The Week In Review: Feb. 25

Fisker’s future; Apple chip rumors; photonics fun; Mentor’s buy; clocking FD-SOI; GF’s process; book-to-bill.

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By Mark LaPedus
Is China set to bail out a U.S. government technology darling? Two Chinese automotive companies, Geely and Dongfeng Motor, are reported to have bid between $200 million and $350 million for a majority stake in Fisker, the maker of plug-in hybrid cars. If that happens Fisker—which has $192 million in U.S. federal government loan guarantees—could be headed to China, according to Lux Research.

Over the years, Apple has moved deeper into IC design. In an e-mail newsletter, Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, indicated that Apple could be expanding its efforts in wireless ICs, a move that might impact Broadcom, Qualcomm and others. “There is a rumor published in Israel that Apple will be designing its own baseband and Wi-Fi chips,” Strauss said. “When Texas Instruments dropped out of the cell-phone business, within a week about 100 of the former TI engineers in Israel were hired by Apple. Of course, Apple once hired a bunch of former VLSI Technology wireless engineers, but I understand that that operation came to naught. So, maybe Apple just wanted more engineering talent.”

In a separate research note, Doug Freedman, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said: “After talks with management dating back from CES to today (Feb. 25), we believe that Intel is becoming increasingly closer to inking a material foundry design win(s).” Intel is in consideration to be a potential foundry partner for Apple. “Intel’s foundry aspirations may come to light soon,” he said. Apple is also supposedly doing a 20nm foundry deal with TSMC.

Taking the process technology lead in the FPGA market, Achronix Semiconductor is shipping the first in a family of devices based on Intel’s 22nm finFET technology. Achronix’ FPGAs are built using Intel’s foundry services. Achronix says that it has a two- to three-year lead over Altera and Xilinx, which are still shipping 28nm planar devices. The event has prompted two questions. First, will Altera and Xilinx turn up the heat on their FPGA foundry partner, TSMC, to accelerate its finFET efforts? Or second, will Altera and Xilinx turn to Intel over time?

CEA-Leti will coordinate a four-year project aimed at building a European-based supply chain in silicon photonics and speeding up the industrialization of the technology. Mentor Graphics, PhoeniX BV and Si2 will work together to develop a common reference platform. STMicroelectronics, Tyndall-UCC, Aifotec and others are also part of the group.

Mentor Graphics has expanded its automotive business unit by purchasing certain assets from MontaVista. This establishes Mentor as a bigger commercial provider of Linux-based automotive in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) solutions.

Mentor announced the 10.2 release of the Questa functional verification platform. In addition, Tesla Motors has standardized on Mentor’s Capital toolset for 12-volt electrical systems design.

With FD-SOI, STMicroelectronics said that application processors manufactured at its fab are capable of operating at 3 GHz.

Soitec and Sumitomo Electric have signed a licensing and technology-transfer agreement. Sumitomo will use Soitec’s Smart Cut technology to manufacture engineered gallium nitride (GaN) substrates. GaN substrates are used in high-performance light-emitting diode (LED) lighting applications.

GlobalFoundries announced enhancements to its 55nm Low-Power Enhanced (LPe) process technology platform. The so-called 55nm LPe 1V has been qualified with next-generation memory and logic IP solutions from ARM.

Are happy days here again for fab tool vendors? The book-to-bill ratio is above parity for the first time in recent memory. North America-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted a book-to-bill ratio of 1.14 in January, according to SEMI. This compares to a ratio of 0.92 in December.

Intersil cut its global work force by approximately 18%. This comes on the heels of the resignation of the company’s CEO.

Sony introduced the PlayStation 4, which is based on AMD’s single-chip, eight-core custom processor. The x86 processor, dubbed Jaguar, is a 28nm device built by TSMC.

Five IC suppliers are expected to hold one-third of 300mm wafer capacity in 2013, according to IC Insights. Samsung was by far the leader in 2012, having about 61% more 300mm capacity than second-place SK Hynix. Intel was the only other company that held a double-digit share of 300mm capacity at the end of 2012.

Qualcomm dominated the LTE cell-phone modem market with a staggering 86% share in 2012, according to Forward Concepts. In total, Qualcomm shipped 47 million FDD-LTE cell-phone modems last year. Samsung followed with 9% of the shipments in 2012, while GCT Semiconductor managed to grab 3% of the market, primarily through LG handsets, according to the firm. Renesas Mobile and Nvidia-Icera each garnered 1% market shares.

The number of China Mobile 4G subscribers is forecast to reach 228.8 million in 2017, representing 52 percent of China’s 439.9 million total 4G users, according to IHS. In comparison, 4G users from China Unicom and China Telecom, the country’s two other major telecommunications operators, will number 114.4 million and 96.8 million, respectively.