Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) yesterday announced plans to start trial production of 5-nanometer (nm) chips in the second quarter of 2019, as the world’s largest contract chipmaker sought to reassure clients of its role as a trusted technology and capacity partner.
The remarks by TSMC came after rival Samsung Electronics Co on Wednesday announced plans to spin off its foundry business to avoid conflicts of interest with customers.
“Our mission is to create technology and to provide capacity in catering to your needs. We can work together,” TSMC co-CEO C.C. Wei (魏哲家) said at an annual technology symposium in Hsinchu.
“We do not believe that any company that makes competing products can really cooperate with you,” Wei said, in a veiled reference to Samsung’s dual roles as a proprietary chip manufacturer and foundry service provider.
TSMC has been investing heavily in next-generation technologies to expand its business and gain bigger shares of top customers’ orders.
Last year, the chipmaker spent a record-high US$2.21 billion on research and development (R&D), Wei said.
That represented an increase of about 7 percent from US$2.07 billion in 2015.
The annual R&D budget has consistently risen and this year’s figure “will be astonishing,” he said.
TSMC supplies chips to 450 customers, including Apple Inc, Nvidia Inc and MediaTek Inc (聯發科).
To maintain its technology leadership, Wei said the company would commence small volume production of 7-nanometer chips later this quarter, paving the way for mass production next year.
Trial production of 5-nanometer chips are to start in the second quarter of 2019 and mass production in 2020, Wei said, in line with the company’s aim of upgrading its node technology by one generation every two years.
On Wednesday, Samsung said that it would lead the industry with its technology roadmap of 8-nanometer, 7-nanometer, 6-nanometer, 5-nanometer and 4-nanometer processes. The South Korean firm expects its 8-nanometer chips to come out later this year and 7nm chips next year.
C.C. Tsai (蔡志群), a senior director at TSMC, told the symposium that global semiconductor revenue is expected to increase by 7 percent year-on-year to US$383 billion this year, backed by growing smartphone demand.
Overall smartphone shipments this year are forecast to increase 6 percent annually to 1.55 billion units, with China outpacing the world by posting growth of 10 percent to 852 million units, Tsai said.
Tsai cited some uncertainties that could affect shipments, including tight supply of memory chips, customer response to new iPhone features such as replacement of the home button with a touch module, and Chinese smartphone vendors redesigning form factors which could delay shipments.
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