DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, estimates that mobile (LPDDR) DRAM products will see sequentially quarterly price increases in the average range of 10~15% in the fourth quarter of 2017. This price hike is attributed to DRAM suppliers seeking to correct price differences among various applications as well as the year-end busy season in the smartphone market. The percent of sequential price increase for mobile DRAM in the fourth quarter is expected to be the largest when compared with percent increases for DRAM used in other applications.
Since the start of 2017, the average price of PC DRAM (equivalent to U.S. dollar per gigabit) has been higher than that of mobile DRAM. This situation will end in the fourth quarter due to the jump in mobile DRAM prices.
DRAMeXchange points out that major DRAM suppliers will make limited contributions to the overall production capacity in 2018. Next year, DRAM manufacturers will raise outputs mainly by optimizing the process flows of their existing fabs and deploying the next-generation manufacturing technologies. They are unlikely going to undertake large-scale capacity expansion projects. Hence, supply will be tight for all DRAM applications during much of 2018.
Additionally, the demand for server DRAM products is climbing steadily as major technology companies (e.g. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) build new data centers. The market arrival of Intel’s Purley platform is also expected to significantly contribute to server demand. Hence, there is a strong possibility that DRAM suppliers will adjust their product mixes to allocate more of their production capacity to server products. This in turn could affect shipments and prices in the mobile DRAM market during next year.
Looking ahead to the first quarter of 2018, DRAMeXchange anticipates that the seasonal headwinds of the starting quarter will ease the strain on the DRAM supply, showing a moderation compared with the fourth quarter of 2017. However, DRAMeXchange does not expect that the seasonal headwinds will be strong enough to significantly impact the overall market demand. Hence, the chances of declining contract prices for DRAM products in next year’s first quarter will be low.
Growth of memory content in smartphones during next year will be driven mainly by hardware upgrades of low-end and mid-range models
During this year, the surge in mobile DRAM prices has constrained smartphone makers’ efforts to increase the memory content of their devices. In the Android phone market, mainstream flagship smartphones that are scheduled for market release in the second half of 2017 will mostly carry 4GB or 6GB of LPDRR4X, similar to flagships that were released in the year’s first half. As for Apple’s iPhone series, 3GB is the highest memory specification that is available for the latest models.
Though high prices have made phone makers less eager to raise memory specifications for market segments from the high-end to mid-range, DRAMeXchange expects that the lower market segments (from the mid-range to low-end) will be driving the growth of mobile DRAM content in smartphones for next year. The next-generation of economical and entry-level models slated for launch in 2018 will benefit from hardware upgrades. Improvements in areas such as camera and display will require additional memory to ensure that the whole device will perform smoothly.
The generational transition from LPDDR3 to LPDDR4 is gaining greater momentum. Demand for the LPDDR4 series in the smartphone market is growing just as major DRAM suppliers raise production for these next-generation products. DRAMeXchange forecasts that LPDDR4 will formally take over as the market mainstream in 2018, replacing LPDDR3 in flagship and high-end smartphones. With a gradually shrinking market share, the LPDDR3 series will be mainly used in eMCPs for smartphones belonging to the mid-range, low-end and entry-level segments.
This generational transition is also taking place in the tablet market. Intel has successively launched several new mobile processor platforms that complement the LPDDR4 series for the best system-wide performance. Tablet makers therefore in adopting the new Intel platforms are also gradually switching from LPDDR3 discrete products to LPDDR4 counterparts.