Upping The Ante

The amount of misinformation is rising proportionately as competitive stakes rise.

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The increasing number of research projects under way to solve many of the thorniest issues in the history of semiconductor design and manufacturing are a testament to just how tough the job has become. Never before have there been so many technological roadblocks at the same time—and so many potential options for solving them.

Those challenges—or opportunities, as marketing execs like to call them—translate into competitive stakes. For those with the right solutions, or the wherewithal to buy them, the table stakes are now high enough that much of the industry has suddenly gone mum. Witness the falloff in papers submitted to the IEDM conference this week. Add to that the rising number of no-comments that we receive as journalists who are deeply embedded into this industry. And take note of Apple’s statement about why it’s moving some of its manufacturing back to the United States—so it can keep tighter rein on intellectual property.

It costs huge sums of money to be able to translate technological advances into a viable and competitive commercial strategy. Intel’s surprise move to add finFETs at 22nm was a prime example. The big foundries were, to put it mildly, stunned. The race to the next nodes and into stacked die and other packaging options has become just that—a race.

As you might expect, for all the tightly kept intelligence there is also counterintelligence. Misinformation is beginning to seep out into the market.
For example, because of the tradeoff between finFETs and FD-SOI, rumors have been circulating that there is only one source for SOI. In fact, there are three—Soitec, MEMC Electronics Materials Inc. and Shin-Etsu Handatai.

Add to that the numbers game being played for the next node after 28nm. Joel Hartmann, EVP at STMicroelectronics, said the roadmap calls for moving from 28nm to 14nm, but added that the new 14nm is actually 20nm. And foundries have begun mixing up process nodes to salvage their investments in 20nm technology where there are no finFETs available.

This is business as usual in a competitive market with sophisticated marketeers, but it also adds a level of confusion we haven’t seen since IBM first was accused of issuing FUD messaging—fear, uncertainty and doubt—in the mainframe business back in the mid-1970s to stymy rivals such as Amdahl. The stakes are clearly high and growing, which means the level of misinformation will grow proportionately.