Qualcomm Sneaks into Third Place in Semiconductor Sales

You can certainly make the argument that tablets didn't catch AMD or Intel "flat-footed" (and we in fact did make that argument), but at the same time, you have to give companies like Qualcomm credit for being well prepared for the mobile boom that we now find ourselves in. To wit, Qualcomm is now the world's third largest semiconductor player, behind only Samsung (another mobile player) and Intel.

According to IHS iSuppli, it was an overall miserable year for semiconductors with seven of the world's top 10 semiconductor suppliers seeing a decline in revenue. Qualcomm bucked that trend, and did so in dramatic fashion.

"Qualcomm is set to end 2012 with a stunning 27.2 percent growth in semiconductor revenue," IHS iSuppli said. "This represents the highest rate of growth of any top 10 or even any top 20 semiconductor supplier."

Qualcomm Snapdragon

There's still a sizable gap between first and third place, and even second and third place. Intel, which sits in the top spot, raked in $47.5 billion in semiconductor revenue in 2012, down 2.4 percent compared to last year. Second place Samsung boosted its revenue 6.7 percent to $30.4 billion, while Qualcomm collected just shy of $13 billion.

"This year has been terrible for most semiconductor application markets—with the sole exception of the wireless segment, which is expected to generate robust revenue growth this year," said Dale Ford, senior director at IHS. "Consumers are continuing to buy more smartphones and media tablets, even as sales of other once-hot products like PCs and flat-panel TVs decelerate or decline. With its chips at the heart of countless cellphones, including Apple Inc.’s marquee iPhone 5, Qualcomm has discovered an oasis of growth in the desert that is the semiconductor market in 2012."

Just two years ago, Qualcomm ranked only No. 9 among semiconductor suppliers. Ford says the company's six-rank since 2010 ascent is the biggest increase of any major semiconductor player in recent history.