Mapping China’s Fabless Market

Since opening up to the rest of the world starting in the 1970s, China has clearly demonstrated its desire to assume a greater role in the global manufacturing market. Today, the country is a leader in contract electronics manufacturing, and it is steadily moving up the ladder in the industry's higher-value segments.

For years, China has been angling to play an even more critical role in the high-tech supply chain. After being stymied by Western political forces, the country and its fledgling entrepreneurs are coming up with a fresh approach to achieving their desire to become a powerhouse in the design of semiconductors, the brain and guts of all electronic equipment. Since the United States and several other Western nations have placed limits on what the world's leading semiconductor companies can do in China, that country's top brains have devoted time instead to establishing fabless operations that can help put it on the global map.

A new report from EE Times Confidential, a sister publication of EBN — also published by UBM Electronics, a UBM LLC company — reveals the extent to which China's fabless design houses are poised to play a major role in electronics manufacturing. The report identifies the leading Chinese design houses and provides details on more than 80 of them, demonstrating clearly how “the locus of the global industry is inexorably shifting to Asia and China in particular,” according to a statement issued by George Leopold, editor-in-chief of EE Times Confidential.

“This year represents a turning point in the development of the Chinese semiconductor industry and of its fabless sector in particular. We've compiled a database of the people, places, and other tangible data points for more than 80 fabless chip companies, training a microscope on a sector that has become relevant not just to China's prosperity but to the global industry,” Leopold said.

China's fabless IC market has been growing rapidly over the last five years as many expatriate design engineers have moved back to China and other East Asian locations from Silicon Valley. The industry's biggest chip vendors have not set up a network of fabrication plants in China, but they have hired thousands of design engineers in the country as part of efforts to inject local content into products being marketed in the region. Some of the more experienced design engineers are behind some of China's top fabless houses.

The EE Times Confidential report is one of the first attempts to chronicle the rise of the sector and to identify the leading players and the services they offer. Many of the companies identified in the special report are also helping to drive growth at the world's leading semiconductor foundries, all of which are keen to help their customers expand operations in the world's most populous country. Being able to identify the strengths and services offered by the fabless chipmakers is critical to their growth and will enhance patronage of the sector, giving them the much needed exposure to compete against Western rivals.

The report on China's fabless market is available for $995, according to Leopold. Click here for additional information.

9 comments on “Mapping China’s Fabless Market

  1. Parser
    August 16, 2011

    I am curious where they have their ICs manufactured? It would be nice if our fabs gained production, but I am afraid that it is Malaysia. Is there also increased probability of counterfeit devices increases specifically Intel processors? 


  2. Jay_Bond
    August 17, 2011

    This sounds like another opportunity that is going to allow China to prosper more and get closer to their goals of becoming a major player throughout the sector. With this increase in the market, are there going to be better controls in place to help curb counterfeiting? What are the major western companies saying about this development? 

    August 17, 2011

    Many Chinese fabs are now up and running and doing very well.  The design team situation is also fairly mature and starting to provide the services to Asian companies that Western companies used to provide.  It may still be 10 years or more before China can compete in the very high end of IC design but it surely will happen. 

  4. bolaji ojo
    August 17, 2011

    @Parser, Manufacturing by fabless design houses take place mostly at the top foundries although due to volume constraints many of them are using smaller foundries. You are right that these companies are largely sourcing wafers in Asia, primarily in Taiwan but my understanding is that GlobalFoundries is also getting significant attention as companies diversify their sourcing. Another foundry receiving patronage is Germany's Telefunken Semiconductor.

  5. SunitaT
    August 18, 2011


     Thanks for the article. How will chinas effort to build fabless market influence the outsourcing trend ? Do you think companies from US woud be more hesitant to outsource to China because they might be scared their IP  might get compromised?

  6. SunitaT
    August 18, 2011

    With this increase in the market, are there going to be better controls in place to help curb counterfeiting?

    @Jay_bond, In my opinion this would definitely force the government to place better controls to help curb counterfeiting. Local chinese design companies would want stronger law againts counterfeiting because counterfieting would affect them as well.

  7. eemom
    August 18, 2011

    China has historically been the manufacturing arm for IC companies.  Now that they are entering the fabless market, they may end up competing head to head with their own customers.  How will that influence the overall market?

  8. hwong
    August 19, 2011

    yeah Good point. I think that Chinese government need to really step up and prevent counterfeiting. Consumers just don't want to buy from China becuase of its trust and safety reasons.

  9. t.alex
    August 21, 2011

    That depends on what kind of IC these fabless company are designing. If it is something unique and require subtantial effort, i guess it is not really competing with there customers yet.

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