Communications Revolution Will Drive Semiconductor to New Heights

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Webcast Includes Speakers from All Sectors of the IC Supply Chain

SHANGHAI, China, March 23, 2005 -- The convergence of portable computing and communications technology in hand held devices will provide endless opportunities for the semiconductor industry and ensure innovation continues at a relentless pace, according to Henry Samueli, chairman and chief technology officer of Broadcom Corporation, and keynote speaker at SEMICON China 2005.

The full audiocast of Samueli's presentation -- as well as the webcast of the SEMICON China speakers from Cadence, Credence, Rocky Mountain Institute, Intel, Tokyo Electron, SMIC and Stanford University -- are now available on the SEMI website.

Samueli, who was speaking at the SEMICON China Semiconductor Market Forum in Shanghai, China, presented by SEMI in conjunction with the Fabless Semiconductor Association Distinguished Speaker Series, noted that the next major revolution in semiconductors would be communications.

Within the next decade the industry would develop a 10 trillion transistor system-on-a-chip (SOC) device for mobile phones, enabling the performance of today’s desktop PC in a handheld device. “The technology sector can never rest. The opportunities are endless, the pace of innovation is relentless,” he said.

The first major revolution in the semiconductor industry was the microprocessor, with 8 billion units now shipped annually for all applications, including the PC. “Every single electronic device that is purchased today, whether it’s a toy, a wrist watch, a refrigerator, has a microprocessor [or microcontroller] in it,” said Samueli.

A key driver of the new communications revolution has been high speed Internet access, with roughly 200 million broadband Internet subscribers in the world today, according to Samueli. A second major driver is video delivery, which is represented by the 200 million users of set top boxes for satellite and cable TV programming.

Silicon devices in today’s set top boxes are extremely complex, he added. A typical set top box processor chip contains 80 million transistors, using mixed signal technology fabricated with a 0.13 micron CMOS process. The latest set top box processor from Broadcom took 1,000 man months of R&D effort to develop from the fifth generation to the sixth generation product, said Samueli. “There are still huge amounts of R&D effort required to develop these single chip set top box chips,” he said. “The beauty of all of this is that Moore’s Law continues to make it possible to drive the cost of these kinds of products cheaper and cheaper every year to enable mass market consumer adoption.”

Samueli predicted that within the next two decades physical media, such as CDs and DVDs, will disappear completely. “Everything will be converted over to servers, whether in your home or on the network,” he said. “Content…will be accessible to the user through high speed broadband networks.” One major challenge in this new communications world will be digital rights management. While the encryption and payment technologies already exist, “we need everybody to agree on how to charge for [the content],” Samueli said.

The largest single communications market for semiconductors is the cell phone, with about 600 million units shipped annually. Samueli highlighted a new and exciting market for hand held communications, typified by the Blackberry and Trio devices that combine the functions of voice, data, email, Internet access, calendar, games, camera, music and so forth.

“We have created this whole new sector of the mobile marketplace known as the smart phone,” he said. “Over time this will be the only device you need to carry about with you. In fact, it’s the only electronic device I carry in my pocket.”

Looking ahead, Samueli said that silicon integration marches on and the cost of new mobile devices is dropping dramatically, especially with the increased levels of CMOS/RF integration.

However, the road ahead is not easy. One challenge will be dealing with the problems faced by the PC industry today because of its connectivity. “Once you are connected to a network somewhere, you are susceptible to viruses, spam, spyware, hackers…privacy issues. [These] will all be faced by mobile device users,” he said.

An interesting R&D challenge will be “getting rid of the tiny keyboards” on hand held devices, ideally replacing them with continuous speech recognition, said Samueli. However, despite 20 years of research, speech recognition is not yet economically viable for consumer products.

“The broadband revolution is upon us and there is nothing we can do to stop it,” he concluded. “The demand for voice, video and data services anywhere and anytime will challenge us for many, many years to come.”

SEMI is a global industry association serving companies that develop and provide manufacturing technology and materials to the global semiconductor, flat panel display, MEMS and related microelectronics industries. SEMI maintains offices in Austin, Beijing, Brussels, Hsinchu, Moscow, San Jose (Calif.), Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. For more information, visit


Jonathan Davis/SEMI
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Mark Ding/SEMI
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