Keeping up with Moore’s Law has always required significant investment and ingenuity, and this era brings additional challenges in device structures, materials and methodologies. As costs rise, a dwindling number of semiconductor companies can afford to build fabs at the leading edge. Those thriving include foundries, which spread capital expenses over revenue from many customers, and fabless companies, which leverage foundries’ capital investment rather than risking their own. Thriving, leading-edge IDMs are now the exception. From a market perspective, companies focused on segments such as mobile, automotive, mil-aero and medical are prospering.
With this environment as a backdrop, we see five trends dominating the year ahead and expect companies leading in or well positioned to address these areas to do well.
FinFETs. Chipmakers will no doubt keep us well informed as they progress through FinFET tapeouts and deliver production FinFET processes, touting their power and speed advantages for customers. Those early to market will press their advantage by pursuing aggressive FinFET roadmaps.
IP & subsystems. As devices grow more complex, integrating third-party IP has become mainstream. The trend for reuse of integrated, tested IP is beginning to expand upwards to systems, so that designers no longer need to redesign well-understood systems, such as memory, audio and sensor systems.
Internet of Things/sensors. The Internet of Things is poised to ignite huge growth in 2014. Sensors will emerge as a key enabler, connecting our physical world to computation in products that allow us to remotely control our surrounding environment. Meanwhile, a wide variety of sensor types will enable the mobile phone to continue subsuming and disrupting markets from cameras, satellite navigation systems and fitness devices, to flashlights and other applications.
Systems companies bringing IC design in house. Large companies successful in system-level design and development, such as Google, Microsoft and others, are bringing IC specification and/or design in house in the belief that that they can do the best job of IC design for their specific needs.
Advanced designs at both emerging and established process nodes. While leading-edge semiconductor makers drive forward on emerging process nodes, others are finding success by focusing on established nodes (28nm and above) that deliver required performance at reduced risk. Thus, challenging designs will emerge at both ends of the spectrum.