The market entry of the Huawei Mate 60 series smartphones revealed a problem that puzzled the US authorities: according to the report of Canadian experts, Chinese companies are able to produce 7 nm semiconductor components even under sanctions. According to experts, SMIC will need two to three years to master 5nm technology, and it will not need access to EUV lithography to do so.
As already mentioned EE times Citing experts interviewed, including TSMC’s former general counsel, who helped the Taiwanese company win a lawsuit against SMIC in a 2009 industrial espionage case, this Chinese contract manufacturer will be able to start producing 5nm chips using the deep ultraviolet lithography equipment at its disposal (DUV) combined with the use of multiple photomasks. In fact, SMIC mastered 7nm process technology precisely by combining these technological components. This did not require advanced EUV equipment, the supply of which to China was already banned by the Dutch authorities in 2019.
One of SMIC’s CEOs remains a well-known developer, Ligan Mong-song, who has extensive experience at TSMC and Samsung and is able to look for creative ways to solve technical problems facing the Chinese semiconductor industry appear. His resignation from the board of SMIC two years ago was precisely due to the desire to concentrate on managing the company’s operational activities. He once left the workforce of TSMC because he considered it important to maintain the so-called Moore’s Law and not expand the product range, as the Taiwanese giant’s management wanted.
Analysts surveyed by EE Times believe that the yield of suitable products within SMIC’s 7nm process technology is well above the 10% discussed in the press, it is probably over 70%, which is a very good indicator for one technical process that is risky by any standards. Chinese manufacturers still have access to a wide range of devices, industry experts say, and further tightening of US sanctions will hurt the American economy more than slowing China’s technological development. There are enough European and Israeli companies on the market that, in practice, do not particularly listen to American export control requirements and value Chinese customers. This means that SMIC can start producing 5nm chips in two to three years if desired and has sufficient resources. At the same time, American officials will not have many tools to reliably determine the origin of advanced Chinese chips and “accomplices” of Chinese manufacturers. Recall that US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo this week summarized the interim results of the investigation into SMIC and said that Chinese companies are unable to produce 7nm chips in large quantities.