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Analog Devices launches portable lab for electronic circuit design


Analog Devices, as part of its University Program, has launched a personal, affordable and portable lab for electronic circuit design in India at the 26th international conference on VLSI, currently ongoing in Pune, India.

Somshubhro Pal Choudhury, MD, Analog Devices India Pvt Ltd said that miniaturization and portability are the key trends today. Desktops have given way to laptops, and then to smartphones and tablets. The expensive vital signs monitoring equipment in hospitals is giving way to more wearable miniaturized power sipping (and not guzzling) medical gadgets. It is natural that education and training for engineering students start taking a similar route.

What is this personal lab?
What it means that the lab will fit in the palm of your hand and would enable students to learn analog and mixed signal design, anywhere and everywhere not limited by their expensive university/college lab setup where access is fairly limited and the amount of time is limited as well to a few hours every week.

Analog Devices' portable lab.

Analog Devices’ portable lab.

What does it mean for students?
With the lab, now, the students can carry on their experiments in their hostels/dorms and in their classrooms, using this portable lab, run experiments quickly during the class to see how real time real-life how a certain change in circuit impacts the results.

It has all the elements of a complete and expensive Lab setup on this portable kit connected with the student’s laptop. Students would not need equipment like oscilloscopes, waveform generators, logic analyzers and power supplies, expensive equipment that only top universities can afford.

Along with the portable kit, online and downloadable software and teaching materials, circuit simulation tools, online support and community, online textbook, reference designs and lab projects to design to enhance learning as a supplement to their core engineering curriculum are also provided free of charge.

This launch is likely to revolutionize electronic circuit design education and learning among the engineering academic community.

What India now offers to global semicon industry!


This semicon blog post is very timely as I keep getting a lot of questions on the topic: what does India NOW offer to the global semiconductor industry in this recession! In fact, several industry friends asked me this question during the recently held ISA Vision Summit 2009.

By the way, I have two good sessions from the ISA Vision Summit 2009 to blog about, and those will happen after this post! So, stay tuned folks!! :)

Back to the key question: What does the Indian semiconductor industry now offer to the world?

My quest for answers took me to S. Janakiraman, former chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA) and President and CEO-R&D Services, MindTree. Incidentally, Jani Sir, had highlighted some time ago that despite the lack of wafer IC fabs, fabless India continues to shine brightly! And, I agree with him! Even at Dubai last year, during the IEF 2008, Jani Sir had talked about India’s growing might in global semicon. I consider him to be the right person to discuss how India should frame its semicon path forward.

According to Jani Sir, we will remain in a tough economic scenario for some more time to come. “The cost of R&D, be it development or re-engineering or support is critical for the survival of semiconductor companies, but all of this needs to be done at lower costs. India will continue to be a cost leader to get more engineering done at the same cost or the same engineering done at a lower cost. India will continue to be a safe haven for such investments,” he contends.

India itself is a high growth market that will get sizable in the next five years for the semiconductor companies. No one can understand India and the emerging market requirements than the companies who are located here. That can be leveraged by the world to create value for many products that will serve the emerging market needs.

Janakiraman said: “Indian companies are also investing in technologies and creating intellectual properties/building blocks of technologies. These are the essential elements to create products/solutions in a shorter time-frame when the market starts recovering and builds up the appetite for consumption. Hence, Indian companies need to invest more in such areas and position themselves as value-add vendors to source technologies.”

Newer markets such as electronics in healthcare and renewable energy space provides a level-playing field since India’s maturity level is no less inferior to the western world. “We need to invest, and create solutions and products that can establish India not only as a market, but also a leading technology provider for the global market,” Janakiraman advises.

Has Indian semicon lost its way a bit?
Some folks believe that the Indian semiconductor industry has slightly lost its way since the SemIndia fab debacle late last year. I’ve mentioned earlier that hardly anyone wants to speak about having fabs in India at this point of time. Nevertheless, we’ll need to explore whether the Indian semiconductor industry is still on track!

According to Janakiraman, while the global consumption of semiconductors has seen a drastic drop in Q4 of 2008 and is likely to see a negative growth in H1 of 2009, India will be one among the few markets that will see an increasing consumption through the sales of electronic products.

He added: “The captive and design services companies serving the semiconductor market are facing a head wind, no doubt. However, the impact on them is much lesser compared to what is happening in the rest of the world.”

With the Indian semiconductor market continuing to grow, while the global market is in decline, it is possible that India may end up seeing a slower growth, but with an increased market share.

Janakiraman said: “I see the dynamics in the market will lead to India gaining way for the longer term, even though we can’t escape the short term pains. When the recovery starts, India will gather much stronger and faster momentum of growth as it will be a lucrative market for selling and the lower cost market for sourcing for any of the global semiconductor players.”

Finally, what really needs to be done to get the industry in India buzzing? For starters, don’t give up hope!

Added Janakiraman: “Look at it as an opportunity to get into a level-playing field rather than a losing ground. Consider India as a potential future market. Look at and invest in the emerging opportunities such as healthcare/security/energy, and build products like telemedicine, surveillance systems and power management systems. Invest in idea creation and product management systems, and get ready for the new model of business when recovery starts.”

I wonder why Jani Sir didn’t deliver the keynote at the ISA Vision Summit 2009! He is just the right person as far as propping up Indian semicon is concerned!!

Can the Indian semicon industry dream big? (And even buy Qimonda?)


I had ended one of my previous blog posts by saying whether the Indian semiconductor industry was hitting the right notes?

