Bitcoin could keep smartphone sales alive this year. At least, so we can extrapolate from statements by executives of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the provider of mobile applications processors for Apple’s iPhones.
In statements reported by The Nikkei Asian Review, chairman Morris Chang stated that he expected revenues to improve by between 10 percent and 15 percent, better than the 9.1 percent growth of 2017. Chang mentions cryptocurrency mining and artificial intelligence services as the drivers for smartphone sales.
Beijing-based start-up Bitmain, the world’s largest firm working on chips and other solutions to mine for blockchain data, now ranks as one of TSMC’s biggest customers. One analyst estimates that Bitmain accounted for roughly 4 percent of TSMC’s revenue in the third quarter — about as much money as NVIDIA poured in.
All told, TSMC will not dedicate production capacity specifically for mining chips. The price of a single Bitcoin rocketed from $900 this time last year to nearly $20,000 in mid-December before collapsing back to around $11,000 this week. The concern is that the volatile market and government action will deter a consistent growth in demand for such chips. It should be noted that as cryptocurrency usage increases regardless of the relative price that the need for mining will also increase.
There also remains concern for the overall mobile market as premium smartphone shipments will give way to more mid-range and low-end devices this year. TSMC co-chief executive C.C. Wei predicted that revenue from the company’s main export will be similar to what it made last year. It’s not clear how much impact projected poor sales of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X have had to affect the company’s forecast.