Thanks to Sheryl Gulizia, senior manager, Worldwide Public Relations, Synopsys Inc., I was able to connect with John Chilton, senior VP of Marketing and Strategic Development, Synopsys. We discussed the global (and Indian) outlook for the semiconductor industry in detail. Dr. Aart De Geus was apparently away on a business meet.
According to Chilton, the semiconductor industry has repeatedly stared down the daunting technical challenges caused by the necessity of Moore’s Law and the inevitability of the laws of physics. Every time, the industry has risen to the challenge and delivered silicon that is smaller, faster and cheaper, and the design and systems companies that were quickest to exploit the new technologies reaped the great benefit.
Power dissipation challenging
One trend that has proven to be especially challenging is power dissipation. Although transistors get smaller, faster and cheaper, chip power keeps increasing. Increasing power and decreasing size could have caused device-melting energy densities, but the industry rose to the challenge with more innovative physics along with smarter design methods and tools.
This time around, the challenge seems more fundamental, with the new nodes offering either better performance or lower power, but not both at the same time, and maybe not at a lower cost. The fundamental driving factor behind innovation has been smaller, faster and cheaper transistors, with the cheaper part making the migration a no-brainer. Unfortunately, this time the new node is not expected to be cheaper.
App processors to drive move to 20nm
Application processors for mobile and cloud-based services will drive the move to 20nm. These applications have the volume and power/performance needs to justify the expected investment required to embrace the 20nm node. Recent product announcements at CES underscore the emergence of the ‘cloud to mobile client’ trend in consumer electronics.
Dell and Wyse unveiled the project Ophelia. Ophelia is a USB memory stick-sized thin client that will plug into any compatible TV or Dell monitor. The device will boot into an Android OS and turn any TV into a portal to access a computer somewhere else. Ophelia works by taking advantage of the MHL protocol and works with any MHL-enabled display. Over 100-million MHL-compliant chipsets have already been shipped, so the opportunities for this type of interaction are growing.
MHL, along with established standards such as USB and HDMI or even future short-range wireless standards, will enable consumers to plug their cell phone into any monitor or TV and consume content via their phone on a larger, more satisfying display.
Coincidentally, on the same day, Samsung announced consumer displays that utilize voice and gesture recognition. These emerging technologies will begin to redefine the way we interact with the cloud. Instead of carrying a laptop, you may end up waving and talking to a TV. In a futuristic presentation, Lexus showed a prototype of a laser-scanning system that is small enough to be mounted on a grill and makes 3-D maps of the environment surrounding a car. This kind of embedded vision technology will make its way into more devices as processor performance increases.
Chilton said that developing such complex systems and applications require a robust verification solution. Chip designers already use complex and exhaustive test benches to test individual blocks and subsystems. Verification engineers will need to move up to the next level and handle the full verification of the SoC within a target system.
Verification of an integrated system will require an integrated verification solution that includes not just simulation but also acceleration, emulation and formal debug. A new, integrated verification platform should combine these existing discrete technologies to offer the productivity needed to realize complex systems with predictable, manageable schedules.
Delivering the hardware simultaneously with a working OS and development kit will require virtual prototypes, which will be used by software developers prior to the release of working hardware.
What does 2013 have in store for the global (and Indian) seniconductor industries? Will it do better than 2012 or will it be even? I had a chat with Somshubhro Pal Choudhury, managing director, Analog Devices India Pvt. Ltd recently on this subject. First, I asked about the trends in the global semiconductor industry.
Choudhury said: “Consumer and telecom have driven the growth incessantly for the past decade for the semiconductor industry and will continue to do so. Over the next three years, industry analysts estimate the global industry will grow approximately 6 percent 2013-2016 CAGR.
“Portability and wireless connectivity will continue to drive a significant portion of the industry growth. Increasingly, automotive market is becoming very lucrative as the quantity of electronics going inside automobiles is increasing phenomenally in safety, power train, smart vision and fuel efficiency applications, not to mention the use of wireless connectivity.
“Medical electronics is getting smaller, smarter with better diagnostic technologies while the demand is increasing with aging population, increased longevity and lifestyle oriented diseases. Applications such as in-home patient monitoring will use wireless connectivity to stay in contact with physicians and emergency services.
“Industrial automation, energy and defense sectors are growing with more factory automation, solar energy focus worldwide, electronic warfare and so on. Intelligent, connected, and energy-efficient systems are leading to higher electronics content, with sensors and motors distributed throughout the industrial complex being connected wirelessly.
“Finally, the wireless and wired networks that transmit and receive all these channels of data will be a major driver of growth over the next few years with proliferation of 4G and increasing amount of fiber.”
Outlook for 2013
How is the outlook for 2013 going to shape up? What are the technologies likely to make an appearance and why?
According to Chowdhury, the 4G LTE deployment should be a major applications area driving 2013. To that end RF, high-speed signal processing, and power management will be important technologies to advance the price/performance of 4G networks. MEMS technology continues to find new applications in medical, defense and industrial applications over and beyond the tablets, handsets, gaming consoles and airbag sensors in cars.
Will there be further consolidations within the industry? He added that M&A will continue to play a role in the industry. The companies in the industry are not hampered by their financial abilities to acquire businesses, but identifying complementary opportunities and successfully integrating them is not without risk.
And how does the global EDA industry look like doing in 2013? As per Choudhury, the EDA industry continues to innovate and that pace will continue in 2013. These innovations are not only driven by the challenges of moving to the next node, but also for mixed signal designs, in analog-digital co-simulation and verification domain.
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!
According to Dr. Walden (Wally) C. Rhines, chairman and CEO, Mentor Graphics Corp., while fabless startups have declined substantially in the West during the past decade, they are growing in India.
Given the time required to grow large fabless companies in the past, India should not be discouraged by current progress. India has key capabilities to stimulate growth of fabless companies, such as:
* Design services companies.
* Design engineering expertise and innovation.
* Returning entrepreneurs.
* Educational system.
Semiconductor frustrations abound! I recall a discussion in mid-2005 where an industry expert mentioned that fabless was the way forward for the Indian industry! Between then and now, fabs were supposed to come up, but they failed. Nevertheless, one must not give up hope!
As of now, there seems to be too much focus on services, multinational company dominance, perceived lack of progress, perceived lag compared to China, lack of foundry infrastructure, and no clear dominant indigenous Indian company.
Of the top 50 semiconductor companies in 2011, 12 are fabless and four are foundries. Fabless IC revenue has been growing at 17 percent CAGR since 1997 and will continue to grow. Even the fabless market has been gaining in the overall market. However, the fabless revenue is said to be highly concentrated. He added that the leading fabless companies specialize and average ~23 years since formation. Also, the VC funding for fabless semiconductor companies has been declining in the West. As for the number of fabless companies, the GSA put it at 1,200 companies, at the end of 2010.
According to Dr. Rhines, the semiconductor IP market would grow to about $3,707 million by 2015, at a CAGR of 14 percent. The leading semicon IP players specialize and average 22 years in business (similar to fabless).
Now, India is said to be among the top five semiconductor design locations worldwide (SIP + fabless + design services). Also, India is a leading source of semicon IP, accounting for 5.3 percent globally. From the looks of it, India seems to have built a foundation for a fabless future. India can well become the next great fabless incubator! Read more…