Some of the advantages of third-generation semiconductors SiC and GaN include their ability to operate under high voltages, high temperatures （for SiC）, and high frequencies（for GaN）. Not only do these advantages allow manufacturers to significantly reduce the physical sizes of chips, but peripheral circuit designs can also be simplified as a result, thereby further reducing the sizes of modules, peripheral components, and cooling systems. That is why SiC and GaN have become important strategic focuses of the global semiconductor industry.
As part of its ongoing goal of semiconductor independence, China has been accelerating the development of third-generation semiconductors in recent years
From the perspective of substrate development, countries find it difficult to procure SiC substrates due to the lack of production capacities worldwide. Hence, the ability to control the supply of SiC substrates equals having more influence in the semiconductor industry. The current ranking of geographical regions that control the supply of SiC substrates is, in order, the US （Cree and II-VI）, Japan （Rohm）, and Europe （STM）.
It should be pointed out that China’s overall standing in the third-generation semiconductor industry is hindered by its insufficient supply of substrates. Hence, Chinese companies are slightly lagging behind other global companies in this industry. At the moment, both TankeBlue and Shanxi Shuoke have successfully developed 8-inch SiC wafers, though their scale of mass production is yet to catch up to global leader Cree.
Despite the vast majority of GaN substrate suppliers being Japanese and European companies, Chinese companies have been making an aggressive push to enter this market. Regarding substrates, Nanowin, Sino Nitride, and Eta Research are all currently investing in R&D and mass production, though their current focuses are limited to 2-inch and 4-inch wafers. Regarding epitaxy, Enkris, GLC, and Genettice have been similarly making progress on R&D and mass production.
Furthermore, Chinese companies are farther ahead in the development and manufacturing strategies for GaN substrates compared to SiC substrates. For the GaN RF segment, Chinese companies span the entire supply chain, including IDM（CETC, Aofengyuan, Chengchang, Dynax, Innoscience, Bofang Jiaxin）, foundries（HiWafer and San’an）, and fabless IC design companies（GaXtrem）.
In response to the increasing demands of mobile applications, manufacturers are now placing a priority on extending the battery life of such devices like smartphones and notebook computers. However, due to the inherent limitations of physical space in these devices, the quest for ever-greater battery capacity has seemingly reached a bottleneck, forcing them to look elsewhere for solutions, hence the development of fast charging technology. As such, fast chargers equipped with GaN (Gallium nitride, which is a third-generation semiconductor) chips have are now expected to introduce the next chapter for the fast charging market.
According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, as smartphone brands including Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo have successively been releasing fast chargers since 2018, the market demand for GaN power devices has undergone a corresponding growth as well. Given the continued upward trajectory of the market, GaN power device revenue for 2021 is expected to reach US$61 million, a 90.6% YoY increase.
Due to their low portability and tendency to overheat, traditional fast chargers are increasingly unable to meet consumer demand
In the past, fast chargers were generally based on Si (Silicon) chips. However, as these chargers increase in wattage, their mass and physical dimension increased as well, meaning they suffered from low portability and a tendency to overheat when fast charging. On the other hand, as battery capacities expanded past the 4000mAh mark, traditional Si chargers began to see a drop in charging efficiency. In light of this, after certain breakthroughs in GaN manufacturing technologies were achieved, next-gen GaN chargers are likely to completely transform most consumers’ preexisting impressions of fast chargers.
Nonetheless, the manufacturing costs of GaN chargers are still 80%-120% higher compared with Si chargers at the moment. That is why very few devices bundle GaN chargers as a standard accessory included with the purchase and why GaN chargers are consequently sold separately instead. TrendForce expects the market for GaN chargers to experience rapid growth in 2021, with about 57 million units shipped for the year.
