Qualcomm and MediaTek might not release 3 nm SoCs this year due to high TSMC costs, insider sources claim
TSMC announced in late 2022 that the N3 process will not go online and instead will focus on an improved N3E node. Industry insiders were suggesting that this change of plan would come with higher production costs, which may put some TSMC clients in a difficult situation. Apple surely will not be affected by the price hikes, since the company has the resources to cover the extra expenses and set the trend with 3 nm A17 Bionic SoCs powering the 2023 iPhone 15 models. However, mobile SoC producers like Qualcomm and MediaTek might think twice before jumping on the 3 nm bandwagon this year. Sources close to DigiTimes are now suggesting that MediaTek is highly unlikely to release 3 nm SoCs in 2023, while Qualcomm has yet to make a final decision.
Production costs for a 3 nm wafer are estimated to exceed US$20,000 and these figures may not change until next year. According to sources cited by DigiTimes, such high costs combined with uncertain market outlooks could prevent Qualcomm and MediaTek from releasing flagship 3 nm SoCs this year.
MediaTek is well positioned on the market with mid-range and entry-level SoCs, but its flagship presence is not that well delineated and may not increase to a point where 3 nm adoption would make sense this year. DigiTimes points out that “a quick migration to 3 nm node may only serve symbolic purposes as far as technology upgrade is concerned, and will actually bring substantial pressure on its operating costs.”
Qualcomm, on the other hand, is still evaluating the situation. Before making a final decision, Qualcomm will most likely need to assess inventory-related issues, as well as analyze investor and client needs. Big clients like Samsung could still push for a 3 nm jump in order to compete with Apple, so Qualcomm might be forced to release flagship 3 nm SoCs in late 2023, but this would also translate to significantly increased prices for Snapdragon-powered handhelds.
It seems like the two SoC producers are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. High production expenses might not be justified, yet if they cannot release 3 nm SoCs this year, the two SoC producers will risk losing market share in the flagship sector. As pointed out by DigiTimes, Apple clearly succeeded in creating this culture where flagship consumers “care more about spec upgrades than prices and price-performance ratios.” Accordingly, other SoC producers might find it quite difficult to keep up with the rapid technological advancement pace set by Apple.