A fresh delay in the trial production of 3nm chipsets from TSMC could leave an open opportunity for Samsung. That's based on recent reports out of China, suggesting that TSMC's trials, conducted at its Section 18 plant could be delayed by more than a full quarter. Such a delay would push back 3nm chipsets from the company as far back as 2021.
The delay itself, the report indicates, is the result of ongoing global health concerns. That's led to disruptions in the supply chain. But it's also led to difficulties in personnel movement and other logistics surrounding the trials. TSMC had been slated to finalize its tests as of this year.
As of mid-May, TSCM was reportedly expecting to begin production of 5nm chipsets and 5G modems in June.
Samsung could step in to fill the 3nm void left by TSMC
Following the arrival of 5nm chipsets to production lines, there are really two main contenders in the 3nm space. Those are Samsung and TSMC. The latter company was holding a definitive lead over Samsung in terms of trialing the upcoming next-gen chipsets. That's atop its current lead on 5nm and 7nm processes.
TSMC was also well-placed in terms of US operations, following reports that it could build a plant in the US in order to appease the US government. The move would make it a more viable competitor in terms of working with US companies. With 3nm chips expected to enter full production by 2022-2023, driving the next wave of flagship handsets, a slip on the 3nm front could be particularly damaging to its position.
Samsung, conversely, could be well poised to step in and take a dominant role in the next-gen chips. The South Korea-based competitor is still planning to mass-produce its own 5nm process chips beginning in Q2 2020. And it's reportedly said it will start focusing on the development of the GAAFET-based 3nm process node this year.
The result could be Samsung working more with TSMC partners
As noted above, the real impact of a delay from TSMC — if Samsung steps up quickly enough — wouldn't be felt until the next generation of devices. Right now, the former company holds a dominant position in the chip industry, with partners from Apple and HiSilicon to AMD, Qualcomm, and others. Those are partners that Samsung could potentially steal away.
This wouldn't be the first time that Samsung's chip-related business has taken center stage either. It temporarily took away Intel's crown in the semiconductor industry back in 2017 before subsequently losing ground in 2019. So Samsung is a capable player across multiple facets of the chipset market.
None of that necessarily means that Samsung will be able to overcome and surpass TSMC. But it does give the company a significant window of opportunity.
Whether or not the company can take advantage of that is another matter entirely. Not only will that depend on how long it takes to develop its 3nm process node and begin trial production. But it also depends on whether or not the same supply chain and health-related concerns impact Samsung to the same degree as TSMC.