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FD-SOI slowly finds its way to China

Posted: 21 Sep 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Globalfoundries  FD-SOI  IoT  FinFET  foundry 

While the fully depleted silicon on insulator (FD-SOI) technology is something new in China, it became clear during recent the Shanghai FD-SOI Forum that the semiconductor industry in Asia is warming up to the idea.

Participants spent little time arguing over the technical merits of FD-SOI in ultra-low power products. As Sanjay Jha said, CEO of Globalfoundries, "Nobody is challenging us on the technical validity of FD-SOI."

Instead, they posed pointed questions on three issues: 1) Who will deliver a family of IP tailored for FD-SOI? 2) What will the 'entry cost' be for designing chips on FD-SOI? 3) Do FD-SOI promoters have a technology roadmap beyond 22nm node?

Akira Takata, Megachips CEO in Japan, said, "We see FD-SOI as a strong candidate for IoT devices. We get FD-SOI's cost advantage on the gate level." But he asked, "What would be the real entry cost for us to move into FD-SOI after paying for IP and mask cost?"

Moore's Law

(Source: Handel Jones, IBS Inc.)

Takata worries that by switching foundries, Megachips, Japan's leading fabless chip company, might lose the "flexibility" advantage it currently enjoys with a foundry partner, in terms of production allocation, design support services and others.

During an industry panel entitled "Designing for FD-SOI" at the Forum, Shaojun Wei, professor of Tsinghua University and president of the China Semiconductor Industry Association (CSIA), doggedly pursued the question of "FD-SOI's technology roadmap beyond 22nm."

Wei said, "Every Chinese fabless wants to know FD-SOI's roadmap." At a time when the FinFET camp, TSMC and Intel included, have laid out plans for both 10nm and 7nm, it's not good enough for Globalfoundries to say they can't disclose future plans because they don't want to jeopardise their budding business on the 22nm FD-SOI platform. "You need to be prepared to answer that question straight," stressed Wei.

Other unknowns include which fabless chip vendor is going to be the big success story who leveraged FD-SOI.

Wayne Dai, CEO of Verisilicon, disclosed during the panel that his company has been engaged with three Chinese fabless companies on FD-SOI-based chip designs. "One Chinese company is working on a mainstream smartphone apps processor. Another is designing a chip for wearable devices," Dai said.

Versilicon, however, is an outlier. Most risk-averse Asian companies appear to be seeking more assurances, if not guaranteed success, from foundries, IP suppliers and design service companies before committing to FD-SOI.

Panel: Designing for FD-SOI

Panel: Designing for FD-SOI from left to right: Junko Yoshida, EE Times; Wayne Dai, Verisilicon CEO; John Kibarian, CEO, PDF Solutions; Francois Martin, senior director at STMicroelectronics; Subramani Kengeri, VP at Globalfoundries; Shaojun Wei, president of CSIA; and Dingzhong Xiao, chief engineer at FiberHome Microelectronics

Followings are three FD-SOI questions most frequently asked at the forum this week, and a list of eight key FD-SOI stakeholders who answered or who are in the best position to answer.

3 Most Frequently Asked Questions at the Forum

1. IP ecosystem

Clearly, IP is one of the biggest concerns among fabless companies currently looking into FD-SOI. They want to be sure they can get not just a few IP but a whole family of IP.

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