Apple is expected to rely on liquid crystal polymer (LCP) flexible printed circuit (FPC) antenna technology in its 2020 iPhone lineup, but a lack of suppliers poses a risk to production of the new handset, says TF Securities Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
Kuo, in a note to investors this week, predicted demand for the iPhone will put a strain on Apple’s LCP FPC parts, rising significantly to 220 million units in 2020, with orders up 110% from current orders.
Approximately 70 to 75% of next year’s iPhones will use LCP FPC hardware, up from 45 to 50% in 2019. Apple’s anticipated shift to 5G will in part be the driver behind the higher adoption rates. 5G-enabled iPhones will account for 15 to 20% of total shipments in the second half of 2020, Kuo says.
Ku says 5G models require three LCP FPC units compared to one for common 4G versions.
Next year’s iPhone 11 replacement is is expected to adopt LCP FPC for its upper antenna. Current iPhone 11 models rely on modified polyamide (MPI) FPC tech.
Kuo sees demand increasing further, thanks to future models of the iPad and Apple Watch being set to include flexible LCP designs next year.
Currently the sole supplier for advanced antenna parts for the iPhone 11 Pro is Murata. Kuo says the company might not be able to handle a massive increase in orders.
“The greatest challenge for Apple’s FPC procurement strategy in 2020 is to find new LPC FPC suppliers who can offer massive stable shipments, besides Murata,” Kuo said.
Avary/ZDT is the best shot at increasing the supply, says Kuo, as the firm is already shipping Apple Watch LCP FPC parts and its production lines have been qualified by Apple.
While existing Apple supplier Career is also a possibility, but Kuo believes the firm has been designated to provide LCP FPC modules for the much-rumored “iPhone SE 2,” not high-volume models.
“Currently, only Avary/ZDT could simultaneously adopt Panasonic and Azotek’s LCP materials for the LCP FPC production among new LCP suppliers who are being qualified by Apple,” Kuo said. “We think that this will lower the procurement risk and cost.”