A new report from the South Korean publication The Investor is claiming that Samsung's foundry division will likely reduce its investments on the 7-nanometer process node and instead focus on its 6-nanometer process technology. The publication added that the mass production of chipsets from the 6-nanometer process node will begin by 2019. This move comes after Samsung's foundry lost a major customer, Qualcomm, to its biggest rival TSMC. Recent reports have claimed that TSMC is currently working with Qualcomm in order to develop a new chipset using the Taiwan-based foundry's 7-nanometer process node. Industry analysts observed that TSMC essentially mimicked the approach that Samsung used to snatch some of the former's key partners several years ago. Back in 2015, Samsung skipped the problematic 20-nanometer planar process node and instead focused on the more power-efficient 14-nanometer FinFET process. This time, TSMC decided to allocate a smaller amount of manufacturing and research resources to its 10-nanometer process and instead focused on the smaller 7-nanometer process technology.
As chip designers aim to produce more power-efficient SoCs, these companies usually work with whatever foundry could first release a more advanced process node. Samsung's earlier release of 6-nanometer process node could be an attempt to gain back some of the orders lost to TSMC by offering potential customers a more power-efficient process node. Samsung will likely utilize foundry machinery equipped with extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUL) technology in order to accomplish those goals. The South Korean tech giant plans to install up to nine units of new lithography machines from the equipment manufacturer ASML, recent reports indicate. Meanwhile, TSMC is also said to be planning to use the same machine in order to manufacture chipsets on the 7-nanometer process node.
In order to stay ahead of the competition, foundries are pouring a substantial amount of resources to develop new process node technologies. Aside from its traditional rivals GlobalFoundries and TSMC, Samsung's foundry division will also have to deal with additional competition from Intel and SK Hynix in the coming years. Those two semiconductor firms have both opened their foundries to fabless semiconductors who are seeking new chipset manufacturing partners.