For the first time since 2018, the biggest-selling semiconductor vendor in the world was not Intel, which lost the top spot to Samsung in 2021, per a report released today by Gartner Research.

Global semiconductor revenue jumped 26.3 per cent during the year, rising to US$595 billion, according to the report. Samsung's market share, meanwhile, rose to 12.3 per cent, buoyed by 28 per cent year-on-year growth.

The South Korean electronics giant took in nearly $73.2 billion in total revenue in 2021, up from a little more than $57.1 billion the previous year. Intel, by contrast, saw its revenue shrink very slightly, dropping from $72.7 billion in 2020 to $72.5 billion last year, which was still good for a 12.2 per cent share of the global market.

SK Hynix took third place in the list for last year, with a 40.6 per cent year-on-year rise in revenue, taking it to a total of $36.3 billion. The rest of the top 10 was rounded out by, in descending order: Micron, Qualcomm, Broadcom, MediaTek, Texas Instruments, Nvidia and AMD, all of which saw revenue growth of between 19 per cent and 68 per cent.

Other factors, most notably US government sanctions, seriously impacted the market shares of China-based companies, with Huawei-backed HiSilicon seeing an 81 per cent year-on-year revenue drop between 2020 and 2021, and the Chinese semiconductor sector as a whole declining from 6.7 per cent of total market share to 6.5 per cent.

According to Andrew Norwood, a research vice president at Gartner, those fast-growing revenues are mostly the work of the ongoing chip shortage, coupled with sharply increased demand due to global 5G rollouts.

A combination of strong demand and logistics/raw material price increases drove semiconductor average selling prices … contributing to significant revenue growth in 2021,” he said in a statement.

While the sharpest growth in 2021 was seen in the automotive market, where demand rose by nearly 35 per cent, wireless communications also grew by 24.6 per cent, propelled by a more than two-fold rise in the number of 5G-capable handsets being produced in the past year. Enterprises upgrading Wi-Fi infrastructure to cope with employees returning to the office in 2021 also helped drive demand, according to Gartner.

Yet the continued prominence of home and hybrid working also pushed semiconductor demand in its own way, the report noted.

Memory chips, in particular, were highly sought after, thanks to rising server deployments at cloud hyperscalers working to provide services to a still-swollen pool of home-based workers. PCs and other endpoints slated for use by those remote workers also helped solidify demand.