Intel CEO sees ’10 good years’ of chip industry growth

Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel, speaks in Santa Monica, Calif., on March 9, 2017, in a photo taken when he was CEO of VMware.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said that he expects 10 “good years” of growth in the semiconductor industry during a panel at CNBC’s Evolve conference on Wednesday.

“We believe the market, the world, is in a very expansionary period,” Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger told CNBC’s Jon Fortt. “I predict there’s 10 good years in front of us, because the world is becoming more digital, and everything digital needs semiconductors.”

The remark suggests that Intel’s investments in chip production, such as plans to spend $20 billion to build a chip fabrication plant in Arizona, will create capacity that will be used even after the current global microchip shortage abates. Intel also recently announced plans to become a “foundry,” or a company that manufactures microchips for other companies.

Gelsinger said that Intel planned to announce an additional “mega fab” in the U.S. or Europe before the end of the year.

Gelsinger was appearing at a CNBC panel alongside Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon. Both started leading their companies earlier this year.

While the two companies are rivals, the CEOs downplayed the competition, and suggested that the two chipmakers could end up partnering on areas where they don’t overlap. Qualcomm makes (among other things) chips that connect to 5G networks, while Intel mainly builds central processing units (CPUs) that provide base computing power.

“You know, we are the unquestioned compute leader, and Qualcomm’s the unquestioned comms leader. Compute meets comms. Right, a lot of new use cases,” Gelsinger said.

Amon said that he believed that Intel’s foundry plan could be an advantage for Qualcomm, which uses outside foundries to make its chips.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for the companies to cooperate. Look, we look at Intel and Qualcomm at true technology companies in the United States, we do a lot of advanced and fundamental research to push the industry forward,” Amon said.

The two companies do share some strategic concerns. They are both likely to be boosted by a package included in a technology bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide $52 billion to fund semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing.

“We’re also very happy about building a much more resilient supply chain, with the on-shoring of semiconductor manufacturing, I think that’s also very important,” Amon said. “You need investment at this order of magnitude for that to happen.”

Both companies are also closely watching rival Nvidia’s purchase of Arm from Softbank for $40 billion. Arm technology is especially important for Qualcomm, because it is essential for designing the kind of low-power microprocessors smartphones use.

The deal is also making chip companies nervous that they would need to license essential intellectual property from a competitor, and is facing regulatory challenges in Europe. Currently, Arm doesn’t make any full chips — it just designs underlying technology. On Monday, an Arm spokesperson told CNBC that the company is “extremely confident” that the deal will be approved.

Over the weekend, Amon told a U.K. newspaper that if the transaction was blocked or Arm otherwise stayed independent, Qualcomm would be interested in investing in Arm.

When asked about Amon’s comment, Gelsinger said: “We are on record saying we’re concerned about the Nvidia-Arm acquisition. And if there were other approaches possible, we’d definitely be interested in understanding them.”

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