Europe's semiconductor challenge : Page 2 of 2

February 05, 2021 // By Peter Clarke
Opinion: Strategy, tactics of European chipmaking are being confused
There are two confused elements to the musings of German economy minister Peter Altmaier to boost semiconductor manufacturing in Europe.

Europe's ability to make and supply leading-edge digital and artificial intelligence chips can only be addressed by the second type of subsidy and more besides in terms of cultural change. That subsidy would be the one that produces a change in direction by one or more of the 'European' chipmakers. It requires the creation of a leading-edge wafer fab at a cost of $10bn or more to host at least a  5nm or 3nm or manufacturing process. That is, in essence, what TSMC has been persuaded to spend to put down a wafer fab in Arizona and not been persuaded to spend in Japan.

Ironically it would cost far less to try an ensure Europe's position as a leader in quantum computing chips because the manufacturing economies of scale that benefit TSMC and Samsung in ICs have yet to become manifest in quantum computing technology.

Europe has tried to hand out money before hoping it would create a world-leading European semiconductor company. The so-called 'Airbus-of-chips' or 10/20/100 initiative fell on deaf ears back in 2013.

The true cost of rebuilding a presence in leading-edge chipmaking so that Europe can be strategically independent in such areas as artificial intelligence is likely beyond €100 billion and would require consistent effort applied across a decade or more. Which is why the idea that European companies need to get their applications in for their hand-out money by March 1 seems both confusing and ludicrous in the extreme.

The strategic question is: who are the semiconductor manufacturers that are going to take tax payers' money to go to the bleeding-edge of IC miniaturization for the sake of Europe's strategic independence. So far, I don't see anyone: not Infineon, not Intel, not Globalfoundries nor STMicroelectronics putting their hands up for that role.

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