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The UK’s Semiconductor Strategy: Can It Deliver?

The UK’s semiconductor industry has long been overshadowed by larger and more established players such as Japan, South Korea, and the US. But the UK government is now looking to revive this industry and create a world-leading chip sector.

However, developing such an industry is easier said than done. It takes years, even decades, to establish the institutions and infrastructure necessary to build a successful semiconductor industry. For instance, ASML, Imec, TSMC, ARM, Samsung, Intel, QUALCOMM, and other centres of semiconductor excellence have taken 30 or 40 years or more to reach their current level of influence.

Despite the challenges, the UK government is under pressure to create a semiconductor strategy that can revive the country’s industry. While some proponents are calling for more funding, they haven’t been clear on how this funding would be spent or why it would make a significant difference. They’re also threatening to relocate to the US or Europe to get funding, but companies have to comply with stringent conditions to get funding from current national support programmes, which are more focused on process rather than design, which is not a UK strength.

The UK cannot compete with Japan’s $37 billion investment in acquiring 2nm process technology, nor can it magically create a process colossus like TSMC or a lab with the skills of Imec. The UK also cannot create an equipment company like ASML or conjure up another ARM overnight.

Despite these challenges, the UK government is offering £1 billion to subsidize the industry, which reflects what can realistically be achieved. It is clear that creating a world-leading chip industry is a challenging task, but with the right strategy, funding, and time, it is not impossible. The UK can play to its strengths, invest in design, and collaborate with international partners to create a successful semiconductor industry.