Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSM 2.24%), with over 50% share of the market, is the world's largest contract chip manufacturer.
The company's business has benefited from the rise of mobile computing, enjoying substantial growth as orders from key mobile chipmakers like Apple (AAPL 1.41%), MediaTek, and Huawei have surged.
As the market for smartphones cools down -- in 2017, worldwide smartphone shipments grew just 2.7%, according to Gartner -- TSMC will need to rely on new growth drivers beyond smartphone unit shipment growth in the years ahead.
Here are three such growth opportunities for the company.
1. Mobile content growth
Although worldwide smartphone unit shipment growth is slowing down, TSMC still has the opportunity to outgrow the overall smartphone market by way of growing the amount of dollar content that it sells into smartphones.
For example, TSMC has recently stepped up its game in developing mobile chip packaging technology in a bid to capture business that would've traditionally gone to third-party chip packaging and test players. Apple, for example, is believed to have been using TSMC's Integrated Fan-Out, or InFO, packaging technology since the introduction of the former's A10 Fusion applications processor in late 2016.
On TSMC's earnings call back in January, the company said that its InFO technology has been in volume production for three years "with the majority of the adoption by mobile products." The company also said that it's looking to expand its InFO technology to products built using both trailing edge technologies as well as leading edge technologies, which could potentially mean substantial growth in this business is yet to come.
Beyond trying to expand its revenue beyond silicon wafer sales, TSMC could benefit from mobile chipmakers -- particularly those who serve the high end of the market -- trying to cram additional features and functionality into their chips to differentiate high-end chips from increasingly capable mid-range and low-end chips. More features mean bigger chip sizes, which ultimately translate into more revenue per chip for TSMC.
2. Graphics processors
One company that has been on fire in recent years is graphics specialist NVIDIA, which develops high-performance graphics processors that it sells into gaming personal computers, workstations, and data centers.
TSMC manufactures nearly all of NVIDIA's graphics processors, with the exceptions being NVIDIA's lowest-end (and arguably least important) products.
As NVIDIA's business grows (the long-term trend for graphics processor shipments seems to be up, though there could be near-term uncertainty thanks to the volatility in demand for graphics processors from cryptocurrency miners), TSMC should benefit as graphics processors are large complex chips that are usually manufactured using TSMC's latest (read: most expensive) chip manufacturing technologies.
3. Artificial intelligence
One of the hottest buzzwords in the technology industry today (and, unsurprisingly, in the chip industry) is artificial intelligence. Today, traditional CPUs as well as NVIDIA's graphics processors are quite popular for artificial intelligence applications (so, in a sense, I'm double-counting as the AI opportunity is partially captured in TSMC's graphics processor opportunity), but going forward the situation could look a lot different.
Many companies are working to develop specialized processors, known as application specific integrated circuits (ASIC), to handle certain workloads in artificial intelligence better than a CPU or even a GPU (which is much more efficient than a CPU for many such tasks) can.
I think that those companies are going to overwhelmingly choose TSMC to build their chips, given TSMC's leadership technologies and broad intellectual property libraries. Should sales of those chips take off, TSMC is in a great position to benefit from that growth over the long term.