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TSMC, Samsung To Compete For 5G Modem Orders

TSMC and Samsung Foundry have both disclosed more updates on their EUV process technologies, and are gearing up for a pick-up in replacement demand for smartphones driven by 5G connectivity.

Obtaining key 5G smartphone modem chip orders also plays a part of both foundries’ EUV process ambitions. TSMC has already obtained orders from HiSilicon and MediaTek for their 5G modems, and is believed to be competing with rival Samsung for Qualcomm’s orders, according to industry observers.

EUV a battlefield technology

TSMC disclosed recently plans for 6nm EUV-based process technology, with risk production scheduled for the first quarter of 2020. The foundry is also expected to kick off commercial production of chips using 7nm EUV process technology later in the second quarter of 2019, the observers said.

TSMC reportedly has obtained orders for Qualcomm’s next-generation Snapdragon 865 chips. But if Samsung improves its EUV process yield rates to satisfactory levels, Qualcomm may shift part of the orders to Samsung for cost reasons, the observers indicated.

Samsung has claimed the availability of its first process node with EUV lithography technology since October 2018, with mass production already kicking off. Samsung also unveiled recently that its 5nm FinFET process technology is complete in its development and is ready for customers’ samples.

Qualcomm to supply 5G iPhone modems; Intel exits

Qualcomm is set to be a major 5G modem supplier for the first 5G iPhone, after reaching a six-year deal with Apple to end the lawsuits between the companies and supply 5G modems for the iPhone.

However, just after Qualcomm’s announcement of its settlement with Apple, Intel revealed its decision to quit making modem chips for 5G smartphones. Intel said it will focus on 4G and 5G modems in PCs, IoT and other data-centric devices, and will also continue to invest in its 5G network infrastructure business.

Some industry sources said they were not surprised by Intel’s exit, given Apple being the only target customer of its 5G smartphone modem business. The resources Intel would have had to pour into developing 5G modems for smartphones would be disproportionate to profits it might have gained from the business, the sources indicated. For Intel, 5G smartphone modems would not be the chip giant’s main profit driver.

Intel was previously identified as being among the major 5G smartphone modem chip developers, which also include Samsung, HiSilicon and MediaTek in addition to Qualcomm.

Intel’s discontinued 5G tie-up with China’s state-owned Unisoc, previously know as Unigroup Spreadtrum & RDA, had already signaled the chip giant’s intention to exit the 5G smartphone modem business. Unisoc previously planned to roll out a high-end 5G smartphone solution utilizing an Intel modem, but has introduced its own 5G modem instead.

Given Apple’s efforts to diversify its supplier base, other 5G modem chip providers all have a chance to become a second-source supplier of 5G iPhone modems.

Samsung is also probably eyeing orders for 5G smartphone modems. However, it remains to be seen whether Apple will use Samsung’s 5G modems if Samsung asks Apple to shift part of its A-series processor manufacturing orders to the South Korea-based supplier as a condition of the modem supply deal, according to industry sources.―Digitimes

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