The proposed joint venture between Fujitsu and Panasonic's SoC businesses will not save Japan's semiconductor industry or improve its standing in SoCs.
More than a year ago, Renesas Mobile, as it struggled to expand its
business beyond Japan, chose not to stay in the stranglehold of NTT
Docomo, Japan’s cellular network giant. In contrast, the SoC businesses
of Panasonic and Fujitsu remain focused on serving NTT Docomo.
beyond the mobile chips the two companies supply to NTT Docomo, it
remains unclear how Fujitsu and Panasonic find the common cause driving
the two companies’ combined SoC businesses in the future.
Despite the constant drumbeat of what almost looked like a national
industrial policy to ditch the memory business and focus on SoCs,
which has captivated Japan since the late 90's, no Japanese company
has genuinely succeeded in the SoC business in ways that matter to the
Panasonic, for one, developed an effective SoC
platform called "Unifier," designed for a variety of digital consumer
electronics systems. While the platform proved useful for the company’s
internal products, it was never spread to OEMs and ODMs in Asia. In
contrast, Taiwan’s MediaTek has almost single-handedly won the global
digital consumer SoC battle. Meanwhile, Panasonic’s TV and other digital
consumer systems business has started to decline on the global scale.
Semiconductor, on the other hand, designs, manufactures and sells a
variety of chips that include microcontrollers, ASICs, ASSPs, and power
management ICs. Fujitsu is also known for its focus on mobile, imaging,
security, automotive and other high-end applications. Its chips are also
known for high reliability. But the company has never succeeded in
developing an SoC platform widely recognized in the global market.
This brings us full-circle to the original questions: What is the new Fujitsu-Panasonic SoC JV for? How viable will it be?
The short answer is that this particular JV appears to be driven by NTT Docomo, and it’s a nonstarter.
believes that it makes far more sense for the JV to become a chip division
for NTT Docomo. He also believes it’s better for Renesas to just home in on the automotive IC market and become a chip division of Toyota or
Denso. It’s a bold idea, but if the biggest customers are identified,
and they’re the ones agitating for such mergers in order to keep the
supply chain alive, it makes sense. There’s no need to continue the
intrigue or prolong the merger drama. The customers should pay for it.