Samsung Electronics said Monday it has started mass producing the world’s first 14-nanometer mobile application processor. It hopes the latest chip technology will give the Korean tech giant a competitive edge over rivals such as U.S.-based Qualcomm. According to the company, Samsung’s new Exynos 7 Octa has 20 percent more processing power and spends 35 percent less electricity than 20-nanometer processors that have thus far been widely used in the mobile chip market. The latest chip technology also features a three-dimensional transistor design, known as the FinFET, unlike the conventional flat chip design, it added.
“Samsung’s advanced 14nm FinFET process technology is undoubtedly the most advanced logic process technology in the industry,” said Han Gab-soo, executive vice president of Samsung’s system LSI business in a press release. “We expect the production of our 14nm mobile AP to positively impact the growth of the mobile industry by enabling further performance improvements for cutting-edge smartphones.”
Korea’s exports of information and communications technology (ICT) products and services reached a record high of $170 billion last year, the government reported Thursday. According to data released by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, ICT products accounted for almost 30 percent of the nation’s $573 billion in exports, contributing to a 2014 trade surplus of $86.3 billion.
Semiconductors were the top ICT export category, thanks to DRAM and 3-D NAND flash memory chips. In 2014, memory chips became the nation’s first export product to surpass $60 billion, increasing 9.6 percent year-on-year to reach $62.7 billion. Semiconductor exports surged 33.2 percent last year to a record $34 billion, while shipments of system semiconductors slumped 9.8 percent to $22.5 billion. Exports of display panels slipped 3.2 percent, as demand dropped in China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Chinese producers of cheaper panels also dragged down prices for LCD televisions.
Samsung Electronics, the world’s leading memory chip producer, plans to invest 13.5 trillion won ($12 billion) in semiconductor facilities next year, up from the 13 trillion won spent this year. “Samsung doesn’t expect a drastic change in the overall level of spending on chip facilities,” said a source Monday. He said the small increase in chips is because its strategy is all about maintaining market equilibrium and price stabilization.
The global memory chip industry is being controlled by “top-three” players including Samsung, SK hynix and Micron Technologies of the United States. They produce more than 93 percent of global chips, according to research firms. Samsung invested 12.6 trillion on chip plants in 2013, 13.85 trillion won in 2012 and 13.03 trillion won in 2011. Samsung plans to build a new NAND flash type memory chip line in Xian, China, where Samsung already operates its massive facilities.
The semiconductor business is now Korea’s top export earner. Through November, the nation’s major semiconductor makers including Samsung and SK pulled in about $56.8 billion in revenues, the largest ever and about 10.9 percent of the nation’s total exports for the period. There are more than two weeks remaining in 2014, but since oil products are the second-largest export item with total sales of $48.1 billion through November, semiconductors will be the nation’s No.1 export business for the second consecutive year. Industry insiders say total exports for the business will exceed $60 billion by the end of the year.
The semiconductor business, which began in the early 1980s, earned Korea foreign exchanges that were used as seed money to develop advanced electronics industries, including smartphones and wireless communication devices. It was the No. 1 export business for 16 years, from 1992 to 2007, but started fluctuating in 2008 due to the global finance crisis. In 2008, Korea only pulled in $32.8 billion, just 7.8 percent of the nation’s total exports, and chips ranked sixth in export earnings. Shipbuilding was the best export that year ($43.1 billion), followed by oil products, machinery, wireless communication devices, cars and semiconductors.
Samsung Electronics is ready to soon market its “one-chip” solution in a bid to snatch the lead in the next generation of wearable and flexible devices. “In September, we started to mass produce the one-chip, which is a combination of the AP and modem chips. We believe the chips will be fitted into actual devices in the near future,” said Woo Nam-sung, head of Samsung Electronics System LSI unit at Samsung’s investor relations session last week.
The name of the one-chip will be “ModAP,” a term combining the words modem and AP to indicate that both the application processor and modem capabilities are offered on a single chip. Once the ModAP chips become commercialized ― Samsung has yet to say when ― it will have significant repercussions throughout the industry and at Samsung, experts say.
