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European alliances for 2nm processors and edge computing

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By Nick Flaherty


The two alliances are intended to accelerate the development of new chip designs and industrial cloud/edge computing technologies, bringing together businesses, governments, academia and users, as well as research and technology organisations.

The Industrial Alliance on processors and semiconductor technologies identifies semiconductor production capacity of 16nm process technology to 10nm to support current needs. This fits with TSMC’s reported offer to build a 16nm fab in the region, as well as Intel’s offer of a fab, possibly in Bavaria, or through the purchase of GlobalFoundries.

This is aims to more than double Europe’s share of the global production of semiconductors to 20 percent by 2030 and the Commission says the alliance will identify and address current bottlenecks, needs and dependencies across the industry and define technological roadmaps.

However the alliance also point to 5 to 2 nm process nodes and beyond to anticipate future technology needs and points to reducing power consumption in phones and data centres, even though there are no European smartphone chip design companies and few datacentre chip makers that would drive the need for 2nm process technology.

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Such projects tend to take one to two years to report, and then any additional capacity would take a minimum of 12 months to set up, and more likely two to three years. By this time the semiconductor cycle will have changed and more capacity will have come online, driving down process and impacting on the economic argument for such capacity.

As a result this will require more significant financial support from the 22 member states that have signed up to the alliance and the commission which many be hard to justify in the Covid-19 recovery. Microelectronics, notably processor chips, are already among the key areas identified for investment for the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the member states have committed to using 20 percent of the European Recovery and Resilience plans for digital transition, which is €145bn over the next three years. This opportunity to invest in research, design and production capability for processors in Europe should not be missed, says the Processor and Semiconductor Alliance.

At the same time the Commission has also launched an alliance for industrial cloud and edge data, which is expected to grow from 20 percent today to 80 percent by 2025.

This shift represents a major opportunity for the EU to strengthen its own cloud and edge capacities, and hence its technological sovereignty, says the commission. It will require the development and deployment of fundamentally new data processing technologies, encompassing the edge, moving away from fully centralised data processing infrastructure models and would fit with the gaia-X cloud strategy already being rolled out.

The European Alliance for Industrial Data, Edge and Cloud will focus on highly secure, energy and resource-efficient and fully interoperable cloud computing across all sectors, including for military and security purposes. to process highly sensitive data, while boosting the competitiveness of EU industry on cloud and edge technologies. 27 member states have signed up for this Alliance.

“Cloud and edge technologies present a tremendous economic potential for citizens, businesses and public administrations, for example in terms of increased competitiveness and meeting industry-specific needs. Microchips are at the heart of every device we use nowadays. From our mobile phones to our passports, these small components bring a wealth of opportunities for technological advancements. Supporting innovation in these critical sectors is therefore crucial and can help Europe leap ahead together with like-minded partners,” said Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age.

Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said: “Europe has all it takes to lead the technological race. The two alliances will devise ambitious technological roadmaps to develop and deploy in Europe the next generation of data processing technologies from cloud to edge and cutting-edge semiconductors. The alliance on cloud and edge aims at developing energy-efficient and highly secured European industrial clouds, which are not subject to control or access by third country authorities. The alliance on semiconductors will rebalance global semiconductor supply chains by ensuring that we have the capacity to design and produce, in Europe, the most advanced chips towards 2nm and below.”

Both Alliances are open for participation by all public and private entities with a legal representative in the Union and with relevant activities, provided they meet the conditions defined in the Terms of Reference. Relevant stakeholders must meet eligibility criteria, related notably to security (including cybersecurity), security of supply, IP protection, data protection and data access and practical utility to the Alliance. This could restrict the participation in both Alliances of companies headquartered in Europe but owned by Chinese investors.

ec.europa.eu

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