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ProMOS invests $10M in image sensor start-up

Posted: 11 Jan 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:CMOS? image sensor? DRAM? NAND? fab?

Taiwan memory maker ProMOS Technologies is getting into the CMOS image sensor business, investing $10 million in a Silicon Valley start-up that will initially target low-density sensors for mobile phones.

Like Micron Technology, ProMOS is looking to leverage its older DRAM production facilities to make the sensors, which will likely be in the 1.3Mpixel range. The first products will probably roll out in 2008, but few other details were available, including the name of the company.

"It's been well established by Micron and then Samsung, that compared to a normal foundry, a DRAM fab is better for a CMOS sensor because both of the products require very low leakage current," said Ben Tseng, vice president of sales and marketing at ProMOS.

Image sensor sales are dominated by handsets. Sales of image sensors for mobile phones will hit $5.9 billion by 2010, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 27.4 percent, up from $1.7 billion in 2005. Unit shipments of image sensors to mobile phones will hit 1.2 billion by 2010, increasing at a CAGR of 19.7 percent, up from 484 million units in 2005, according to iSuppli Corp.

The demand for image sensors in non-cellular applications is also good199 million in 2005but the increasing usage of them in handsets will still widen the gap. By 2010, nearly 1.2 billion sensors will ship for use in handsets, while less than 350 million will be used in other applications.

ProMOS owns Taiwan's oldest 300mm wafer fab, built in 2002. Tseng said that fab is a good candidate for producing the sensors since it is almost fully depreciated. Another possibility is its 200mm wafer fab, which will be shut down in 2008 and transferred to China to lower costs. The sensor subsidiary would also be able to source at other foundries if capacity is tight at ProMOS, he said.

Although it is looking to increase its product lines in sensors and DRAM chips for consumer electronics devices, such as digital TVs and DVD recorders, the company intends to remain true to its commodity DRAM roots, Tseng said. "Still, beyond DRAM, we need to look at what we can do to find some value out of these older fabs," he said.

Another possibility is NAND flash. Tseng said the company has been developing NAND, and will probably move into production some time in the next year or so. Logic products will also be run at the 200mm wafer fab after it is set up in China, he added.

In early December, ProMOS competitor Winbond Electronics said it would invest $15 million in a South Korean company specializing in memory and CMOS image sensors.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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