Semicon China (Shanghai, 17-21 March 2015) was an awe-inspiring event. The sheer size and the energy were dazzling. But it was the investment plans prompted by the government’s injection of RMB 120 billion (US$19.6 billion) last fall in seed money for the industry with supporting local funds pouring in that was clearly the source of a lot of adrenalin and M&A talk.
China’s industry is in high gear, still posting double-digit growth. But here’s the rub: while China consumes about half of the world’s roughly US$ $350 billion in chips (2015, WSTS), fabs in China only account for 2.5% of worldwide revenue. They’d like to see that change in a big way, and fast.
Hence Beijing’s IC Investment Fund, which is expected to continue to be expanded. SEMI estimates that the total government (central plus local) funds will reach US$100 billion, plus it’s prompting the creation and growth of additional local government and industry funds. (Dr. Adam He at SEMI has done an excellent job explaining Beijing’s investment strategy – you can see his summary here.) New VC funds are popping up everywhere, and existing ones are being augmented.
Which is why everybody was calling it the best time the industry’s ever seen. In his talk, Handel Jones of IBS, called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This should represent significant opportunities for the SOI ecosystem in China. China foundries are offering RF-SOI already (click here to read about the Shanghai RF-SOI Workshop). And it is worth noting that China’s R&D institutes have deep expertise in all things SOI.
FD-SOI is an important topic (click here to see an ASN piece on FD-SOI by a professor at a top Beijing institute from last year, and here for more about the recent Shanghai FD-SOI workshop). China’s designers are hot on FD-SOI, too. (Did you hear about how the Beijing cryptocurrency mining hardware company SFARDS is preparing to release its debut miner, which is built on a 28nm FD-SOI ASIC, by April 2015? Read about it here.)
SOI-based MEMS, power, and sensors products are also already produced in China’s foundries. In fact SOI was a strategic focus by key institutes like SIMIT under the national “Innovation 2020” 5-year plan launched in 2010.
In terms of SOI wafers, China’s wafer leader, Simgui also works closely with Soitec, the world’s SOI wafer leader. Not surprisingly, theirs was a busy stand at Semicon China.
The Hot Topic: M&A
During the keynotes and industry sessions, M&A were central themes, as China looks beyond its borders for expertise. Hardly a talk went by that didn’t touch on this topic, all emphasizing that 1 + 1 > 2, and hammering home the importance of holding on to top talent in takeover scenarios. With each new slide, a sea of smartphones raised above the crowd to capture the onscreen tips.
In fact, with the IC Investment Fund taking center stage, the head of China Merger & Acquisition at Goldman Sachs gave the audience a primer on the M&A process. China, he noted, is now number two for M&A worldwide, just behind the US. While in the past the activity was “inbound”, China’s companies are now active on a transnational scale. This year will be an M&A record breaker for the semiconductor industry in China.
China’s expats are returning in droves from abroad, founding new companies. New industrial parks like the one out by the Shanghai airport are attracting major investors.
Big Show, Small World
This was the biggest Semicon ever, with 2750 booths covering 57,000m2 (over 600,000 sq. ft – more than three times the size of West) and over 50,000 visitors (almost twice what they got at West+Intersolar last year).
But Semicon China also had its small-world moments that show just how far SOI is reaching. Consider this. I was on the metro in Shanghai, heading over to Semicon, reading the show program. The guy next to me asked a question about the show (he was heading there, too), and we got to chatting.
It turns out he’s the founder of Trinamic, a German company that designs chips for motion control. They have just started an SOI project with X-fab as the foundry. He’s very clear and enthusiastic about what he expects SOI to do for them. It’s for a high-volume app in small, precision motor control for things like video surveillance cameras.
This is an encouraging indication of just how far the SOI ecosystem is reaching! (We have an interview coming up with the folks at X-fab, btw, so keep an eye out for that.)
We’ll also have lots more from China, including interviews and profiles of the institutes and companies that are major players in the SOI ecosystem there. It’s truly an incredible place to be right now.