The more than 53,000 people who flocked to SEMICON Korea last month were treated to a motherlode of insight into the future of the semiconductor industry as 470 companies exhibited innovative technologies in more than 2,000 booths. But the annual event’s most arresting numbers came in keynotes and other presentations pointing to the extraordinary industry growth that lies ahead.
“It is no exaggeration to say that 90 percent of the world’s data has been generated in the last few years,” said Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research. “This explosive growth of data is expected to continue. That's why server shipments will grow by 20.3 percent, or 30 million units, this year alone.”
Feldhan said that the Internet of Things (IoT) will be a chief driver of semiconductor industry growth, with IoT expected to be applied in areas as varied as automotive, smart cities, edge computers, finance, architecture, agriculture and healthcare. For its part, artificial intelligence (AI) will start to exercise human-like judgment. Feldhan noted that in many instances in these fields, “it is more accurate to apply AI and vision systems than to rely on traditional decision-making.”
Yoon Jong Lee, senior vice president of DB HiTek, predicted that the Internet, AI and 5G will drive market growth. “Looking back over the past 30 years, semiconductor market growth was powered by PCs, the Internet and cell phones, yet last year memory accounted for 35 percent of total semiconductor sales, more than double the figure in 2016,” he said. He predicted that, in 2019, the foundry sector will outstrip the semiconductor market in growth, noting that the average growth rate of the semiconductor industry is expected to be 4.1 percent, compared to 7.1 percent for the foundry market.
Clark Tseng, director of SEMI, reported that the strong semiconductor growth in 2018 is unlikely to continue in 2019 due to the decline in memory pricing, as well as mobile and PC demand. “Demand for semiconductors is likely to decline in the first half as the industry is still digesting inventory and rebound in the second,” Tseng said. Semiconductor industry growth headwinds include decreases in high-end smartphone purchases, PC demand and demand for DRAMs for servers in data centers, Tseng said. Declines in economic growth and consumption in China and the U.S.-China trade war will also contribute to a slowdown. However, Tseng noted that, over the long term, technology innovation will continue and that the semiconductor industry’s prospects remain bright.
One key innovation will be the elimination of AI’s reliance on Internet connections in the future. In his opening day keynote, Eunsoo Shim, senior vice president at Samsung Electronics, emphasized that AI technology that operates without the Internet in the future is essential. “We are developing 'on-device AI' technology that incorporates AI algorithms in products such as smartphones and autonomous vehicles,” he said. "When on-device AI technology is implemented, it reduces reliance on the Internet, battery consumption, and data latency.” Reducing latency will significantly improve device response time.
Walden C. Rhines, CEO Emeritus of Mentor, a Siemens business, predicted that AI will fuel rapid memory growth. The memory semiconductor (DRAM, NAND flash) market is expected to see a temporary slowdown this year, with the market expected to rebound in 2020. Rhines said that memory could be seen as an early market with rapid future growth, citing memory market super-booms in 1995 and 2000.
“Memory production has not decreased since 1995 or 2000,” he said. “Although memory prices will temporarily fall this year after significant market growth in 2017 to 2018, the market will continue to grow as memory production increases,” he said. Rhines added that “although memory prices will drop by about 10 percent this year, he believes prices will increase 6 percent next year.” He also predicted the steady growth of the non-memory semiconductor market as AI technology matures and China’s investment in fabless companies continues.
Indeed, SEMICON Korea speakers made it clear that concerns about the growth of the semiconductor industry are expected to be short-lived. While overall growth is likely to slow in 2019, the industry is expected to rebound steadily – powered by the semiconductor industry paradigm shift led by AI, IOT, and autonomous driving – and reach a new high of nearly $541 billion in 2020.
Jaegwan Shim is a marketing specialist at SEMI Korea.