SAN FRANCISCO — Based on its broad semiconductor product offerings and expansion plans, South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is on track to catch Intel Corp. in semiconductor revenue and will most likely become the No. 1 chip vendor by the middle of this decade, according to a prominent semiconductor industry analyst.
Market research firm IC Insights Inc. acknowledged that the idea of Samsung catching Intel might have seemed preposterous five to 10 years ago, but said Samsung's IC revenues have grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.5 percent from 1999 through 2009, while Intel's CAGR has slowed to 3.4 percent over the same period. Extrapolating these growth rates, Samsung would pass Intel in semiconductor sales in 2014, according to IC Insights (Scottsdale, Ariz.).
Intel (Santa Clara, Calif.) has been the No. 1 semiconductor vendor for decades, mostly by virtue of its position as the dominant provider of microprocessors. Samsung, which has been the No. 2 player for many years, is the leader in DRAM and NAND flash memory, a major player in microcontrollers and and currently expanding its efforts in microprocessors, wireless communication chips and foundry services.
According to IC Insights, Intel and Samsung have coexisted for the past two decades—largely peacefully—by expanding without directly competing with one another. But increasingly the firms are clashing in NAND flash for non-volatile storage and microprocessors in handheld devices, IC Insights said.
For example, Intel now competes head-on with Samsung in NAND flash memories through its IM Flash joint venture with Micron Technology Inc., IC Insights noted. In the past five years, Samsung has become a major supplier of application processors based on cores licensed from ARM, which now compete with Intel's Atom processors in new smartphone designs, the firm said.
IC Insights also noted that Samsung has spent more on semiconductor capital expenditures than any chip vendor, including Intel, in six of the past seven years.
In 2009, Samsung was the leading supplier of DRAM, SRAM, and flash memory devices, was ranked No. 3 in microcontrollers (now No. 2 since the merger of NEC and Renesas), No. 3 in sales of CMOS image sensors and was a top supplier of several other ICs, IC Insights said. Samsung has allocated significant resources to boost its ARM-based MPU business, and is upgrading its foundry business to be a leading competitor in that arena as well, the market research firm said.
According to analysis by IC Insights, there is a better than 50-50 chance that Samsung will become the No. 1 chip vendor by the 2014-2015 timeframe, the firm said. The projection is based on IC Insights' five-year forecasts, which show no major downturn in Samsung's core memory markets, and an assumption that Intel will not significantly expand the scope of its IC businesses through a major acquisition—such as the purchase of a wireless IC operation that serves cellphones, IC Insights said.