different packaging levels
> Synergies of TM for smartphones with other applications

Technology and market challenges 62 

> Challenges to thermal management in smartphones
> Factors strengthening smartphone TM challenges
> Smartphone cooling system features sought
> Smartphones are getting slimmer and slimmer – or, are they?

Market forecast 71 

> Methodology
> 2016-2022 smartphone market in Munits
> 2016-2022 smartphone market value in $ million
> Leading smartphone companies in 2016 – units sold per year
> Leading smartphone companies in 2016 – revenues
> Smartphone bill of materials in 2016
> Smartphone thermal management bill of materials in 2016 and 2022
> Market value of thermal management components in smartphones

Smartphone components and their role in thermal management 84 

Processor 86 

> Hardware and software improvements
> Single-core vs. multiple-core processor
> Comparative table of different processors
> Low efficient processor – additional thermal solutions needed

Packaging and PCB 92

> Smartphone as a driver for packaging development
> Packaging in smartphones: still little focus on thermal characteristics
> Benefits of fan-out packaging over other packages
> Comparison of different packaging technologies in smartphones
> Underfill
> PCB materials
> PCB and thermal management in smartphones
> PCB surface area in different smartphones – comparative graph
> Smartphone PCB main specifications
> PCB – how to improve thermal spreading capability?

Thermal sheet 108 

Heat pipe and vapor chamber 112 

> Advantages & inconvenience of using heat pipes in smartphones
> Heat pipes in smartphone – Timeline
> Heat pipe as thermal management improvement in Samsung Galaxy S7
> Comparison heat pipe & graphite thermal sheet
> Vapor chamber structure and principle
> Heat pipe vs. vapor chamber in smartphone applications

Battery 123 

Smartphone enclosure 128

Other thermal management components 135 

> Air fan/air blower
> Heat absorbent films/pads of Phase change materials
> Thermoelectric cooling
> Midframe

Software solutions for thermal management in smartphones 143 

Technology trends 151

Wireless charging 164 

Thermal characterization, simulation and testing 170 

Supply chain 172 

> Smartphone microprocessor and software management supply chain
> Packaging: Fan-out manufacturers
> Packaging: Fan-out supply chain
> Underfill players
> Heat pipes: who supplies who?
> Vapor chamber developers for smartphones
> Smartphone PCB suppliers

Conclusions    182

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