During Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's (NYSE: TSM) most recent earnings conference call, the company's management went into a lot of detail about its new 7nm chip manufacturing technology known as N7.
N7 is a technology that's set to fuel the company's growth ambitions both within the smartphone applications processor market and in new areas like dedicated artificial intelligence. N7 promises significant performance, power, and chip area enhancements over the prior-generation N10 technology.
Image source: Apple.
Here are three things investors should know about TSMC's new N7 technology.
Technology is healthy
TSMC co-CEO C.C. Wei said that the company's N7 technology is "leading the industry" in terms of performance, power, and area density -- as well as time to market.
For some context, the company says that N7 is in mass production right now -- no other chip manufacturer has announced the start of mass production of their own comparable technologies yet. Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF), TSMC's biggest competitor in the contract chip manufacturing business, is expected to begin volume production of its 7LPP technology either late in 2018 or early in 2019.
Additionally, TSMC isn't just rushing a half-baked, low-yielding technology into production -- the company says that it has already managed to build 18 customer products using the technology with both "good" yield rates and performance.
Lots of products being built
TSMC said that its customers have collectively "taped out" (that is, completed the designs of) 18 chips using the technology. By the end of 2018, the company expects its customers to have taped out "more than 50" products using the technology.
The chips that have been and will be taped out using the technology are set to go after a broad range of markets, including "mobile, server CPU, network processor, gaming, [graphics processing unit], [field programmable gate array], cryptocurrency, automotive, and [artificial intelligence]."
The fact that so many chips have been or will be taped out using the technology is a good indicator that TSMC is set to capture significant contract chip manufacturing market share with N7.
N7 will bring in a lot of revenue in 2018
During the call, Wei said that the company expects that 10% of its total wafer revenue during 2018 will come from shipments of chips built using N7. Considering that TSMC's revenue from N7 was $0 in the first quarter of the year and is likely to be minimal during the second quarter, this is a sign that N7 revenue will surge during the second half of 2018.
Much of that surge is likely going to be due to Apple building its upcoming A12 processor using N7. Since most of Apple's shipment volumes tend to be of newer-generation smartphones rather than its discounted last-generation models (which use the N10-based A11 Bionic chip), this isn't surprising.
Moreover, TSMC's other high-profile mobile processor customer HiSilicon (the chip development group within mobile phone giant Huawei) is also expected to transition from N10 to N7 when it launches its next-generation premium smartphones by the end of the year (though its chip shipment volumes won't be anywhere near Apple's).
TSMC's N7 looks like it's on track to be hugely successful for the contract chip manufacturing giant.
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