The signing of a memorandum of understanding between Micron Technology and Nanya Technology to jointly develop and manufacture sub-50nm DRAM technology re-shapes the DRAM landscape and places Nanya partner, Qimonda AG in a precarious situation. Although specifics of the final agreement are sketchy, one of the options is to form a 50/50 manufacturing JV in Nanya’s Fab3 which is only equipped to half of its full capacity. Nanya would license Micron’s 68nm technology platform and possibly participate in the joint development of 50nm and below technologies.
The following is our assessment of the impact on the various players.
The big winner in this is Micron which reduces its capital intensity and increases its access to low cost Asian manufacturing capacity. In the last few years, Micron’s DRAM market share has dropped as it diversified its product portfolio into NAND flash and CMOS image sensors. As the 5th largest DRAM vendor in 2007 with roughly 10% market share, Micron is well poised to vie with Qimonda and Elpida for the No. 3 position.
It appears that Nanya, having completed joint development of 58nm trench technology with Qimonda harbored doubts about the scalability of the technology. Its concerns were validated last week when Qimonda announced the development of its “Buried Wordline” stack technology and a roadmap to continue scaling its DRAM technology based on this technology.
By cooperating with Micron, Nanya gains a clear technology roadmap for its business and more importantly, the relevant intellectual property and trade secrets required to manufacture stack technology.
The downside is that it’ll have to continue supporting two technology platforms in the next 2-3 years and absorb any manufacturing inefficiencies and additional fab investment required to make the conversion.
Qimonda loses a strong partner in Nanya and indirectly, the Formosa Plastics Group, and except for Samsung, is now the odd man out in relation to the partnerships of Hynix/ProMOS, Elpida/Powerchip and Micron/Nanya. In three years time, Qimonda may find itself in the position that Micron is in today: No. 5 and unprofitable – unless it is able to execute on its Buried Wordline technology.
A bigger issue is the impact on Inotera and the capacity implications for Qimonda.
Inotera will have to eventually transition to stack technology whether it be from Micron or Qimonda, however, it is unlikely that Nanya will continue to work with Qimonda on the future technologies once the Micron deal is finalized. Qimonda has neither the cash nor resources to buyout and manage Inotera.
The likely outcome is for Qimonda to exit Inotera either by selling its shares to Nanya or institutional investors or to sell the shares on the open market. If it sells the shares via the open market, it may take a year to unwind its stake as Taiwan Stock Exchange regulations limit the amount of shares which can be disposed daily.
Qimonda which obtains 50% of the 120k wpm capacity from Inotera will lose out on 60k wpm which will not be easily replaced.
Perhaps a harbinger of the future of Inotera and the intense negotiations going on between Nanya and Qimonda, the domain name www.inotera.com has expired.
Infineon exited ProMOS after a nasty spat with partner Mosel Vitelic. ProMOS has been having difficulties in obtaining 66nm technology from Hynix due to Korean government restrictions on the export of advanced sub-80nm technologies. Is re-marriage in the cards for the former Infineon/Qimonda partner? Difficult to say, but don’t expect Hynix to give up on ProMOS without a fight.
Expect Qimonda to shore up its alliances with Winbond and SMIC. It needs the capacity. Winbond and SMIC have the upper hand and should be able to negotiate more favorable terms for producing the Buried Wordline technology. A deeper relationship with Winbond could be in the offing.
It is unlikely to impact the supply-demand situation in the short term, but could negatively impact the supply-demand in the mid-term as competitors react by increasing output to maintain market share.
The Micron-Nanya cooperation creates a more formidable competitor in both the DRAM and NAND space and sets up Micron to become one of the top three memory vendors along with Samsung and Hynix. Elpida and Qimonda, pure DRAM vendors are looking for a NAND play. Stay tuned.