back to article UK opens national security probe into 2021 sale of local wafer fab to Chinese company

The UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has commenced a full national security assessment of Newport Wafer Fab’s acquisition by China-controlled entity Nexperia. The Fab is the UK’s largest chipmaking facility and produces up to 32,000 wafers a month. In August 2021 it was acquired by a Dutch outfit …

  1. werdsmith Silver badge

    What took Kwast so long?

    1. Trigun

      Incompetence or the ideology that it's fine to allow anything to be sold - even things that should be classed as vital to UK national security and/or interests. It does sometimes feel like we have sleep deprived, drug addled fools at the wheel.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Unhappy

        The rest of the time we are certain that's the case.

        1. Youngone Silver badge

          When Boris was campaigning on "getting Brexit done" every single person living in Britain was aware that he has been sacked from every previous job he held for lying.

          If they weren't aware they should have been, because the man's trousers are constantly on fire.

          They also know that the Tory party are generally the party of corruption and sleaze because of the evidence of the past 40 years or so.

          Nonetheless you collectively gave Boris an increased majority and a mandate to continue to lie and screw around and you've got what you asked for.

          This sort of nonsense is entirely predictable.

          It is actually pretty funny. But then I don't have to live through it, so its easy me to laugh.

    2. IGotOut Silver badge

      Easy.

      It's a Dutch company, so that's fine. No need for me to read the rest of the report. File under "OK to sell"

    3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      The cheque to Boris just bounced.

  2. tel2016

    Is it too late?

    I don't know what stage the takeover is currently at, but assuming that Nexperia just wants access to the IP, wouldn't that mean that they already had time to copy it to chinese servers?

    If so, reversing the takeover would be meaningless, except that Nexperia would get their money back, and the IP for free.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Is it too late?

      I doubt that a 200 nm fab has any meaningful IP to offer. The lava bread in the canteen is probably about it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is it too late?

        They don't do lavabread in the 'Port'.

        KFC all the way clart....Safe!

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Is it too late?

      Or perhaps they just wanted to do the same as when Rover was taken over, ie take the kit and axe the factory

  3. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
    Holmes

    Process nodes

    A common misconception, which is alluded to in the article, is that only the shiny 2, 5, 7nm nodes and so forth are the cutting edge.

    The Newport fab are experts in power MOSFETs (a critical component in many applications) and are part of the Compound Semiconductor Consortium.

    For every shiny new processor / ASIC / <new shiny du jour> there are dozens to hundreds of support components; the global supply chain problems in the automotive market are more for these support components than processors.

    Compound semiconductors are (currently) somewhat niche but it is a very fast growing area.

    Please remember that the very small geometry nodes are actually a relatively small part of the electronics industry.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: Process nodes

      Good point. Not many are aware of the solid state circuit breakers coming soon. No, not the ones that will do amps, or even tens of amps. How about 2000A, or 4000A, at 600V?

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Process nodes

        Hmmm. That's beggining to encroach on Ignitron territory.

        (for the youngsters)

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignitron

        P,S. although they are 'switch on' only devices.

        1. Lis

          Re: Process nodes

          @ Will Godfrey

          Hmm, when my son is at home, all the switches in my house are "switch on" only devices. Similar thing with doors. They seem to be open only devices.

          Cheers... Ishy

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Process nodes

      There is a ton of use for processors made in 40nm and higher process nodes. For instance, microcontrollers don't have to be made using 5nm tech.

      There is a great shortage of microcontrollers. If we could spin up 40nm fabs, that would be a great win.

    3. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Process nodes

      Sure, I don't doubt its ability to produce useful products, but that's not the concern here.

      Does it have any technology that China isn't capable of producing already?

      Is there any advantage of buying Newport over building a brand new facility apart from the fact that Newport already exists and is able to produce stuff right now?

      China already has the ability to produce stuff on a 14nm process node (SMIC), which is not the latest and greatest, but, as far as I can see, a lot more advanced than what Newport can do.

      1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Process nodes

        If you look at what Newport are into, it is not an ordinary CMOS foundry.

        They are making compound semiconductors which are at the core of a lot of very new stuff(such as high power distribution in electric vehicles and RF power amps for 5G base stations) and they are also the basis for some advanced photonics.

        Totally different process and applications and definitely extremely useful to say nothing of being a very attractive IP target.

        The world of electronics is far larger than just microprocessors and memory devices on sub 5nm processes.

  4. Dave 126 Silver badge

    More technical details

    Looking for the above, I nipped back to the Reg comments for a previous article on this company. The comment then by @ IvorTE got my interest. Since no fellow commentards contradicted him I thought I'd copy it here, to see if anyone else can confirm, deny or expand upon it (hopefully with more technical details):

    I think the author has missed that Newport is a compound semiconductor fab, not a CMOS silicon foundry. So measuring strategic importance in nm is missing the point. CS can offer orders of magnitude improvements in power and speed over silicon even though it is on larger geometries. Today it is used where silicon can not play, ultra high freq radio and high power delivery applications

    1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: More technical details

      For microwave, GasAs (Gallium Arsenide), GaAlAs (Gallium Aluminium Arsenide) and SiGe (Silicon Germanium) are common compounds.

