According to the ancient Chinese thinker Zhuangzi, persistence on building up competence over time is the only way to earn people's trust. Taiwan, with a small population of less than 24 million, has managed to gain advantages in the semiconductor and electronics supply chains. Taiwanese people call TSMC the "sacred mountain" that protects the country - an analogy to the mountain range running the length of the island. And some argue that China would not attack Taiwan recklessly because of TSMC's importance in the global supply chain. The argument may not stand but it does indicate there have been changes in TSMC's role in the wake of geopolitics in the US-China standoff.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has gradually been put under control, notebook ODMs still see their clients placing long-term orders, extending their order visibility beyond the fourth quarter of 2021. Meanwhile, Epistar and China-based Sanan have both entered into Samsung's mini/microLED chip supply chain and will begin delivery in the second half. Prices of MCUs will continue to rise through the end of 2021 as the supply of the chips will be undermined by nationwide lockdown in Malaysia and reduced support from Chinese foundries.
Strong demand and tight capacity are pushing up foundry serivce quotes. Major Taiwan-based foundry houses are expected to report record-high sales in third-quarter 2021. The overall handset market may be weak, but 5G smartphone demand is picking up. Smartphone chip vendors expect their sales to be fueled by 5G offerings in third-quarter 2021. Servers are also gearing up for the 5G edge computing boom.
China, which has been relying heavily on semiconductor imports, is keen to improve it IC self-sufficiency. But DIGITIMES Asia president Colley Hwang thinks the key for China is to keep the momentum for its economic growth. Apple reportedly will introduce the third-generation iPhone SE series in first-half 2022 adopting A14 Bionic, creating opportunities for its semiconductor supply chain. Thanks to WFH deeds, MIS has expects its shipments for IT devices to stay strong in 2021.
China imported more semiconductor chips than oil for the first time in 2013. According to BCG, China imported US$350 billion worth of semiconductor chips in 2020, which represented about 60% of the global semiconductor market. The amount was twice as much as China's oil imports. Self-sufficiency therefore has become the most critical part of China's national development strategies. Backed by strong state support, YMTC raised its goal of attaining a 3-4% share of the global market in 2022 to 7%. SMIC also has plans to build four new fabs. However, there have been reports that Chinese corporations including YMTC and SMIC are having difficulty acquiring production equipment from abroad. The US has China's semiconductor sector in a stranglehold amid intensifying conflicts. Uncertainties are lying ahead for China's semiconductor industry.
As wafer foundries are preparing for the next stage of competition, TSMC chairman Mark Liu has given out some details about the company's investments in the US during an investor conference. Meanwhile, Intel is rumored to consider buying Globalfoundries, eyeing for its capacity, but sources from Taiwan's upstream supply chain believe the move is unlikely. On the other hand, Chromebook shipments may slip 50% between July and August, as demand from the education sector will begin to fade.
The reason why I am so optimistic about the competition between TSMC and Samsung is that neither quantum technology nor in-memory computing will dictate the outcome before 2025. Even if Samsung is able to make a breakthrough, it will not enter commercialization and make a significant impact until sometime in the 2030s.
TSMC has reported sales growth for second-quarter 2021, and expects its sales to rise further in the third quarter. The world's top foundry house has also raised it sales growth outlook for full-year 2021. Foundry houses have had difficulties building new capacity for mature nodes, supply for which will remain tight through 2022. Foxconn has made yet another move to expand its presence in the EV sector. It has announced it will invest in Singapore-based Li-metal battery maker SES.
The popularity of Bluetooth LBS (location based service) apps is rising as the related applications can be used for direction-tracking or as electronic fences to trace and analyze the footprints of confirmed COVIC-19 cases, helping curb the spread of the coronavirus, Digitimes Research has found.
Although digital signature of remote documents is no longer a problem, how to distinguish the authenticity of signature documents and how to verify that the signature is made by the countersigner in person is a pain point. Hungarian start-up Birosign, which was selected by the Epoch Foundation Garage+ Accelerator in early June as one of the 46 must-see start-ups at Computex 2021's virtual exhibition, provides a solution to this problem by using sensor technology and machine learning.
The development of on-device AI chips for smart speaker applications is gaining momentum as brand vendors are incorporating those chips into their speaker products to improve related real-time voice services and sound quality and enhance the protection of user privacy by reducing the reliance on cloud applications, Digitimes Research has found.
I tried to work out some scenarios where TSMC could be defeated, the first being throwing in it into a state of panic. The semiconductor fabrication industry is highly connected with the surrounding infrastructure. A foundry service provider needs first-rate engineers and production environment. When I visited TSMC founder Morris Chang 13 or 14 years ago, he told me there was no land north of Hsinchu to build a 12-inch wafer fab. Aside from locations in central and southern Taiwan and properties owned by state-operated companies, the Taiwan government finally managed to find a piece of land near Baoshan in Hsinchu for TSMC to establish a next-generation production base. The goal was to enable TSMC to still tap the mature talent and stable water and electricity supply in Hsinchu. It is known that TSMC is given supply priority when there is water or power shortage in Hsinchu.
Intel is looking to regain its lead in foundry business, but the US chip giant it may have a mountain to climb before catching up with TSMC. DRAM prices are expected to rise in the third quarter at a slower pace, but DRAM makers are still negotiating cntract prices with the clients. And sales of graphics cards will be slowing down in the third quarter as demand decelerates, thanks to China's crackdown on cryptomining.
TSMC's capital expenditure exceeded US$10 billion for the first time in 2016. If TSMC further increases its capex and it drives investments into peripheral businesses and attracts funds from foreign corporations, the contribution these investments will make to Taiwan's GDP growth is worth investigating.
TSMC is mulling setting up more fabs overseas, apart from its exsiting facility in Nanjing, China and the one being built in the US. TSMC is looking at building new fabs in Japan and Germany for 28nm and 12/16nm chip output. Apple is keen on adopting miniLED backlighting for its devices, and is likely to add China-based Luxshare as a second supplier of SMT services for miniLED BLUs. Meanwhile, notebook component suppliers are turning cautious about building up inventory amid mixed signals about the notebook market's outlook.
Intel claims that TSMC's 7nm process is the equivalent of Intel's 10nm process. This may be true in terms of tech specs but Intel hasn't really outraced still TSMC. Samsung, on several occasions, announced they led TSMC in launching more advanced process technologies, but it failed to secure key customers. For the foundry sector, announcing more advanced process nodes ahead of competitors doesn't necessarily mean success. Production yield rates, partnerships with suppliers and co-development with customers nmnplay more important roles.