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The benchmarks and opportunities of the IC design industry

Founded in 1997, MediaTek originated from the UMC Group which was founded in the 1980s. The management team has witnessed the wonderful era "from micrometer to sub-microns" in Taiwan. In view of the future of Taiwan's IC design industry, MediaTek's chairman Ming-Kai Tsai, who is usually cautious in his speech, generously shared his insights and elucidated transformation of industrial structure and evolution of technologies recently.

Tsai pointed out that it took MediaTek a few years after its inception to make its way to be among the world top-5 IC design houses. Only six IC design companies reported revenue of more than US$1 billion in 2003, while the top 10 design companies had hit the revenue benchmark of US$1 billion in 2010 and co-created a prosperous era of IC design and wafer industry. In 2020, MediaTek's revenue exceeded US$10 billion, ranking behind the world's top IC design companies Qualcomm, Broadcom and Nvidia. With sophisticated GPU/CPU technology structure, it is optimistic for Nvidia to play a key role in the V2X service and metaverse sectors with the market value to reach more than US$1 trillion.

In the short term, we will see the new business opportunities come from EVs, ranging from motors, battery controllers to power semiconductors, power management and various composite applications. Greater business opportunities will come from sensors, AI chips and 5G/6G related applications. EVs coupled with in-car applications and various external connections will bring unlimited new business opportunities to the semiconductor industry. DIGITIMES Research projects that the penetration rate of EVs may exceed 30% in 2025 earlier than originally set timeline. The automotive industry that is setting off intense race reflects the panic of the existing market leaders at industry's turning point. For the traditional carmakers, it is a "sink or swim" battle. We are talking about a greater business opportunity than mobile phones and notebooks could bring. Active deployment has been a consensus of the ICT industry which can be validated by increasing capital expenditure of the semiconductor industry during the past two years.

Major IC design companies are still headquartered in Silicon Valley, and 59% of the output value of the IC design industry comes from the US. But the IDMs in the US have been on the wane after the rise of their counterparts in China and South Korea. Despite its negligible position of design industry, South Korea's memory industry takes the global lead with contribution value as high as 19% in the global semiconductor market. With support of TSMC's manufacturing capabilities, AMD has posed a tremendous threat to Intel. Emerging design houses such as MediaTek and Huawei have provided TI and STMicroelectronics multiple alternatives under the era of thriving China market and booming mobile communication demands. On the other hand, they also capitalize on import substitution businesses boosted by national policies of emerging Asian countries.

From a conventional point of view, Taiwan and South Korea do not belong to the first-tier industrialized countries. Nevertheless, they both made the right choice to drive national economic growth by placing the semiconductors as the core industry in the 1980s. Compared with South Korea's expertise in the memory sector, Taiwan's diversified industry profile and "harmless" interaction with the industries of multiple countries will make it a very important strategic partner for emerging countries.