Paul Jacobs doesn't rule out Qualcomm owning a wafer fab. But don't expect Qualcomm to go IDM any time soon. There are a few other options to be tried first.
First of all Jacob's can only be really interested in working with
companies that are at least as good in terms of manufacturing process
technology as its incumbent long-term supplier TSMC and who also have a
good manufacturing technology roadmap.
That almost but not quite
takes United Microelectronics Corp. (Hsinchu, Taiwan) out of
contention. A cash injection from Qualcomm might be what UMC needs but
it is not clear that is where Qualcomm would be advised to send its "big
Intel has an edge in manufacturing process technology
right now, which must be worrying for Jacobs, but it is also a
competitor seeking to capitalize on Qualcomm's 28-nm application
processor supply problems.
This leaves Samsung also a competitor, but one with a more mature and distinct foundry operation, and GlobalFoundries.
is eager to expand its foundry operation, which is already doing
essential work for Apple's iPhone and iPad products. Why not take a
chunk of cash to convert additional manufacturing lines and reserve the
output for Qualcomm? For Samsun Qualcomm might also make a useful replacement or complement for
Apple which may be thinking of switching at least some of its production
to TSMC. That Jacobs has, reportedly, visited Samsung recently for
discussions that included semiconductor supply adds weight to this
And then there is GlobalFoundries Inc. with its
brand new wafer fab in Malta, Saratoga County, in upstate New York. The
faster the ramp the better for GlobalFoundries and as a relative
beginner in the foundry business it probably prefers supporting relative
few customers wholeheartedly. I could see a deal in which Qualcomm and a
few others write "big checks" to get a guaranteed first call on the
output of the New York wafer fab.
Unless the Abu Dhabi government
and the sovereign wealth fund – the Advanced Technology Investment
Company – that controls Globalfoundries suffers a complete U-turn in
policy I don't see them selling off the New York wafer fab to Qualcomm
or to a consortium of fabless chip companies assembled around Qualcomm.
it could take some up-front money from such a set of customers – as has
become customary in the NAND flash memory business – and then re-apply
that money to expansion in New York, and building a next wafer fab in
Abu Dhabi. And whether that wafer fab would have a G or a Q on the
outside of the building is a little way down the road.
The choice comes down to the non-competitive pure-play foundry,
GlobalFoundries, against whom there is a question mark on execution; and
the competitive Samsung, a company which usually executes well and
which is closer on the heels of Intel.