Semiconductor chips form the foundation of modern day life. You will almost certainly be reading this article on a device containing several semiconductor chips – if it’s a smartphone, several individual components in addition to the System-on-Chip will contain semiconductor chips. These chips, plus the associated and relevant technologies, are constantly being developed and worked on. By the time a given chipset has reached a device in our hands, there’s a good chance that its sucessor chip is already being evaluated by the manufacturer, and the family of successor chips are being designed and perhaps even tested by the component manufacturer. There is a massive amount of investment that goes into chips just to effectively tread water. But how much money is being invested into chipset design and who is investing the most?
The top three global semiconductor chip manufacturers, ranked in order of the investment, consists of Samsung in third place having invested $3.13 billion into chipset design in 2015. This represents a sales-to-research-and-development ratio of 7.5%. Samsung’s $3.13 billion represents an increase of 5% compared with 2014. In second place is US chipset designer, Qualcomm, which had invested $3.7 billion, amounting to a 23.1% sales-to-R&D ratio. However, dwarfing this investment into semiconductors is Intel, in first place having spent $12.1 billion on chipset research and development in 2015, amounting to a 24% sales-to-R&D ratio. Other notable big investors into chipset development include Broadcom in fourth place, the Taiwan Semicondictor Manufacutring Company (TSMC) in fifth, with Micron Technology, Toshiba, MediaTek, SK hynix and STMicroelectronics completing the top ten. Of these businesses, the TSMC is notable having increased its investment into chipsets in 2015 by 10% compared with 2014. The business also has the highest sales-to-R&D ratio of the top ten.
This information does provide some insight into the jostling between different businesses in order to gain the attention, and appetite, of one of the biggest semiconductor innovaters and customers in the industry today: Apple. Apple have also invested heavily into semiconductor research. Samsung and the TSCM have been competeting for Apple’s chipset business and the additional investment is partially aimed at securing a contract for high tech, new generation chipsets. We are also seeing consolidation activity in the global semiconductor markets – for example, the merger of Broadcom and Avago – which is likely to skew figures going forwards.