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Is the timing right for having fabs in India?


Several majors have announced their Fab-lite strategies, and so, IDMs will become likely become fabless units of tomorrow. In this scenario, is the timing for setting up fabs in India right? What is the direction ahead for the Indian semiconductor industry?

Commenting on the upcoming fabs in India, Anil Gupta, MD, India Operations, ARM, said: “Yes, we do need the fabs to complete the ecosystem. The question is: Is the timing right? We have our own strengths. Why not capitalize on those?”

It is important to determine what India is doing as part of the global semiconductor industry. “What are we doing as an industry? Fabs are definitely a good idea. We also need to address things like — can we make products and more importantly, should we make products!”

Gupta pointed out Infineon, NXP, etc., had announced Fab-Lite strategies. Even Texas Instruments was moving to a Fab-Lite strategy. “IDMs are going to be the fabless units of today and tomorrow,” he added.

Coming back to the point of manufacturing products in India, he said: “We need to be able to conceptualize products for the mass market. Are we willing to take the risks? With services, the risks are significantly lesser. Companies are innovating on their service models. On the product side, India should do that as well. Maybe, we will do it too.”

As for the industry growth drivers, consumer applications would become even more atractive. “There are mobile phones, gaming applications and others, which will drive growth,” he said.

Yield management crucial
According to Gupta, yield management is crucial. While designers are well aware of yield management, the adequate tools are not yet there in place. The direct link
has yet to be established for implementing DFM/DFY technique.

Designers are always looking to prove how to improve yield. It is critical for designers to have access to the relevant information that would indicate that, say, some modification in design would lead to 10 percent increase in yield. Gupta said, “As much as we move to 45nm, to 32nm to 22nm and so on, the problems are going to become more complex and magnify.”

SOI addresses power, performance scaling issues
There is the silicon-on-insulator technology or SOI. SOI is said to improve power consumption, reduces leakage and allows better performance. Implementation of SOI technology is one of several manufacturing strategies employed to allow continued miniaturization of microlectronic devices.

ARM acquired SOISIC, a leading company in physical IP based on SOI technology last year. The move has enabled ARM to strengthen its physical IP portfolio by adding SOI technology.

“SOISIC’s niche is in developing SOI based IPs,” Gupta added. SOI addresses the power and performance scaling issues associated with traditional bulk CMOS processes as they migrate to ever-smaller geometries. “It is very clear that design starts for 45nm – 32nm – 22nm etc. will be very low. Each process geometry has to give returns,” Gupta added.

Role of IPs
So what’s the role of IP in the gameplan? ARM is trying to enable that on technology side with SOI and bulk CMOS. He noted: “You need building blocks to make things happen faster. From an IP perspective, analog IP is very, very closely tied to the process. In that respect, IP has a huge role to play.”

The semiconductor IP is said to be a $1.5 billion market. ARM currently has 30 percent share of that market.

From an Indian perspective, there are Indian companies who are building and also re-using IPs, as does ARM. However, ARM also has royalties for its IPs. On usage, Gupta said that physical IPs had greater challenges regarding re-use.

Mali55, Mali200 from India
Commenting on ARM’s India operations, Gupta said ARM India develops physical IPs, processors, etc. “There’s so much of verification and testing involved to make things work,” he added. ARM India currently has a workforce of 300+.

ARM India has done work on 65nm as well as physical IPs for 45nm. “We are also doing studies on 32nm,” added Gupta. ARM India released the Mali55 and Mali200 processors.

The ARM Mali200 graphics processor unit (GPU) delivers 3D graphics for next-generation mobile games on smartphones and other high-end portable devices. With a very small footprint, the ARM Mali55 processor brings rich 3D graphics capabilities to low-cost feature phones for the first time.

Besides these, a lot of software — embedded, drivers, stacks, etc., are being developed in India. ARM India also provides lot of support for various design implementations. “We have over 2,000 ARM certified professionals in Bangalore alone and over 7,000 in India,” he said.

ARM India has two other programs. Companies like HCL, Sasken, Mindtree, Wipro, etc., are ARM approved design centers (ADCs) or partners. “If we have any new product, we ensure that our partners become acquainted with those,” said Gupta. The other program is the ATC (training). Cranes Software is ARM’s approved ATC.

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