SHANGHAI, China -- After a mad rush to develop home-grown apps processors for tablets and smartphones, Chinese entrepreneurs are now concluding that the rapidly growing number of MEMS inside a smartphone is too huge an opportunity to pass up.
So, it’s on to MEMS… after a (Chinese) fashion.
Among the top 20 MEMS players listed by the market research firm Yole Développement, no Chinese vendor shows up — at least, not yet. Emerging Chinese MEMS vendors are likely to be concentrated in low-end MEMS segments such as microphones and pressure sensors.
How Chinese startups might become key player in the global MEMS market is a chapter of China’s microelectronics history yet to be written, over the next 10 or even 20 years.
Unit: U.S.$ million
(Source: Yole Development)
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In the world of CMOS-based SoC development, Chinese fabless companies, despite relatively little experience in the field, have been able to get rich quickly. The opportunity generated a few domestic winners (i.e. Spreadtrum, Allwinner, and Rockchip) who rose above the pack. Many, however, eventually ended up ruthlessly beating each other up on price. This chapter offered a great example of how broadly available licensable IP cores (from ARM, Imagination, and others), designs, SPICE and access to foundries with finer geometry nodes presented an unprecedented level playing field for Chinese fabless companies.
MEMS is likely to be a different story. MEMS will test the patience, long-term vision, and breadth and depth of the IP portfolios held by Chinese startups. All of these qualities tend not to be China’s forté.
Today, China has thus far four MEMS pioneering vendors. They include MEMSIC, Senodia, QST, and MiraMEMS. A lot more MEMS players are reportedly coming upon China, largely driven by growing interest in MEMS among local VCs and entrepreneurs.
Note: Companies in red are China’s MEMS companies.
Source: Shanghai Industrial μTechnology Research Institute (SITRI)
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There is also the push for MEMS by the local government in conjuction with a research institute. Shanghai Industrial μTechnology Research Institute (SITRI) was established by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Shanghai government to focus on the development of "More than Moore" technology.
SITRI, established after Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) as its model, is an open innovation platform that encompasses an 8-inch micro-fabrication line, R&D facilities, engineering services, supply-chain partners, and industry Association. SITRI also offers dedicated investment funds.
QST in Shanghai
Enter Joseph Xie, CEO of Shanghai Quality Sensor Technology Corporation (QST) founded in 2012. QST, according to Xie, is focused on producing "high-end magnetic sensors and MEMS sensors since its inception."
Xie is a semiconductor veteran who cut his teeth at Intel designing X86 processors in Santa Clara, Calif. He later returned to Asia and accumulated 16 years of experience in foundries -- first at Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing in Singapore, then at SMIC, China’s flagship foundry based in Shanghai.
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