Can being fabless and M-SIPS take India to top?

August 6, 2012

The other day, I was engaged in an interesting discussion regarding the Indian semiconductor industry. The obvious question: can fabless semiconductor take India to the top?

Well, it all depends on the definition of ‘top’! Does it mean the role of India-based semiconductor companies as a percentage of the semiconductor market globally? Or, do we take India as a system/gadget maker and thus, as a percentage of that market??

Fabrication is increasingly expensive, much involved and the actual global fabrication players (i.e. those who (also) own a fabrication plant) are declining and will be about three to four companies, and about 10, if we include all off those Chinese fabs.

And, India continues to slip back in having a ((proper) fab!

Now, India’s contributions to global electronics and semiconductors will continue to increase as the MNC subsidiary companies’ hub, and not quite as India-based companies, who are coming out with something that will shake the world in terms of that chip(s)!

If India has domestically consuming gadgets, that are more India specific, that could need devices available less outside. For that purpose alone, a local fab could be essential. However, such requirements appear less each day!

So, yes! Fabless semiconductor could be the way forward for India, in terms of contribution to its economy. However, in terms of India becoming a global player through such chips conceptualized in India, for India and the world, the chance is lesser, for now!

Well, hasn’t the Indian semiconductor industry been shouting ‘fabless’ from the rooftops for some years now? Let us see how India has progressed so far!

One, in terms of having local fab, the answer is NO! Two, in terms of increasing its percentage of contribution to global semiconductors, electronics from India, YES, an increasing role and value (though these are embedded software too).

In terms of having India-based companies working toward developing chips, YES again, in terms of smaller, analog, components that are crucial (like Cosmic Circuits), and YES, in terms of having IP-based companies (like Innovative Logic India for USB3.0) and, YES in terms of increasing service companies.

Many more companies are coming up, and some started directly here in India, such as Apsconnect, Techvulcan, etc. In terms of the actual solutions, YES again, as we have developed solutions in medical, automation, etc.

However, the answer to the question remains NO in terms of having chips come out of India, as yet!

Now, what happens to the fab-lite strategy? Well, it continues, globally. From an India perspective, it is actually in a way, validation of the earlier belief. There is less direct importance to manufacturing from themselves, but more about the actual value add they do OR can do.

Now, given this situation, let us also look at the key growth drivers in Indian electronics, especially, since we are talking about fabless and fab-lite.

The obvious one is to develop solutions for the India market. It is likely that these can be for outside markets as well. This ability will actually make India develop solutions for global markets. Also, these are not semiconductors per se, but, (embedded) solutions based on them.

The above situation can slowly lead to a fabrication and manufacturing ecosystem in India. India should also try to position itself at the higher end of the solutions, markets, services, etc., so that its value contribution can be much more.

Friends, is there a way out of the current situation that India finds itself?

Actually, this is normal process of growth in the chosen path. India continues to think about low end, less (or no) risk options of services. There is only so much growth, revenue, profit possible in those areas unless one goes up the market.

India has not done that as it could be, as an ecosystem in all. India should focus on its own internal requirements. That could mean growth and an increasing role for India, globally, as well!

Besides manufacturing, the big issue lies in marketing of such products. A senior statesman from a leading Indian electronics firm once asked me, “How will India compete in marketing of these products compared to the Chinese or Taiwanese manufacturers, who have more than 30 years of experience in these industries?”

How one wishes that India had at least two wafer fabs by now, what with the technology nodes constantly upping their ante. Even if someone does decide to put up a fab, it will be extremely expensive and has to be cutting-edge. However, as I said, one should never give up hope!

And then, there is the Modified Special Incentive Package Scheme (M-SIPS).

The newly announced M-SIPS is long awaited and much needed. The key is to now turn this ‘gazette notification’ into implementation, by the regulators, and utilisation by the industry.

It is understandable that the government can only do so much, particularly, under the given circumstances. With that kept in mind, this is a yet another good start! Hopefully, instead of just commenting on this policy, the industry sincerely works to benefit from it by properly utilizing it.

Why just think of digitalization of TV! The number of set-top boxes required across the country will be huge! Or, think of electrification of roads all over India. The number of LEDs required are likely to be massive. These are just two examples of the many possible. The Indian electronics industry needs to move fast, and now!

Hasn’t all of this been very easy  to say, difficult to manage! ;)

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