What’s up with… Intel, Taiwan, Rakuten Mobile

  • Intel strikes massive chip manufacturing investment deal
  • Taiwan seeks international support for its “democracy chips”
  • Rakuten Mobile opens remote, virtualised Open RAN testing and verification facilities

In today’s semiconductor-heavy industry news roundup: Intel strikes $30bn chip fab plant co-investment deal; Taiwan wants international help to bolster and protect the international chip supply chain; Rakuten Mobile offers remote Open RAN testing to its tech developer partners; and more!

Intel has struck a Semiconductor Co-Investment Program (SCIP) deal with the infrastructure affiliate of Brookfield Asset Management that will “provide Intel with a new, expanded pool of capital for manufacturing build-outs.” Under the terms of the agreement, Intel and Brookfield will “jointly invest up to $30 billion in Intel’s previously announced manufacturing expansion at its Ocotillo campus in Chandler, Arizona, with Intel funding 51% and Brookfield funding 49% of the total project cost.” In February, Intel announced the concept of a SCIP and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Brookfield as part of its long-term growth strategy, which also included tapping US state incentives for semiconductor production facilities. “This landmark arrangement is an important step forward for Intel’s Smart Capital approach and builds on the momentum from the recent passage of the Chips Act in the US,” stated Intel CFO David Zinsner in Tuesday’s announcement about the Brookfield agreement. “Semiconductor manufacturing is among the most capital-intensive industries in the world, and Intel’s bold IDM [integrated device manufacturing] 2.0 strategy demands a unique funding approach. Our agreement with Brookfield is a first for our industry, and we expect it will allow us to increase flexibility while maintaining capacity on our balance sheet to create a more distributed and resilient supply chain.” Read more

Remember when chipped potatoes became “Freedom Fries” in the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities that resulted in the death of 2,996 people in New York City, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon in Washington DC following four co-ordinated and merciless terrorist attacks? Well, as we come up to the 21st anniversary of that awful day, with relations between the US and China at an extremely low ebb and the sound of sabre-rattling echoing from the Chinese mainland and across the 110-mile width of the Taiwan Strait, politicians in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, are reassuring its allies that the island republic will continue to provide supplies of semiconductors or “democracy chips”, as the president, Tsai Ing-wen, now calls them. She has also implied that, to ensure that the sustainable supply of microchips continues undisturbed, Taiwan’s friends will need to help should China’s belligerent threats and intimidations develop into something worse. Quite where this leaves the US policy of “strategic ambiguity” (or “keeping all your options open”) over Taiwan should China invade is not clear. Certainly, Eric Holcomb, the Governor of the US state of Indiana, and a member of a US delegation that has just visited the democratic island republic, was suitably strategically vague in his response. Evidently taken aback by the turn of events and the presidential rhetoric, Holcomb waffled on about Taiwan offering “some of the best high-technology talent in the world” and then, boosting gamely for Indiana, claimed that his state’s support for high technology is so attractive that the world’s fourth-biggest semiconductor MediaTek of Taiwan is opening a new design centre there. He added, “We’re facing and specifically seeking to turn supply chain pains into supply chain gains. I think the way we get there faster, in a more resilient fashion, is by doing it together.” Meanwhile, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the largest contract chip maker on the planet, is spending US$12bn on building a new fab in Arizona. Commenting on the visit to Taiwan by the five-member team that included Holcomb, and which took place so soon after the flying visit by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (an event that caused the Chinese Politburo to have such a fit of conniptions), China’s foreign ministry lodged “stern representations” with the US authorities. I wonder if they went in backwards?

Rakuten Mobile has opened innovation lab facilities in Tokyo for telcos, vendors, other companies and academic institutions to remotely verify virtualised Open RAN functionality. The Rakuten Mobile Open Innovation Labs, one at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the other at the University of Tokyo, will, claims the operator, help cut the costs of partners, which won’t need to travel to a verification lab or build their own facilities to verify their Open RAN functions. The Rakuten Group subsidiary claimed it is also able to build a technical verification environment at partner-owned facilities. Going forward, the company aims to expand the lab’s focus to encompass the accelerated R&D of Open RAN elements such as the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC). According to the company, the RIC function, in conjunction with AI, will enable automatic network optimisation by detecting network loads and possible failures in advance, enhancing the performance of virtualised Open RAN deployments and creating “a stable communication environment”. You can find out more about the new establishment here (in Japanese).

Highline, an independent passive infrastructure company with deployments (towers, rooftop and in-building installations, and small cells) throughout Brazil, has landed a deal to acquire 8,000 towers from bankrupt Brazilian operator Oi. Highline, which boasts infrastructure investor DigitalBridge as an investor, will pay almost 1.7bn reais (BRL) (US$329m) for the towers. Reports had linked American Tower and IHS Towers to potential competitive bids, but when the court handling Oi’s bankruptcy protection proceedings examined the submitted bids on Monday, Highline emerged as the only interested party.  

