IBM working with government-backed Japanese chipmaker on 2nm products • The Register

IBM will help Japan’s new government-backed semiconductor company commercialize advanced 2nm chips to revitalize the country’s role in the industry and diversify the global supply chain.

Big Blue announced a development partnership with young Japanese chipmaker Rapidus Corporation that will allow the manufacturer to commercialize IBM’s 2nm process technology for mass production.

The collaboration is expected to bear fruit in the second half of the 2020s. A previous report said a facility could open between 2025 and 2027.

The deal is important to Japan’s ambitions to become a chip-making player again. Japan has been a driving force in the semiconductor business for the past several decades, but peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“This is a long-awaited international collaboration that is truly essential for Japan to once again play an important role in the semiconductor supply chain,” said Atsuyoshi Koike, President and CEO of Rapidus.

Rapidus will commercialize the 2nm process node that IBM unveiled last year. Big Blue has previously said its 2nm chips deliver 45 percent better performance or use 75 percent less power than 7nm chips made by competitors like Taiwan’s TSMC and South Korea’s Samsung.

It is not yet known where Rapidus will build a factory in Japan to manufacture the chips.

The Japanese government announced the establishment of Rapidus in November 2022 and is expected to inject 70 billion yen ($500 million) into the company. This sum goes into research, development, design, manufacture and sale of advanced logic semiconductors such as CPUs and GPUs.

That level of investment will not be enough to fund the development of factories, which typically require tens of billions of dollars to build, sources said Reuters that additional funds will come, albeit from unspecified sources.

Rapidus is backed by a number of Japanese companies that could benefit from a domestic supply of advanced chips: Toyota, Sony, NTT, SoftBank, Kioxia, Denso, NEC and MUFG Bank.

IBM’s announcement with Rapidus came the same day Bloomberg reported that the Japanese government had “agreed in principle” to join United States efforts to weaken China’s semiconductor industry by lifting restrictions on the sale of advanced chip-making equipment tightened to the country.

The two most recent developments were preceded by a May 2022 White House announcement when President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reached an agreement calling for “protecting and promoting critical technologies, including through the use of export controls, supporting their respective competitive advantages and ensuring supply chain resilience.”

This is quite a reversal of US-Japan relations a few decades ago, when US politicians pressured the Japanese government in 1986 to agree to floor prices on chip exports while increasing the share of foreign chips in the Japanese market.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies said the deal — which followed complaints that Japanese firms were trying to oust US firms with cheap chip exports while blocking foreign participation in the Japanese market — “undermined” the competitiveness of those at the time Japanese semiconductor company.

Fast forward to 2022, and the two countries share concerns about China, including the communist state’s aggression against Taiwan, which currently manufactures most of the world’s most advanced chips. Like Japan, the US is looking to increase its advanced chip-making skills and capacity, although it will take several years for either country to siphon significant production from Taiwan. ® IBM working with government-backed Japanese chipmaker on 2nm products • The Register

Rick Schindler

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