As UMC and GlobalFoundries successively end their respective developments of advanced processes, the advanced process market has now become an oligopoly, with TSMC and Samsung as the only remaining suppliers （excluding SMIC, which is currently affected by geopolitical tensions between China and the US）. According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, TSMC holds a 70% market share in advanced processes below – and including – the 1Xnm node, while Samsung’s market share is about 30%.
As electronic products demand faster data transmission speeds and better performance in response to IoT and 5G applications, the chips contained in these products also need to shrink in size and consume less power. Hence, process technologies need to evolve in order to enable the production of increasingly advanced chips. In this light, suppliers of such chips as smartphone AP, CPU, and GPU primarily rely on Taiwan for its semiconductor industry’s advanced process technologies.
Why is Taiwan able to hold key manufacturing competencies, market shares, and unsurpassed technologies in the global foundry industry?
After TSMC pioneered its pure-play foundry services more than 30 years ago, UMC also subsequently transitioned to a foundry business model. However, the build-out and maintenance of wafer fabs require enormous human resources, capital expenditures, and environmental support, all of which have been skyrocketing since the industry progressed below the 40nm node into the EUV era. Factors including governmental support, human resource development, utility services, and long-term amortization and depreciation are all indispensable for foundries to keep up their fab operations. TrendForce’s findings indicate that Taiwan possesses about 50% of the global foundry capacity, and this figure will likely continue growing due to the persistent demand for advanced processes.
Taiwanese foundries led by TSMC and UMC operate based on a pure-play foundry model, which means they do not compete with their clients outside of foundry operations. Foundries are able to maximize the profitability of the semiconductor ecosystem in Taiwan thanks to Taiwan’s comprehensive PC, ICT, and consumer electronics industries.
In addition, not only are they able to deliver PPA（performance, power, and area） advantages to their clients through technology scaling and node shrinking, they are also unsurpassed in their comprehensive silicon IP cores and longstanding product development services. Other competing foundries are unlikely to make breakthroughs in these fields and catch up to Taiwanese foundries in the short run.
On the whole, the Taiwanese foundry industry is able to maintain its leadership thanks to competencies in human capital, client strategies, process technologies, capital intensify, economies of scale, and superior production capacities.
Furthermore, not only do advancements in semiconductor fabrication technology require developmental efforts from foundries, but they also need support throughout the entire supply chain, including upstream wafer suppliers and downstream client feedbacks, both of which can serve to eliminate yield detractors and raise yield rates. Therefore, the Taiwanese semiconductor industry derives its advantage from foundries（TSMC, UMC, PSMC, and VIS）, as well as from the cross-industrial support across silicon wafer suppliers（SAS and GlobalWafers）, fabless IC design clients, and packaging and testing operators（ASE, etc.）
（Cover image source: TSMC）