One of the reasons contract chip manufacturer Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (NYSE:TSM) seems to have become more interesting among tech investors is the fact that it's the key manufacturer of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) custom-designed A-series applications processors.
Apple sells more than 200 million smartphones per year, each packing a high-end mobile applications processor, so if a company scores the contract to manufacture those chips for Apple, it can mean a sizable windfall for that company.
Although Apple is likely the key driver of TSMC's expected steep 10-nanometer chip technology ramp-up, there's much more to this chip giant than its dealings with Apple.
To that end, here are three items from TSMC's most recent earnings call that management wants investors to know.
5-nanometer development on track
TSMC spent a good deal of time talking about its 7-nanometer and 7-nanometer+ technologies, which should go into volume production in 2018 and 2019, respectively. You can read more about those technologies here.
After TSMC launches its 7-nanometer+ technology, it plans to launch a 5-nanometer technology. As per usual, 5-nanometer should deliver improvements in transistor area (smaller is better) as well as deliver improvements in performance.
All that means is that chipmakers will be able to design even better (more efficient, more feature filled, etc.) chips using TSMC's 5-nanometer technology than they would using the company's 7-nanometer or 7-nanometer+ technology.
Per TSMC co-CEO Mark Liu, the development of the company's 5-nanometer technology "is well on track" and should be made available to customers in the first quarter of 2019.
Note that customer availability in this case almost certainly refers to customers' ability to design chips using the technology -- it doesn't refer to when the chips will be mass produced and found in devices, like an iPhone.
If all goes to plan, expect to be able to buy an iPhone with a TSMC 5-nanometer chip in the fall of 2020.
TSMC offered some insight into the company's progress with respect to its 10-nanometer manufacturing technology.
The company said that 1% of its revenue during the second quarter came from shipments of 10-nanometer chips (likely Apple's A10X chip that powers the new iPad Pro tablets) and that it expects 10% of its full-year revenue to come from shipments of 10-nanometer wafers.
That's a steep production ramp.
The bad news is that TSMC says that it expects the ramp-up of its 10-nanometer technology to negatively impact its gross profit margin percentage to the tune of 200-300 basis points.
28-nanometer business remains strong
TSMC first introduced its 28-nanometer chip manufacturing technology back in 2011, and shipments of wafers built using derivatives of the technology (TSMC has improved the performance, power, and area characteristics of the technology over time) remain extremely strong today.
The company says that shipments of 28-nanometer wafers made up 27% of its overall wafer revenue last quarter -- a huge proportion for such a mature technology. In fact, demand for its 28-nanometer wafers is so high that the company says that it increased its 28-nanometer chip manufacturing capacity this year.
Moreover, since 28-nanometer remains such a popular technology, TSMC is enhancing it once again and is calling the enhancement 22-nanometer. The company says that this 22-nanometer technology "offers a 15% performance gain or 35% power reduction" compared to its most recent variant of 28-nanometer (known as 28HPC+).
"This technology is suitable for applications in [internet of things], ISP, GPS, Wi-Fi, RF and 5G millimeter wave," co-CEO C.C. Wei explained.
Wei went on to say that it has already received "many 22ULP tape-outs" (in other words, completed customer chip designs) and that the chip giant expects to start mass production on the technology next year.
"With this extension of 28-nanometer, we are confident that we will continue to enjoy a high market segment share at this node," Wei asserted.
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