The International ARM Race: Rise Of The Chinese SoC


Spreadtrum Communications Inc. is a Shanghai-based fabless chip maker and the world's 17th largest semiconductor company. It is best known for making chipsets for the Chinese TD-SCDMA 3G network, but it also sells chips to customers from other countries. The company was acquired last year by Tsinghua Unigroup, a Chinese consumer electronics firm.

Back in 2011, Spreadtrum managed to win 25 percent of the 2G phone market in China, mainly from MediaTek, which introduced a weaker chip at the time and, in turn, gave Spreadtrum the opportunity to grow its market share rapidly.

Today, Spreadtrum is known mainly for making chipsets that work on China’s TD-SCDMA 3G network, which covers 50 percent of the customers there. But it's also making chips for other customers in other countries. If you’re looking at the overall Chinese smartphone market, Spreadtrum only has 11 percent share.


While we generally think of companies like MediaTek as offering entry-level hardware, Spreadtrum goes even lower. Earlier this year, we learned that Spreadtrum and Mozilla are partnering to offer a $25 Firefox OS smartphone, which is way below the retail price of any phone we've tested on Tom’s Hardware.

This smartphone will come with a SC6821 chip. We don’t know too much about the platform, other than that it's based on ARM's Cortex-A5, has support for Wi-Fi (presumably 802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth, and integrates FM radio functionality. It also supports a camera (most likely up to 5 MP) and HVGA resolutions, will run Firefox OS, and will work on WCDMA and EDGE networks.

Mozilla most likely chose Spreadtrum due to its processor's low price. Therefore, performance and features probably weren’t the priority. At least Mozilla picked an ARMv7-capable chip, as it prepares to completely drop ARMv6 support from both Firefox OS and the mobile Firefox app for Android. The sooner everyone gets rid of ARMv6, the sooner developers can focus on supporting ARMv7 and ARMv8 architectures.


Mozilla is not the only big-name customer serviced by Spreadtrum. HTC has also put the Spreadtrum Quak (SC7735S) chip inside its Desire 700 mid-range smartphone. This chip is based on a quad-core Cortex-A7 1.2 GHz CPU and Mali-400 GPU. It supports up to 2 GB of RAM, 1080p video playback at 30 FPS, VP8 hardware decoding, and up to 13 MP cameras.

HTC hasn't had the best luck with its low-end smartphone offerings because, for some reason, it always ends up more expensive than the competition sporting similar specs. Spreadtrum might help HTC reduce its overall prices for its low-end smartphones.

Earlier this year, there were some talks about a potential Spreadtrum/RDA Microelectronics merger, but this deal was met with opposition from RDA employees, who consider Spreadtrum a much less nimble company than their own.

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  • snowctrl
    I'm fairly certain Acorn's ARM chips were 32bit from the start...? They jumped the 16bit generation completely