SGS-Thomson Microelectronics said new market figures show it has retained leadership in smart card semiconductors, a rapidly emerging chip segment that is drawing more attention from worldwide competitors. The company also said it is aggressively adding new production capacity to significantly increase its output of microcontroller-based smart-card chips by next year.
The European chip maker said its sales of smart card chips rose 30 percent to $222 million in 1997 compared to $171 million in 1996. In 1997, the company estimated that worldwide smart card chip sales totaled $515 million, giving SGS-Thomson a market share of 43 percent.
In 1997, the company said it shipped more than 100 million microcontroller (MCU) -based devices for smart card applications.
"SGS-Thomson has consistently led the smart card market, both in technology and market share, and the 1997 figures confirm once again that we are firmly in the No. 1 position," said Maurizio Felici, vice president of the Memory Products Group and general manager of the Smart Card Division at SGS-Thomson. He said SGS-Thomson now has the ability to embedded more than a billion kilobytes of EEPROM in MCU-based smart card chips.
In 1997, worldwide shipments of smart card ICs totaled 1.15 billion, according to IMS, a market research firm tracking the industry segment. By the year 2000, smart card chip shipments are expected to reach 2.5 billion.
In the microcontroller-based smart card chip segment, revenues are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 41 percent until the end of the decade. In 1998, total smart card chip revenues are expected to reach $600 million, while about $500 million will be for MCU-based devices, according to SGS-Thomson. The MCU-based smart card chip segment will grow to more than $1.25 billion in the year 2000, said SGS-Thomson. In that year, total sales of smart card ICs will be about $1.4 billion.
SGS-Thomson said its market analysis shows networking and communication applications -- such as digital cellular phones -- currently dominate MCU-based applications, with about 41 percent of the sales. Financial applications represent 38 percent of the MCU-based smart card shipments, while the remaining 2 percent are being used in an emerging transport card market segment.
SGS-Thomson produces its smart card chips in three 150-mm wafer fabs using 0.5-micron technology. These plants are in Rousset, France; Agrate, Italy; and Carrollton, Texas. But more capacity is planned. SGS-Thomson said it has qualified two 200-mm plants with 0.25-micron non-volatile memory technology in Phoenix and Catania, Italy -- both could be used for smart card ICs.
And, smart card chips will be a key product produced in the company's new "Rousset 2000" 200-mm, 0.25-micron fab now being built and slated to start production in 1999. This facility will be able to produce about a billion smart card chips a year, according to SGS-Thomson.