IC design company Navitas is the biggest winner in the GaN charger supply chain
The GaN charger supply chain encompasses virtually all major companies in various industries, and companies for which GaN businesses account for a larger share of their sales or technologies are more likely to benefit from the booming GaN charging market as well. As the largest supplier of GaN charger chips at the moment, Navitas has a clientele consisting of such major brands as Xiaomi, OPPO, Lenovo, Asus-Adol, and Dell. TrendForce’s investigations find that Navitas’ share in the GaN charger chip market surpassed 50% as of last year.
Navitas’ chips are currently fabricated with TSMC’s GaN on Si technology on 6-inch wafers, while TSMC is planning to increase its GaN production capacities by outsourcing its epitaxial processes to Ennostar subsidiary Unikorn. As Navitas expands its shipment volume going forward, TSMC and Ennostar are expected to benefit as well.
While foundry capacities remained tight, prompting IC design companies to compete over limited foundry capacities in order to fulfill rising demand for various end devices, the top 10 IC designe (fabless) companies posted remarkable revenues in 1Q21, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. In particular, thanks to the global mining craze brought about by the cryptocurrency market, Nvidia was able to surpass Broadcom in revenue and take the second spot among the top 10. On the other hand, fifth-ranked AMD scored a staggering YoY growth of 92.9%, which is the highest % increase on the top 10 list.
Market leader Qualcomm saw growths in its smartphone, RF front end, IoT, and automotive departments in 1Q21, during which it posted a revenue of US$6.28 billion, a 53.2% increase YoY, placing Qualcomm firmly in the number one spot. Coming in second place is Nvidia, which overtook Broadcom with $5.17 billion in revenue. Nvidia’s revenue performance can primarily be attributed to massive gaming graphics card demand generated by the cryptocurrency market and the stay-at-home economy. In addition, Nvidia’s Cloud & Data Center business also saw positive growths in 1Q21, thereby contributing to its revenue for the quarter as well.
Broadcom, ranked third on the top 10 list, posted a $4.49 billion revenue in 1Q21. Broadcom’s performance took place on the back of the bullish broadband telecom market, with growths in passive fiber optics and wired networking for data transmission. AMD, on the other hand, continued to benefit from the stay-at-home economy and other such market demands, in addition to its growing foothold in the server market. The company experienced increasing market shares and led its competitors with an impressive 92.9% YoY increase in revenue, the highest on the top 10 list. It should be pointed out that the extreme volatility of the cryptocurrency market, as well as the strict surveillance policies imposed on cryptocurrency trading by several countries, may introduce uncertainties in the future of gaming graphics card revenue for both Nvidia and AMD.
Regarding the performance of Taiwanese IC design companies, MediaTek’s smartphone business unit registered a remarkable 149% YoY growth in revenue mainly on account of high demand from Chinese smartphone brands, which were particularly aggressive in seizing Huawei’s former market share. Furthermore, as Qualcomm’s recent performance in the entry-level and mid-range smartphone markets remained relatively lackluster, MediaTek therefore aimed to fulfill demand from its smartphone clients as its chief goal on a macro level. As a result, MediaTek’s revenue for 1Q21 reached about $3.81 billion, an 88.4% YoY increase, placing the company in the fourth spot.
Novatek derived its performance from high component demand from manufacturers of IT products, TVs, and smartphones. In view of the current shortage of foundry capacity and rising prices of foundry services, Novatek has been able to maintain a stable supply of components via increased prices due to its longstanding, stable, and flexible strategic relationships with Taiwanese foundries (UMC, VIS, and TSMC), China-based Nexchip, and Korea-based Samsung LSI. Hence, Novatek leapfrogged both Marvell and Xilinx for the sixth place while increasing its revenue for 1Q21 by 59.4% YoY.
On the whole, the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, which has resulted in decreased production targets for Chinese smartphone brands, is not expected to drastically affect IC design companies’ component demand in 3Q21 because of the following factors: First, price hikes of foundry services have already been reflected in chip prices; secondly, market demand for devices remains high; and finally, Chinese smartphone brands still need to maintain a safe level component inventory, as they have yet to resolve the discrepancies among their various materials’ sufficiency levels.
