China and the dream of semiconductor autonomy: No different from ordinary people racing 100m with Usain Bolt

Tram Ho

China’s tech giants have been pushing hard to develop their own semiconductors or chips – a move necessary for autonomy in today’s most important technology sector.

In fact, China is one step closer to self-sufficiency but still has a long way to go, according to one expert in the field. China remains heavily dependent on foreign technology and lags behind the most important part of the chip market.

Semiconductors are key components in everything from smartphones to refrigerators to cars. It is also central to the large-scale technology race between the US and China.

Trung Quốc và giấc mơ tự chủ chip bán dẫn: Không khác gì người thường đua 100m với Usain Bolt - Ảnh 1.

The world’s second-largest economy has for many years invested heavily in the domestic chip industry, but has yet to catch up with the US and other parts of Asia. Increasingly, semiconductors are seen as the key to security for many countries and a sign of technological prowess.

This year, many major Chinese companies have made important announcements related to chip production.

In August, Baidu launched Kunkun 2 – their second generation artificial intelligence chip. Last week, Alibaba released a chip designed for servers and cloud computing. Smartphone maker Oppo is also developing high-end processors specifically for its phones, Nikkei reported last week.

Although they have designed their own chips, these companies still have to rely on foreign partners’ tools to do so. For example, Alibaba’s Yitian 710 chip is designed based on ARM’s architecture (UK). This chip is also built on the 5 nanometer process, the most advanced chip technology at the moment.

Baidu’s Kunlun chip is based on a 7-nanometer process while Oppo is said to be designing the chip on a 3-nanometer process.

There is no Chinese company capable of producing chips of this size. They were forced to rely on three companies – Intel from the US, TSMC from Taiwan and Samsung from Korea. China’s largest chip maker, SMIC, is still many years behind the aforementioned companies in terms of production technology.

Not only production, even companies like TSMC and Intel have to rely on other partners to be able to produce 5 or 7 nanometer chips. In this area, power is concentrated in a few companies, including ASML. It is the only company in the world that can create a machine that chipmakers need to make the most advanced chips.

The semiconductor ecosystem is huge and complex. So creating self-sufficiency is very difficult ,” Bain & Company’s Peter Hanbury told CNBC. ” The story is not just about pouring money. You need to overcome great requirements around technical expertise and accumulated experience “.

Governments now consider semiconductors as extremely important strategic technology. US President Joe Biden has called for a $50 billion investment in semiconductor manufacturing and research and is looking for chipmakers to invest in the country. In March 2021, Intel announced plans to spend $20 billion to build two new chip factories in the US.

Washington wants to bring semiconductor production back to the US as the supply chain is now too concentrated in Asia.

China has made great strides in some areas, but it will have a hard time catching up with advanced technology, at least in the short term.

For example, SMIC can produce 28 nanometer chips on a large scale. They could be used on TVs or cars – an area where China is doing well, especially given the current shortage of semiconductors.

However, for comparison TSMC has been developing on a 3 nanometer chip architecture. SMIC will have to master the manufacturing processes that TSMC has been doing for years before thinking about catching up.

So even if they want to move fast with existing technologies, they still can’t catch up and reduce their dependence on the supply chain ,” Hanbury said. ” It’s like you’re racing against a professional athlete. The more you run, the faster that person will leave you behind .”

Reference: CNBC

Share the news now

Source : Genk