“In the short term, the chip would help cut costs, but in the longer term, it’s going to help Samsung prepare for the next generation device battle that will inevitably involve wearable devices and truly flexibly displays,” said Noh Geun-chang, a senior analyst for HMC Securities. Samsung’s biggest mistake in the device war was allowing Apple to take the lead in smartphones. The Korean tech giant is determined not to be outdone this time.
SK hynix, the world’s second-biggest memory chipmaker, said Wednesday it has successfully developed an advanced 6-gigabit capacity chip with Low Power DDR3. “By applying a finer 20-nanometer processing technology, we developed the high-end memory chip to be used in value-added mobile devices. The chip consumes less power and has an expanded data storage capacity,” the firm said in a press release.
SK hynix, the semiconductor affiliate of the SK Group, has begun providing chip samples to its clients. The chipmaker supplies flash memory chips to Apple and mobile chips to major Chinese smartphone manufacturers. According to the firm, the speed of the chip is 1,866 Mbps. It can handle a maximum of 7.4-gigabyte per second in a single channel. In a dual channel, the chip is enabled to handle 14.8-gigabyte data.
Samsung Electronics, the world’s top supplier of memory chips, plans to cut its investment in components by as much as 30 percent next year. The company doesn’t plan to build any more plants to make memory chips because the industry is undergoing rapid structural change.
Industry officials at Samsung’s local primary parts suppliers say that aggressive investment does not guarantee high returns anymore due to industry consolidation as well as rising uncertainty surrounding technology and sluggish demand.
“Investment in chips will be cut by 30 percent next year, at least, because we believe Samsung doesn’t have plans to build new fabrication facilities. Total investment in components will remain under 10 trillion won throughout 2014,” said a senior executive at one of the company’s suppliers by telephone. “It is unlikely that the industry will see cash-burning business projects in chips next year as complexity is increasing because the market is approaching scaling limits.”
Samsung Electronics Co., the world’s largest maker of memory chips, is taking a fresh look at the automotive semiconductor chip market, as global automakers are rushing to produce high-tech vehicles such as electric cars equipped with infotainment systems and wireless networking, industry sources said Thursday.
Samsung believes chip demand from automakers will grow fast as cars of late are built with high-end infotainment systems, powertrain control systems, in-vehicle networking, high safety levels and high fuel-efficiency, the sources said. Automotive chips are already widely used, in systems that control energy efficiency, as sensor chips for temperature control and image sensors for safety features, among others.
During an investors relations meeting last month, Samsung said it is considering shifting its focus away from dynamic random access memory chip-based business for the automotive market to a data storage-based one.
As the capacity of handheld devices increases to accommodate a greater number of functions, these devices have more memory, larger display screens, and the ability to play higher definition video files. If the users of mobile devices, including smartphones, tablet PCs, and notebooks, want to share or transfer data on one device with that of another device, a great deal of time and effort are needed.
As a possible method for the speedy transmission of large data, researchers are studying the adoption of gigabits per second (Gbps) wireless communications operating over the 60 gigahertz (GHz) frequency band. Some commercial approaches have been introduced for full-HD video streaming from a fixed source to a display by using the 60 GHz band. But mobile applications have not been developed yet because the 60 GHz radio frequency (RF) circuit consumes hundreds of milliwatts (mW) of DC power.
Professor Chul Soon Park from the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and his research team recently developed a low-power version of the 60 GHz radio frequency integrated circuit (RFIC). Inside the circuit are an energy-efficient modulator performing amplification as well as modulation and a sensitivity-improved receiver employing a gain boosting demodulator.
Samsung Electronics will set up its first chip plant in China, eventually worth $7 billion, the company said Monday. “Samsung’s board has finally given the green-light to initially invest $2.3 billion to build an advanced NAND flash chip line in Xian, Shannxi Province,” said spokesman Ken Noh.
NAND flash memories are being used in high-end devices such as smartphones and tablets. The demand for the chips is rising thanks to the powerful sales increase of the devices.
The world’s biggest memory chipmaker Samsung plans to start the operation of the new line from the latter half of next year after starting the process within this year Noh said, Monday. “This is the biggest investment plan that Samsung has ever invested to build up a chip line. The amount of the investment could shoot up to $7 billion as this is a multi-year project,” said the company spokesman.