Not PC segment, not necessarily Application Processor for Mobile, despite the power efficiency advantage versus a bulk technology. After several weeks filled by very animated and controversial discussion about FD-SOI cost, thanks to Semiwiki bloggers and readers, it seems interesting to elevate the debate and try to figure out if FD-SOI could be a successful Silicon technology option, and why. By “option”, I mean that I don’t expect FD-SOI to completely replace the bulk technology (planar of FinFet), and solve the Moore’s law economic issue forever, but rather to offer a viable option to stay on a 28nm technology while benefiting from 20nm bulk performance, at a lower cost, as explained by Paul McLelan in this recent FD-SOI: 20nm performances at 28nm Cost blog. To be successful on the market, a technology should bring a technical advantage over the currently used solution, but that’s necessary, not sufficient. The technology should also be endorsed by at least one of the market leaders. It’s better, as the technology offer is now more credible, but still not enough to guarantee the market adoption. Damn! What else is missing? In fact, we enter into the non-rational area of industry psychology: risk aversion, fear in front of innovation. How to overcome this human behavior? Educate, evangelize, and even more important, convince by showing real cases (show me the Silicon) success!
Why did I mention the PC segment? Because I have read many comments during the past weeks that we can summarize by: “Intel did not select FD-SOI, thus FD-SOI is not a viable option”. Come on! Do you need me to list the so many examples of Intel market failures? Is Intel engineering culture is to design for power efficiency? No, the company culture is to design for higher and higher performance. It was a winning strategy in the 2000’s (remember that the main PC sales argument was the processor frequency). I am sorry, but it’s a completely failing strategy in the 2010’s when addressing the mobile market. So, yes, Intel did not select SOI technology, but who known if it was for scientific reason, or because of the company culture? As far as I am concerned, Intel has selected another technology option, more complicated, more expansive, and this is not a good reason to disqualify FD-SOI.
As you certainly know if you look at the semiconductor ranking, the #2 SC company is Samsung, with a much diversified offer than the #1, as the company build DRAM, Flash, Application Processor for mobile, and propose a foundry business. Samsung is the above mentioned market leader, and you can read this announcement “On May 14, ST and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. announced the signing of a comprehensive agreement on 28nm Fully Depleted Silicon-on-Insulator (FD-SOI) technology for multi-source manufacturing collaboration. The licensing accord provides customers with advanced manufacturing solutions from Samsung’s state-of-the-art 300mm facilities and assures the industry of high-volume production for ST’s FD-SOI technology.”I found this wording in ST first half 2014 financial results document, at a location showing the company commitment to FD-SOI: it was the 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] paragraph of the “Recent Corporate Developments”, the first two dealing with ST executive nominations. This clearly shows how important is FD-SOI technology for ST future.
You may think that this is corporate communication only, but I remember, when working with TI ASIC, two events related to TI product port-folio. The first was in 1995, when TI decided to kill the 20 years old microcontroller product line, the second a couple of years later when the same decision was made about the ASIC product line, despite the prestigious ASIC customers like Sun or Siemens… That I mean here is how important is it for a product group when the management trust in it success. Not sufficient to guarantee the success, but necessary when it’s time to make decision about heavy investment, whether to expand fab or support market promotion campaign. This positioning is also key when a key account manager has to convince his customer to invest into an ASIC built in FD-SOI technology. That simply helps passing the risk aversion or fear in front of innovation barrier.
If you drag into this document, you will see this table, revenue by product line in Q2 2014 and 2013. DCG means Digital Convergence Group, it encompass ASIC, Consumer (mainly Set-Top-Box) and the legacy ST-Ericsson products. If you compare Q2 2014 and 2013, you clearly see what ST problem is: DCG revenue is been cut by 50%! For ST management, FD-SOI will be the solution to grow by 2X this Digital Convergence Group…
Thus I have listened to the analyst call hold on July 23[SUP]rd[/SUP], chasing for more information, especially about FD-SOI. And, by the way, many questions from analysts arise about FD-SOI. About FD-SOI adoption from ASIC customers: ST claims 18 FD-SOI ASIC design win, in the communication infrastructure and consumer segments, including two major design win (at major accounts?). Looks healthy, isn’t it?
One of this major design win is for a communication infrastructure ASIC in 14nm FD-SOI. This is the guarantee that FD-SOI technology roadmap is solid, and not holds at 28 nm. The total number of design wins is also a positive sign: ST is building an IP ecosystem around FD-SOI. We know that the company supports internal IP developments, but we also know that major IP vendors have been involved, making FD-SOI IP available for ST… and Samsung customers.