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Rumored Supply Chain Problems Could Delay Major Android Releases

March 10, 2012
Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Krait

San Diego-based Qualcomm supplies SoCs for many Android makers, with its dual-core Snapdragon S4 (Krait) chip powering several high-profile Android devices that are coming over the next months. But Qualcomm is a fabless firm, meaning that it doesn’t actually manufacture the chips it designs and markets. Fabrication is handled by Asian semiconductor specialists, most notably Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).

Now, Qualcomm seems to be running into serious issues with its S4 chip. According to a rumor reported by Semi Accurate, TSMC has encountered major problems with its 28nm chip line, causing it to halt production. The issues appeared to have occurred earlier this year, TSMC stopping production on February 15 without resuming it since.

There are several reasons that can lead to such an interruption of the fabrication process, including low yields, various shortages of materials, and defections in terms of design. Generally speaking, semiconductor experts agree that the S4 chip is based on fairly mature technology, which makes it unlikely that the production line halted because of design flaws.

Upcoming Launches Could Be Endangered

The sources cited by SemiAccurate’s Charlie Demerjian (hopefully, the name of the blog is no indicator for the authenticity of the rumors it peddles) didn’t state the reasons behind the shutdown, but they did mention that TMSC is promising, in private, to restart the lines by the end of this month.

If the chip maker is able to resume production where it left it (a “simple” restarting of the lines), without major changes to the manufacturing process or equipment, there is a good chance that this hiccup will not affect consumers in any way. Luckily for Qualcomm, the channel inventory of S4 chips was well-stocked, meaning that buyers, companies like Asus or HTC, are not likely to experience significant delays.

On the other side, if the problem proves more serious that TSMC currently admits, it can have serious repercussions on a number of devices based on Snapdragon S4 announced for the second quarter of the year. Among them, we can count:

Note that both ASUS and HTC use the dual-core S4 Krait chip as replacement for the quad-core Tegra 3, in the devices sold in US and other LTE markets.

For now, there’s no official word on the problem from any of the involved players, but we’ll keep you posted as soon as we learn more. Hopefully, it’s all just a rumor – the last thing Android needs is an entire season marred by delayed launches.