What is a Multi-Component Semiconductor (MCO)?

Wednesday, Dec 03, 2014, 3:30pm

by Semiconductor Industry Association

Following a key breakthrough between China and the United States on the sidelines of the APEC Leaders meeting in Beijing in November, negotiators return to Geneva tomorrow to resume, and hopefully conclude, an expanded Information Technology Agreement that extends duty-free coverage to approximately 200 new technology product lines, including next-generation semiconductors known as multi-component semiconductors (MCOs).

But what exactly is an MCO? This article is intended to explain the what, why, how, and who of MCOs.



An MCO combines one or more integrated circuits with one or more discrete semiconductor devices (such as a sensor, oscillator, or resonator) into a single integrated package. Put more simply, an MCO is a single semiconductor device that performs complex or multiple functions previously done by two or more semiconductor devices, thanks to the variety of components integrated into a single unit.

The MCO definition proposed for the ITA includes four criteria for an MCO to be an MCO. All four of the criteria must be met for a device to be considered an MCO:

  • Must include an integrated circuit: Existing types of integrated circuits include monolithic ICs, hybrid ICs and multichip ICs, all of which are already covered under the ITA. An MCO must include at least one of these types of ICs.
  • Must be multi-component: In addition to an IC, and MCO must include one or more semiconductor component like a sensor, oscillator or resonator. The list of components that make an MCO “multi-component” is limited by the definition. The inclusion of such component(s) is the differentiating factor between an MCO and a multi-chip IC
  • Must be indivisible: In in other words, you can’t separate the IC and components without ruining the entire device. MCOs are not modular, they are integrated into a single package.
  • Must be for assembling onto a PCB or other carrier: In other words, like any semiconductor device, an MCO is not an end-product. It must be incorporated into an end-product (of which the applications are many) for it to function.


Technological advancements and new semiconductor applications have resulted in three megatrends in the semiconductor industry:

  • Miniaturization of integrated circuit and similar components
  • Diversification of components combined into one package
  • Integration of previously independent functions into one device

Miniaturization, diversification, and integration can be accomplished on a single integrated circuit by increasing the number and types of circuits on a single silicon chip, or by placing multiple and/or different components inside of a single package.  There are a variety of cost and technical considerations that would dictate which approach would offer a better solution for the customer. MCOs thus represent a natural evolution in semiconductor technology – incorporating new combinations of integrated circuits and discrete components. MCOs represent a natural evolution in semiconductor technology – incorporating combinations of integrated circuits and discrete components- driven by these megatrends and consumer demand for greater functionality, performance, and miniaturization, all with lower power consumption.


It took the worldwide semiconductor industry six years to arrive at a consensus definition that covers MCOs. The ITA MCO definition reflects the input and compromises of the world’s major semiconductor producing regions, China, Chinese Taipei, Europe, Japan, Korea, and the United States.

Just like any other semiconductor, MCOs are incorporated into almost every electronic product imaginable. MCO applications include smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, ICT-enabled medical devices, notebooks, e-readers, tire pressure monitors, hand-held projectors, and a range of applications across industries.


All countries with a strong semiconductor presence produce MCOs, including the EU, Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and others. As the global leader in the semiconductor market (with 51% market share), U.S. companies today are the leading supplier for all types of semiconductor products, including MCOs. However, as the semiconductor manufacturing chain advances, many countries will undoubtedly increase their capabilities to design and/or produce more MCOs. Specialized semiconductor devices like MCOs will never be sourced solely from a single country or company – they are complex products of innovation that are not confined to any one region.  This embodies the very nature of our industry and what the ITA is all about.