Today, it is impossible for a single country to produce a smartphone from scratch; its raw materials and components force us to travel around the world.
If Spain were isolated, it would be impossible for the country, or any other country in the world, to manufacture cell phones. A smartphone is a clear example of a global product, both in its production and consumption.
The Smartphones They require raw materials such as silicon, indium, lithium and cobalt, which are generally mined in different parts of the world. No country has all of these resources in the quantities and qualities required for mass production. In addition, manufacturing the various components of a smartphone requires specialized technical knowledge and manufacturing capabilities, which are typically distributed worldwide. For example, South Korea is a leader in the production of screens, while the USA excels in the development of microprocessors but lacks the necessary capacity to produce them; this is happening in Taiwan.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, this global supply chain has been disrupted, causing major problems for manufacturers of all types of products around the world, from factory closures due to a lack of raw materials or components to months-long waiting lists to get a car due to the lack of processors.
The globalized mobile phone
From the very beginning, the raw materials and components of a smartphone come from different parts of the world:
- Silicon: Used in processors and memory and comes primarily from the USA, China and Russia.
- Indian: Used in touchscreens, mainly from Canada, Bolivia and China.
- Lithium: For batteries from countries such as Chile, Argentina and Australia.
- Cobalt: Also used in batteries, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Gold, silver and copper: Used in motherboards and other circuits from countries such as Peru, China and the United States.
But more importantly, a smartphone is made up of several elements that work together to provide its diverse features, and each of them is manufactured in different countries around the world.
It is the main interface for user interaction. Often it is LCD or OLED technology. The countries and companies that make them are South Korea (Samsung, LG), Japan (Sony, Sharp) and China (BOE).
It is the “brain” of the device, responsible for executing the instructions of the applications and the operating system, similar to what happens in computers of all types. They are manufactured in the USA (Qualcomm, Apple), South Korea (Samsung), Taiwan (TSMC) and China (Huawei).
It acts as a “temporary memory” for the processor, enabling multitasking and smooth program execution. Suppliers are South Korea (Samsung, SK Hynix), the USA (Micron) and Japan (Toshiba).
It is the device on which data and applications are stored, generally in the form of flash memory. They are manufactured in South Korea (Samsung), Japan (Toshiba), the United States (Western Digital) and Taiwan (TSMC).
Provides the energy necessary to operate the device. Current lithium-ion batteries are manufactured in China (CATL, BYD), South Korea (Samsung SDI, LG Chem) and Japan (Panasonic, Sony).
It is the circuit board that connects all the above components and some additional components like camera, sensors, etc. They are mainly manufactured in Taiwan (Foxconn, Pegatron) and China (Flex, BYD).
Almost all modern smartphones have at least one rear and one front camera. The manufacturers are located in Japan (Sony, Canon), South Korea (Samsung) and China (O-Film).
These include, among others, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor and ambient light sensor. They come from Germany (Bosch), the United States (Texas Instruments) and Japan (Omron).
These are components for WLAN, Bluetooth and cellular signals (LTE, 5G etc.). They ship from the USA (Broadcom, Qualcomm), Taiwan (MediaTek) and China (Huawei).
Although production may be located in a specific country, it is often the result of an international supply chain. For example, a Taiwanese company like Foxconn could assemble the iPhone in China, but use components made in other countries and raw materials from even more countries.
Country specialization in component manufacturing can also change due to factors such as technological advances, trade policies and labor costs. For example, the trade war between the US and China is impacting the supply chain for technology components. If the world wants to continue to enjoy this technology, it is important that countries work together.
Quo Science Trips section sponsored by Hyundai