Fabless AI chip makers Rebellions and Sapeon to merge as competition heats up in global AI hardware industry

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South Korea’s fabless AI chip trade noticed a slew of fundraising occasions during the last couple of years as demand for {hardware} to energy AI purposes skyrocketed, and it appears the house is already consolidating. Two of the nation’s outstanding fabless AI chip startups, Rebellions and Sapeon, have agreed to merge, the businesses stated on Wednesday.

The merger is a strategic transfer by Rebellions and Sapeon geared toward main the fabless AI chip market in South Korea to tackle international rivals like Nvidia.

The merged entity might go public within the subsequent two to a few years, in response to two trade sources aware of the businesses’ plans who requested to not be named.

The businesses stated in a press release that they see the following two to a few years as a “golden time” for South Korea to win the worldwide AI chip market. As well as, because of the quickly rising demand for neural processing models (NPUs), they intend to strengthen their NPU enterprise after the merger.

Certainly, the deal comes at a pivotal second within the international chip trade.

Nvidia at present dominates this market, accounting for greater than 97% of the worldwide marketplace for specialised AI chips, because of its early leap into offering knowledge heart providers and software program to assist different firms construct giant language fashions and energy AI purposes. Nonetheless, for firms like Rebellions and Sapeon, there may be sufficient floor to be gained by shifting now: Compute is getting costlier as demand has shot up and chip availability has declined, and AI firms are already making an attempt to interrupt away from their dependence on Nvidia for {hardware}.

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Apple last month said it will be utilizing its personal chips to energy its AI knowledge facilities, and others like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are already constructing their very own {hardware} for AI purposes. In the meantime, Intel, AMD, Google, Meta, ARM, Broadcom and others have banded collectively to develop a typical to attach AI accelerator chips utilized in servers, in a transfer going instantly in opposition to Nvidia, which has its personal mechanism for connecting GPUs in servers.

The way in which forward

Rebellions and Sapeon didn’t disclose the merger ratio, however stated they’ll quickly start due diligence, which can take a couple of month, and intention to shut the transaction within the second half of 2024. The Rebel staff will lead the administration of the enterprise, and all staff of each firms might be becoming a member of the brand new entity. Rebel has 130 employees, and Sapeon has greater than 100 staff in South Korea and the U.S.

Two of South Korea’s largest telecommunications firms, SK Telecom and KT, will proceed as stakeholders within the merged entity, as will the second largest reminiscence chip maker on the earth, SK Hynix. Sapeon is backed by SK Telecom and SK Hynix, and Rebel is owned by KT.

It isn’t clear if Rebellions will proceed its partnership with Samsung Electronics, which competes with SK Hynix within the semiconductor house, after the merger. Earlier this yr, Rebellions informed TechCrunch that the startup’s newest AI chip, Insurgent, would use Samsung’s 4-nanometer fabrication course of and be deployed in Samsung’s HBM3E reminiscence chips, that are used for constructing and working giant language fashions.

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In the meantime, KT in 2023 included Atom, Rebellions’ datacenter-focused AI chip, into its cloud-based NPU infrastructure. Rebellions stated it will manufacture this specific NPU chip utilizing Samsung’s 5-nanometer fabrication course of. Atom is designed for knowledge facilities and language fashions of as much as 7 billion parameters, whereas Insurgent targets bigger fashions.

The announcement comes roughly 4 months after Rebellions raised a $124 million Collection B that valued it at roughly $658 million.

Based in 2016 and spun out in 2022 from SK Telecom, Sapeon builds NPU {hardware} and full-stack software program. Last November, the company launched a 7-nanometer AI chip, X330 NPU, for autonomous automobiles, and earlier this yr, it said it would develop an on-device AI chip focusing on the sting computing market. Sapeon final raised more than $45 million in a Series A in August 2023, reaching a valuation of over $380 million.

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