Propelling the LED Driver IC Market into the Future

Research and Markets has announced the addition of the "LED Driver ICs: Application Drivers, Technology Developments + Product Introduction Trends" report to their offering.

This report provides a detailed analysis of the application drivers, technology developments and product introduction trends that are propelling the LED Driver IC market into the future. It also reviews relevant government regulations and surveys potential competitive threats to LEDs in important application sub-segments.

Driven in the short-run primarily by mobile phone handsets, the worldwide white light-emitting diode (LED) market is projected to exceed 20 billion units in 2008. Using higher light-emitting efficiency and lower pricing, an increasing number of white LEDs are being used as backlight for notebook PCs, medium and large LCD TVs, and single-color and full-color outdoor signs. Further growth is expected to come from automotive applications, which are expected to see increased penetration in LED headlamps, as well as LEDs in interior lighting. Toward the end of the forecast period, around 2013 or 2014, general illumination applications are expected to experience rapidly accelerating growth.

This report focuses on five primary application segments:

  • Handheld Applications – mobile phone handsets, digital still cameras, small flashlights, personal media players, GPS navigation systems, organizers, and so on.
  • Medium-size Applications – ultra-mobile PCs, small digital photo frames, (typically LCDs below 10-inches), instrumentation, large flashlights, medical lighting, specialty lighting, industrial lighting, and so on.
  • Large-size Applications – billboards, marquees, LCD televisions, LCD monitors, laptop computers, large LCD photo frames, traffic signals, and so on.
  • Automotive Applications – indicator and illumination lighting applications, turn signals, brake lights, map reading lights, head lights, and so on.
  • General Illumination – general indoor and outdoor lighting, architectural lighting, street lights, and so on.

While handheld (primarily mobile phone handsets) applications are still the most-often targeted application segment, the dominance of the segment has declined significantly in the past three years. At the beginning of 2005, about 35% of all LED driver IC introductions were targeted at the handheld segment. By the end of 2007, the percentage had dropped to about 25%. While the actual number of driver ICs targeted at handheld applications has not dropped significantly, the overall market for LED driver ICs has grown.

That market growth is visible in the Medium- and Large-sized application segments which have maintained their relative market shares over the past 3 years. Overall, these segments have been growing at about the same rate as the market. Medium- and Large-sized applications for LEDs are becoming the new growth driver for the industry. While handheld applications such as mobile phone handsets will continue to be important, they will be eclipsed in importance by new application segments.

Executive Summary:

White LEDs are targeted at a broad range of applications, from backlighting for LCD panels for PCs; headlights and other automotive devices; and lighting products for outdoors, offices and homes. In the near future, the main driver of the white LED market is expected to shift from mobile phone handsets to large LCD panels for notebook PCs featuring 10-inch or larger displays. To remain competitive, LED manufacturers will focus on developing a low-priced product that achieves a luminous efficiency of 100lm/W and a unit price of ¥1/lm, equivalent to current LEDs for mobile phones.

Mobile phone handsets are currently the largest market for LEDs (and LED Driver ICs). It is anticipated that the mobile phone handset and notebook PC markets will swap positions in terms of market size around 2010. At that time, notebooks will become (temporarily) the largest market. Mobile phones will continue to grow, however, driven primarily by unit sales in Brazil, Russia, India and China. Price declines will affect revenue sales, with mobile phones shrinking in 2010 to about 60% of the market’s size in 2005.

Backlighting for flat panel displays in laptop computers and LCD TVs will be the major application driver for LEDs and LED Driver ICs. In the case of LCD TVs, growth has been “slowing.” In 2006, the market grew 95%. In 2007 it “only” grew 57%. As growth “slows,” LCD backlighting will become an increasingly important product differentiator. The annualized growth for LCD TVs is expected to be over 25% between now and 2011. At that time, LCD TV sales will near 200 million units and will account for about two-thirds of TV unit shipments. The growing unit shipments combined with the increasing average screen size will result in an even faster growth rate for LED backlights in LCD TVs.

LED backlights in laptop computers will also enjoy the dual growth drivers of increasing penetration (usage) rates and a rapidly growing application segment. Current predictions are that laptop computers will surge 25% in 2008. By 2009, laptop computers will out-sell desktop PCs for the first time. At the same time that the laptop market continues to surge, laptops will be adopting LCD backlighting.

As a result of the high growth rates for both LCD TVs and laptop computers and the increasing penetration rates for LCD backlights in both applications, these applications will supplant mobile phone handsets as the dominant driver for LED Driver IC sales in the near future.

In the longer-term, the LED Driver market is expected to go “full circle” from driving a small number of LEDs in handsets today, to larger numbers of LEDs as backlights in various LCD applications in the next stage of its evolution, to even larger numbers of LEDs in the next stage in platforms such as automobiles and larger video displays. As a result of the growing number of LEDs in the dominant applications, the cost of LEDs will continue to drop dramatically until they finally become cost-effective for general illumination. At that time, the number of LEDs in a typical application will drop back to where it is today, but for use in very-high-volume general illumination applications.

Currently, LED lamps “are at least two orders of magnitude more expensive than traditional light sources,” making them several years away from significant market penetration for general illumination. Combined with this is a temporary slowdown in the growth of the high-efficiency lighting market (including CFLs and other technologies). Aggressive price erosion is occurring in the HB-LED market, which is expected to continue.

Looking to the future, however, the LED roadmap gets more complicated. Ultra-high-brightness LEDs (UHB-LEDs) have appeared on the commercial horizon. They have an output greater than 250 lumens and are considered a “practical solution” for many lighting, photographic, retail and medical applications.

UHB-LEDs have a very long operating life and the ability to direct light for increased system efficiency. A significant portion of the growth in the overall LED market is expected to be driven by UHB-LEDs. They could account for one-third, or more, of LED Driver IC sales within the next few years.

The worldwide LED Driver IC market will continue to grow rapidly for many years. But the market will also evolve at a rapid rate. New application segments will emerge as HB- and UHB-LEDs continue to offer improvements in cost and performance. This report will quantify specific sub-segment market trends and identify specific value-added opportunities for LED Driver ICs.

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