Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"Bit growth": Why Samsung and SK Hynix will invest $42 billion in semiconductors

As reported by The Korea Times, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix will invest approximately $42 billion USD to enhance their semiconductor manufacturing facilities, mostly in Korea.  Semiconductors are perhaps THE core technology of the digital network era, and were targeted in the 1981 Long Term Plan to Foster the Electronics Sector in the form of the 4MB DRAM project.  Once Korea competitively entered the global semiconductor market, it never looked back.  Today, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix are dominant players in the global market for both DRAM and NAND memory chips, as shown in this 2016 report by McKinsey.  As noted in that report, "Memory bit capacity is determined by two factors: capacity for memory wafers worldwide and the number of bits per wafer."   The industry has adopted the term "bit growth" to describe this phenomenon. 
For me personally, this brings back memories of a graduate seminar taught by Professor Edwin B. Parker at Stanford University in the late 1970s, where he explained Moore's Law in simple terms.   As Ed told us, the cost of storing one bit of information keeps decreasing as the capacity of semiconductors increases.   Today I understand more fully that "bit growth" means exponential increases in the human ability to store, compute and communicate digital information.  This phenomenon is at the heart of the digital revolution and is well understood by Korea's industry, government and academic leaders.  There is risk involved because semiconductors are now a commodity and subject to huge cyclical swings.  However, it appears that Korean leaders may once again be making a prudent investment in the digital future.

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