      Photonics also uses compound semiconductors.

      There are other areas where various compounds are displacing Silicon (or providing a capability that cannot be provided) such as GaN (Gallium Nitride - extremely efficient Si MOSFET replacements that provide very high efficiency switch mode power supplies for instance) and Silicon Carbide (SiC) which excels at high voltages and is often used in multi kV power.

      So the post is totally correct.

      Semiconductors are not just Silicon.

  5. Howard Sway Silver badge

    We welcome overseas investment, but it must not threaten Britain's national security

    I'm not entirely sure how this investment in some useful, but fairly mundane microprocessors could threaten national security. I can see quite clearly how the bad headlines about the government casually permitting the sale of another good tech business for less money than an undeprerforming premier league footballer might have influenced him.

    Global Britain is open for business! Until a foreigner takeover generates bad headlines! Then it's partially closed again!

    Such are the perils of claiming to combine buccaneering global free trade, whilst simultaneously practising populist economic nationalism.

    1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: We welcome overseas investment, but it must not threaten Britain's national security

      if the investor is neither European or Asiatic, but a BJ friend, everything is ok.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: We welcome overseas investment, but it must not threaten Britain's national security

      Start your new fabless CPU company in Global Britain.

      Admittedly you will be limited by not being able to hire any european employees but at least when you come to sell we will block the sale if we need a distraction in the tabloids that week.

      But don't worry you can continue as a purely British company benefiting from our trade deals with the Faroe isles and Narnia

    3. Yes Me Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: We welcome overseas investment, but it must not threaten Britain's national security

      The best way to threaten national security is to keep on pretending that China isn't the most important country in the world and that we shouldn't cooperate with them.

      For the sake of protecting the USA from the consequences of its own decline, we'll have a tiff with China that we're sure to lose.

  6. Tubz

    Should be winding back the sale of our energy companies to overseas entities and even nationalising as national security resource, vital to stability of the national, as being proven now !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

      You Communist. Get Out!

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Fortunately we sold all our water companies to the French. If you can't trust the French government to always act in the best interests of the British state - what can you trust ?

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          What can I trust to have Britain's best interests at heart? Why, the British government of cou.... oh, wait. Ahh. Oh dear, this doesn't look good.

    2. tip pc Silver badge

      Trains, water, sewage and airports should have a majority domestic owner too.

  7. VoiceOfTruth

    Woof woof woof

    How do you like our barking today, master? British politicians doing America's work. Thanks for the bone. Woof woof woof.

    These same politicians would sell the whole country for a few dollars.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: These same politicians would sell the whole country for a few dollars.

      Chances are they would, but that's just any sociopathic politician or corporate executive anywhere in the world.

      Flogging off strategically useful, never mind important, business assets to any other country is usually a dumb idea, whether that other country is Holland, China, USA or anywhere else. Doesn't mean Murica is pulling any strings here.

  8. steelpillow Silver badge
    Holmes

    The real question

    is how much spyware/pwnware processor hardware you can embed in a 200 nm commodity chip that also has built-in networking so it can be conveniently "administered" from China.

    IoT is too much like Idiot with di missing.

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: The real question

      We are looking at Pentium 2/3 era (late 1999) technology here.

  9. pimppetgaeghsr

    Just the results of a modern service based economy. Sale of IP and national interests is certainly a service the UK government now offers. So many office workers yet so many useless skills to a modern high tech demanding economy, it seems there are more recruiters these days than people actually able to do skilled work. It's like one big perpetual motion machine, there are skills shortages because we have lots of degree educated recruiters, so companies can't find anyone and outsource the work to consultancies to let their employees focus on the revenue generating work, which only incentivises more recruitment jobs and less people getting high demand skills. The result is a high amount of employment and a chronic lack of real productivity. And anything of any real strategic importance is sold to the first bidder.

    You wouldn't have any trouble finding a firm able to sell off assets and draw up the contracts for such deals but what happens when there is nothing left to sell?

    Something tells me higher interest rates are going to render off a lot of the fat.

    1. VoiceOfTruth

      -> Sale of IP and national interests is certainly a service the UK government now offers.

      There it is. The government are pimps. They don't do anything themselves because they have useless degrees.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Many of them studied history - which is actually pretty useful for them given they are trying to return the country to the 1930s.

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

          Re: return the country to the 1930s

          Nah. Not fedual enough. Try 1730s.

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: return the country to the 1930s

            Dammit. Feudal. Not fedual. Missed the edit window by a wide margin. So much for my proof reading skills.

          2. stiine Silver badge

            Re: return the country to the 1930s

            Wouldn't the 1050's be better?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: return the country to the 1930s

              It would give them only 16 years before the french turn-up and take over, so probably about right.

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      More like regulate employment and slap high tax on it, so that SMEs will have hard time even starting doing anything, while let big corporations bypass all that by outsourcing employment and taxes to regimes that don't care about workers and happily tax coming profits at a discounted rate.

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