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Geopolitics and the Global Semiconductor Industry
Chen, Ming-Jer; Leong, Jin Technical Note S-0373 / Published April 13, 2022 / 16 pages.
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Product Overview

This note describes the exponential growth of semiconductor technology over the last 40 years, as well as the evolution of the semiconductor value chain. Semiconductor integrated circuits (ICs) are essential to all modern electronic equipment and are used in virtually every industry, including consumer electronics, office equipment, appliances, and automobiles. Semiconductor complexity and processing power has increased exponentially, resulting in commensurate increases in the sophistication of and upfront costs associated with fabrication processes. The industry has evolved from a vertically integrated model of integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) to a disaggregated model of “fabless” technology companies that focus on research and design and rely on off-shore pure-play semiconductor foundries for production. An entire generation of US-based fabless semiconductor manufacturers, such as Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Cirrus Logic, have blossomed and thrived by taking advantage of high-quality, low-cost foundry services provided by the likes of TSMC, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries. The recent COVID-19 crisis and escalating US-China trade tensions have exposed the fragility of this ecosystem, and US technology companies must learn to manage an emerging set of risks. The note highlights how the natural evolution of an industry, in response to competitive and market pressures, may result in highly efficient but fragile value chains.




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  • Overview

    This note describes the exponential growth of semiconductor technology over the last 40 years, as well as the evolution of the semiconductor value chain. Semiconductor integrated circuits (ICs) are essential to all modern electronic equipment and are used in virtually every industry, including consumer electronics, office equipment, appliances, and automobiles. Semiconductor complexity and processing power has increased exponentially, resulting in commensurate increases in the sophistication of and upfront costs associated with fabrication processes. The industry has evolved from a vertically integrated model of integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) to a disaggregated model of “fabless” technology companies that focus on research and design and rely on off-shore pure-play semiconductor foundries for production. An entire generation of US-based fabless semiconductor manufacturers, such as Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Cirrus Logic, have blossomed and thrived by taking advantage of high-quality, low-cost foundry services provided by the likes of TSMC, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries. The recent COVID-19 crisis and escalating US-China trade tensions have exposed the fragility of this ecosystem, and US technology companies must learn to manage an emerging set of risks. The note highlights how the natural evolution of an industry, in response to competitive and market pressures, may result in highly efficient but fragile value chains.

  • Learning Objectives