Incidentally, although some expect that the recent spread of COVID-19 among KYEC employees may impact the procurement activities of IC designers that are part of KYEC’s clientele, TrendForce’s investigations of financial reports from various companies in April and May indicate that infections in KYEC facilities will unlikely result in major impacts on the revenues of IC designers in 2Q21.
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Owing to an uncontrolled spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan has instituted Level 3 restrictions throughout the island. With employees from several tech companies testing positive for the virus, major foundries, including TSMC and VIS, are successively finding positive cases among their midst as well. Worries have therefore cropped up in the global semiconductor supply chain over whether the supply of chip can remain unaffected despite the infections in Taiwan.
Taking into account Taiwan’s share of foundry capacity within the global total, the aforementioned supply chain’s worries are not without merit. According to TrendForce’s investigations, Taiwanese foundries, including TSMC, UMC, VIS, and PSMC, collectively account for about 50% of the global foundry capacity, meaning about 50% of the global supply of chips is contingent on Taiwan.
However, TrendForce also finds that, despite the domestic spread of the pandemic, which forced various companies to institute WFH policies for their employees, most semiconductor fabs are operating without interruptions at the moment, indicating that the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to impact the production and supply of chips.
As well, both TSMC and VIS have immediately made public announcements stating that their operations remain unaffected by the positive cases. However, whether the pandemic can be sufficiently managed and whether it will hinder the supply of semiconductors going forward remains to be seen.
A small subtropical island off the coast of southeast China, Taiwan is subject to certain cyclical weather changes throughout the year, the most notorious of which is its yearly typhoons that at different times benefit its agricultural industry and cause various natural disasters.
Much like everything else that happened in 2020, last year marked a stark exception for the island’s climate, which saw no typhoons, resulting in a relatively dry year. Compounding the issue is the current season of low precipitation. Taken together, these factors have since resulted in a significant drought that required an all-hands-on-deck approach from the government, such as rationing water on specific weekdays and advising industries to cut down on water consumption.
Meanwhile, a similar drought has been taking place in the global semiconductor world. As the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic last year brought fundamental changes to the way we work, study, and live, so too has the general public’s consumption of electronic devices – and, in turn, the worldwide demand for chips used in these devices – risen.
If there are bumps in the road to Taiwanese foundries’ continued dominance, lack of rain certainly isn’t one.
Seeing as how Taiwan is the central hub of the world’s advanced semiconductor technologies, acts as home to industry leader TSMC (which is the exclusive supplier of Apple’s M1 processors), and accounts for more than half of the world’s chip manufacturing capacity, industries and media alike are fearing that the domestic drought will exacerbate the current global chip shortage, since chip fabrication processes require enormous amounts of clean water.
However, true to its market leadership, the Taiwanese semiconductor industry has so far remained unaffected, at least on the supply side, by the water shortage. This is in part due to the fact that domestic foundries (i.e., chip manufacturers) have previously completed numerous drills related to worst-case scenarios of long droughts and are accordingly well prepared in these extenuating circumstances. Furthermore, the foundries also signed contracts with utility companies to ensure an ample supply of water to keep fabs (semiconductor fabrication plants) running via water tank trucks.
TrendForce therefore expects domestic foundry operations to continue unabated for the time being. Case in point, on April 15, TSMC announced an increased capital expenditure of US$30 billion for 2021. The foundry is also actively expanding its production capacity of mature technology processes in response to the growing demand from clients worldwide.
In the world of semiconductors, advancements in process technologies occupy merely one part of the equation when it comes to long-term success. Other requirements pertain to governmental, infrastructural, climate, procedural, and talent-related dimensions, just to name a few.
While Taiwanese foundries look for a way out of the ongoing drought, they are not only acing these requirements in spades, but also staying in the spotlight of the electronics supply chain in light of geopolitical tensions, oligopolistic market trends, and the persistent global health crisis. If there are bumps in the road to Taiwanese foundries’ continued dominance, lack of rain certainly isn’t one.