Chinese firms SMIC and Huawei partner with Qualcomm, Imec in major new R&D venture

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 12:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 12:23pm

Mainland China’s efforts to expand its semiconductor industry received a huge boost this week, after four companies unveiled a plan to build the country’s most advanced integrated circuit (IC) research and development programme.

Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), mainland China’s biggest contract chipmaker, has formed a joint venture with Qualcomm, Huawei Technologies and Belgium-based Imec, one of the world’s leading nanoelectronics research and development institutes, to undertake that initiative.

“This is the most advanced work for China’s IC industry,” SMIC chief executive Chiu Tzu-yin said in the announcement in Beijing. SMIC will have majority shareholding in the joint venture.

The new joint-venture company, SMIC Advanced Technology Research & Development (Shanghai) Corporation, will initially focus on so-called 14-nanometer complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology based on Imec’s advanced IC know-how.

CMOS refers to both a particular digital circuitry design used to construct various semiconductors and the family of processes used to deploy that circuitry on chips.

SMIC will have the rights to license the intellectual property on the mass-production technologies developed by the joint venture company. This will also enable SMIC to apply those technologies to its current and future range of products manufactured for its customers.

Financial terms of the joint venture were not disclosed. Imec chief executive Luc Van den hove, however, said the company’s investment was “very small”, an Electronic Engineering Times report said.

Qualcomm, the world’s largest supplier of mobile chips, and Huawei, mainland China’s biggest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, are participating in the joint venture company in an apparent bid to ensure access to SMIC’s more advanced production capacity in future.

“We see a growing potential in China, both as a market and as a source of innovative engineering,” Van den hove said on Tuesday.

“The expertise of the four partners [in the joint venture] is focused on the creation of an excellent platform to foster nanoelectronics research and development in China,” he said.

“The joint development of a 14-nanometer process facility will be a stepping stone to achieve this goal. A stepping stone that, I am convinced, will benefit the world's IC manufacturing community.”

China's State Council last June introduced a new government policy to further promote the sector through the infusion of vast amounts of capital to help develop the country’s semiconductor supply chain.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the semiconductor industry was vital to national development and information security. But the sector remains too small to meet domestic demand, which is forecast to rise to 1.2 trillion yuan this year (US$193 billion) from 916 billion yuan in 2013.