Pan-African telco giant MTN has advised its investors, via a regulatory filing, that its takeover talks with fellow South African operator Telkom SA “are still in progress”. The two operators announced in mid July that they are discussing the acquisition of Telkom by MTN in a cash and stock deal. Since the talks began, MTN has been busy adding to its executive team: On 16 August it announced that Willington Ngwepe would join on 1 October as Chief of Staff – Ngwepe joins from South Africa’s regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), where he has spent the last five years as CEO (so that’s a very handy person to have on board if a major acquisition is underway…); and on Monday this week announced that Marvin Ncube (surely one of the greatest names ever to grace the digital pages of TelecomTV) has been appointed Executive: Business Finance, effective 1 September – Ncube (the name is just as good second time around…) joins from Telkom SA, where he was Group Executive: Group Financial Controller. It’s a small world, right?

The saga of Elon Musk’s on/off effort to buy Twitter continues along its merry way. The world’s richest man (for the time being anyway), having signed the deal to acquire the social media company for a whopping US$44bn, is backtracking and wants out of his commitment on the grounds that Twitter’s management provided him and his acquisition team with massaged figures showing that the number of fake accounts on the site was much lower than was the reality. Musk says his calculations show that a minimum of 10% of daily Twitter uses are bot accounts. Twitter denies this, claiming the figure is no more than 5%, and is suing Musk to compel him to complete the agreed purchase at the agreed and inflationary price of $54.20 a share. Musk’s response has been to subpoena his pal, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder, to give evidence that will substantiate his claim that the number of bot-based fake accounts is at least double what Twitter claims them to be. Dorsey stood down as CEO of Twitter in November last year and was very supportive of Musk’s bid to buy his brainchild. Channelling the inner-prophet persona that complements his increasingly Old Testament beard and demeanour, Dorsey tweeted (natch): “Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness." Now, there’s an endorsement. Unless sanity prevails and a settlement is agreed soon, the case will be heard in court in the US state of Delaware in October. As you might expect, Musk is bullish about his chances of escaping the coils of what he regards as a bad deal but is realistic enough to accept that he may well have to spend big on the best lawyers in the event the case does go to trial. Earlier this month he sold another tranche of Tesla shares, I7.2 million of them, for $6.88bn, saying that he needs to have the money on hand in case he is eventually compelled to buy Twitter. And so the dance on the head of a pin goes on…

Huawei is in trouble (again) in India, and so concerned about the Indian tax authorities conducting raids on its offices and mounting audits of its tax and other financial returns filed during the past 20 years that it is downsizing (and may even shutter) the R&D campus it has been building and extending in the city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) for the past two decades. If it goes, upwards of 3,000 Indian jobs will go with it. The disenchantment with Huawei and other Chinese companies active in India can be traced directly back to the 2020 incursions made by units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the “Line of Actual Control” (LAC) in Ladakh, a line of demarcation between Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh on the Indian side and Tibet on the Chinese side. The Ladakh region, a geographical part of Kashmir, is administered by India and has been the subject of political disputes (that sometimes flare-up into active military hostilities) between India, Pakistan and China since 1947. The 2020 skirmishes on the India side of the border were particularly brutal, with a spate of fierce and exceptionally bloody night-time hand-to-hand fighting between Chinese and Indian troops in an uninhabited rocky wilderness. The nationalist government of Narendra Modi still smarts from the insult and violence and now has a policy of diluting Chinese corporate influence in India. As well as Huawei, other Chinese companies, including ZTE and Xiaomi, have come under intense scrutiny and have had their offices and other premises raided. In a press conference, China’s Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, warned that such actions could harm Chinese interests and that Chinese investment in India would suffer as a result. Sun’s remarks are in stark contradiction to the oft-repeated promise from Huawei that it would always work with India, “no matter what happens”. The reality is that, with an eye on its R&D and the effects the raids by the Indian authorities could have on sensitive projects, Huawei has already moved several of them back to China. Meanwhile, India is playing-up the national security implications of having such a big Chinese presence in “critical ecosystems” and strategically vital sectors such as telecoms and IT.  To that end it has banned Huawei from playing any part in providing any equipment for India’s 5G networks and further actions seem likely.

OK, so it’s the dog days of summer and the height of the so-called ‘silly season’ when just about any press release might garner a journalist’s attention… and this one has, but for all the wrong reasons. Metaman Mark Zuckerberg’s latest VR graphics effort is so dreadfully amateurish it has been widely derided on global social media as well as in the press. He’s released what might best be described as an (apparently self-rendered) metaverse selfie of himself and an equally poor graphic of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Gaudi’s still unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona. In Zuckerberg’s imagination it is finished, even if it looks like a grey birthday cake made up of bagels and ice cream cones with gigantic green peas looming menacingly on the horizon. His artistic endeavour is accompanied by this: “Looking forward to seeing people explore and build immersive worlds, and to bringing this to more countries soon." We really are not worthy. Stung into making a response, Zuckerberg posted, "Major updates to Horizon and avatar graphics coming soon.” By George, are they ever needed! Now, I’m off to immerse myself in some quality VR time with SpongeBob Squarepants... Bikini Bottom is just so realistic!

- The staff, TelecomTV

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