Friday, March 14, 2014
Recent reports from China have cited Qualcomm president Derek Aberle as disclosing that it plans to produce 28nm chips at China-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC). Industry observers in Taiwan have noted that Qualcomm probably is looking to improve its relations with China, hoping the government will drop an anti-trust probe into sales of the company's handset chips.
The observers believe that if Qualcomm does let SMIC handle some of its 28nm chips, the China-based foundry's technological strength will not be the main reason. After all, SMIC's 28nm technology has not yet reached a level that is able to deliver the HKMG (high-K metal gate) and HPM (high performance for mobile applications) processes, and the foundry house also has no sufficient capacity to satisfy production of any Qualcomm single chip.
With regard to the 28nm technology, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is obviously at the forefront of the global wafer foundry industry as it has migrated from the 28nm HPM process into the HKMG process that enables chip vendors to deliver solutions for mobile devices with higher performance and lower power consumption.
Samsung Electronics and Intel have been playing catch up, but they are still far behind TSMC.
Globalfoundries is currently striving hard to stabilize the yield rate of its 28nm HPM process with a significant improvement likely to come out in the second half of 2014.
However, United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC) and SMIC are just barely entering the 28nm process, and it will probably take 1-2 years efforts for the two foundry houses to usher in the 28nm HPM process.
Perhaps, SMIC is likely to shorten its learning curve for the 28nm technology thanks to technical support from Qualcomm. Still, SMIC may not be able to officially land 28nm orders from Qualcomm in meaningful volumes until 2015.
Broadcom, a major competitor to Qualcomm, might have migrated to the 16nm/14nm processes for its chips by 2015. How many of Qualcomm's chips will still be produced in the 28nm node by then?
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