After commercializing 5nm wafers, Samsung is unsurprisingly already throwing money at the next big thing – 3nm smartphone chips. And it's hard to blame it for doing so, given how it isn't exactly leading that race. That honor goes to Taiwan's TSMC, arguably the hottest player across the entire Asian continent. Well, at least among publicly traded companies.
But Samsung was never good at losing and understandably doesn't want to start practicing now. It's instead doubling down on its foundry business. Being adamant to reclaim the market share lost to TSMC not too long ago. That about sums up the official story. Unofficially, it's way too early to tell whether TSMC is too far gone. And what exactly would it take for Samsung to beat it to mass-producing 3nm smartphone chips.
Assessing the current situation is a difficult task for several reasons. Starting with the fact that comparing the top 1% of the top 1% chip engineering talent can't really be done. There's also the fact that Samsung's rising aggression in the segment is at least partially a result of leadership pressure. Since its newly crowned Chairman is more than eager to restore its status as the world's top chipmaker.
Many concerns loom over Samsung's pursuit of 3nm smartphone chips
Rumors about those tensions have been plentiful lately, with the last such report emerging just hours ago. Yes, of course, Lee wants Samsung back at the very top of one of the most lucrative economic activities that ever existed. Which required generations of international, multidisciplinary collaboration among some of the greatest minds of the modern era to reach this point.
"This point" being a bunch of transistors on a thingy the size of a thumbnail that's countless times more powerful than the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer. What Lee wants is hardly a mystery, nor is it too relevant to Samsung's ability to actually compete with TSMC in the long term.
As there's plenty of doubt in that department, and rightfully so. There's only so much a de facto infinite pile of money can accomplish when stacked against another such heap. Especially if that other one has been piling on for longer. The larger the stakes are, the more even the slightest momentum difference matters. And there's more than just the slightest of differences between Samsung and TSMC right now.
So, for the time being, there's no debate about whether Samsung's losing this silicon tech race. The only real unknown is how hard is it getting beaten right now. The company's now investing another modest sum – $116 billion – into its foundry business and its 3nm tech pursuit. With the hope being it can have a commercial solution that it can pitch to the likes of Apple, NVIDIA, and AMD by 2023. All the while hoping nerves get the better of its rival so that TSMC crashes out from its winning position, of course.