TOKYO — China, Inc.’s rush to build its own memory business is real. But just how — and how soon — remains a complete mystery, several knowledgeable semiconductor industry sources based in Japan told EE Times.
Abundant financial resources available from China’s National IC Industry Investment Fund, often called the Big Fund, augmented local government-led funds, have lent China’s “memory” dream an air of credibility.
But setting aside China’s aspirations, there is intense scrutiny here about the sources of IPs and engineering talent that China badly needs.
XMC, China’s foundry, last week broke ground on a new wafer fab in Wuhan to launch production of 3D NAND flash memory. Backing up that plan is a total of $24 billion from a syndicate of funds consisting of the Big Fund, Hubei IC Industry Investment Fund, China Development Investment Fund and others, according to XMC.
One semiconductor equipment specialist based in Japan called that financial investment promised in XMC “obscenely huge.” He ironically put it: “That makes it doomed to succeed.” But asked about whose 3D NAND flash technology XMC will use, he said, “They say that’s their IPs. But I have no idea.”
Samsung vs. Toshiba
Akira Minamikawa, director, semiconductor value chain at IHS Technology, remains similarly cautious. Speaking of XMC’s 3D NAND flash gambit, he said, “It’d be very tough.” Take Samsung, he said. Despite the vast resources Samsung has thrown at its 3D NAND flash project, it has taken a long time, he noted.
Toshiba is also said to be struggling with its own 3D NAND flash development. Minamikawa sees “at least a one-year time lag” in Toshiba’s 3D NAND flash memory, compared to that of Samsung. “Sure, Toshiba says its 3D NAND is sampling now. But there are usually many more steps between sampling and volume production.”
There are no exceptions. XMC, too, will face the same challenges – proven 3D NAND flash technology and a long road to refining the meticulous process technology necessary for production. “Absolutely, it would take at least three to four years,” said Minmikawa, “or longer.”
Universally puzzling to many experts, though, are XMC’s alleged 3D NAND flash IPs.
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