In a continuation to that specific thought, it is necessary to first examine where India stands in the global industry. We are very strong in embedded design and design services — our traditional strengths. While these will hold good for a long time, these are probably not enough to really help India make a serious mark at the global level.

The Indian semiconductor industry, in its current state, needs a rethinking as far as strategy is concerned. Maybe, it cannot survive on chip design alone. Especially in times of downturn, the global semiconductor industry players would be looking for new markets and even customers, rather than low-cost production centers.

Consider these points: In the current economic environment, is the interest in developing new business relations with India really a top priority for overseas companies? Probably not, at this very point of time!

India is also seen more as a source of resource; and the extra resource is the last thing firms need at the moment, given the recessionary climate. What global firms are looking for are new markets and customers, and these points, along with its infrastructure, have been the areas of Indian weaknesses. Maybe, all of this will change, but definitely not overnight! And it needs some more planning.

That leads me to an interesting comment from a reader of my article on CIOL, who went on to suggest that an Indian investor could consider buying Qimonda!

Now that is some serious thought and vision as far as mid- or long-term planning is concerned. However, will there really be any takers for this? If this really happens, fabs can be built in India for memory production. If these fabs perform well, it just might turn out to be a good investment in the mid-term future of the Indian semiconductor industry. Definitely, it will make the world sit up and take notice. The other players would surely give India a look-in thereafter.

Quite a thought! This suggestion of investing in Qimonda is indeed a vision. Can the Indian semiconductor industry develop the courage to show and work toward making this kind of a vision a reality?

What should India do to develop products?
Speaking with Anil Gupta, managing director, India Operations, ARM, is always a pleasure.

I asked him: Does India have the capability to sustain or even build a product development ecosystem? What needs to be done?

He said: “We need the following for this:

* Entrepreneurs committed to product development and willing to take that risk;
* Investors willing to take risk on product development companies;
* Consumption, and this will happen as the economy improves any way, and
* Deep enough technical/technological knowledge/know-how to put reasonably competent end products together.”

According to him, all of these qualities exist in India, and he cited examples of companies such as Sukam, Tejas, etc.

Well, there you have it!

We need enterprising entrepreneurs in India who are committed toward product development and willing to take that risk, especially in semiconductors. We need investors who can believe in things like even buying Qimonda, or some other company. After all, isn’t this what everyone’s been saying: this is the time to buy!

Dream big, India!

TI Beagle Board for Indian open source developers and hobbyists


Texas Instruments recently introduced the pocket-size, USB-powered Beagle Board based on TI’s OMAP3530 applications processor. It features an ARM Cortex-A8 core, 2D/3D graphics engine and high-performance TMS320C64x+ digital signal processor (DSP) core.

This will help open source developers and hobbyists in India to realize their creative design ideas without being restricted by expensive hardware development tools, lackluster performance capabilities, high power consumption or stifled design environments, according to Khasim Syed Mohammed, Lead Developer for Open Platforms, Texas Instruments India Pvt. Ltd.

He added: “It helps us in learning cutting edge technology, innovating new ideas and executing them. Beagle board should be used to explore the growing demand in areas like medical, security, infotainment, navigation, education, signal processing, mobile devices and communication.”

Important for India
This initiative is particularly important in India where students can use the board to learn, show case their efforts and global recognition for their innovations.

Innovators in India should use this opportunity to prototype their ideas using the specification software hardware openly available in a never before package. It is important for the student community to learn new technologies, explore new areas and innovate. This initiative by TI also helps startups in India who want to explore the OMAP hardware but have limited support base for their requirements.

Passionate open source developers and hobbyists in India can realize their creative design ideas without being restricted by expensive hardware development tools, lackluster performance capabilities, high power consumption or stifled design environments.

Open platform innovators have the expandability of desktop machines without the expense, bulk or noise with the Beagle board, which is a powerful, low-cost and fan-less embedded system development board smaller than the size of an index card.

Board named after Beagle
The board is named after a popular breed of dogs, Beagle. It has been designed it to be one of the shortest pocket sized OMAP3530 boards. TI is encouraging the Open community to treat this as a pet, which is easy to carry and can be USB powered so that development is made easy and can perform high end applications at very less power.

Inspired to create a small, open source development board, a small group of enthusiastic engineers worked together on the concept and realization of the Beagle board. The resulting 3×3-inch board bridges desktop and embedded development by allowing developers to use the same peripherals and usage mode for almost limitless expansion. Developers are able to design exactly according to their specifications and collaborate with the community on creative new applications.

Mohammed said: “There is a growing need for development support in the Open Community. The Open Community is capable and passionate to work on industry’s high end processors and architectures and build innovative applications and prototypes for mobile, portable infotainment, portable navigation, medical, home security and many such applications. Another important reason for this initiative was the cost implications in owning a high end platform which was restricting them in exploring many such ideas/applications.”

Beagleboard is a global initiative to address the growing needs of the Open community to help them innovate and explore new areas by providing them access to leading hardware and software, giving them a forum to present their views and thoughts, showcasing their efforts for global appreciation, maintain community’s contribution.

Developers can quickly maximize their design concepts by tapping into the expertise and support of some of the industry’s top Linux programmers already experimenting with the Beagle board. With communities hosting the latest updates and codes, live forums and chats for easy collaboration, developers have easy access to support and exchange of ideas. Users are encouraged to join active, existing communities already participating in the project.

iPhone’s impact minimal on chip market


Future Horizons recently released its Global Semiconductor Monthly Report June 2008.

The first question on everyone’s minds is: Are there finally any signs of the global semiconductor/chip industry turning around. Malcolm Penn, CEO, Future Horizons says that most of the evidence is still anecdotal. The real, clear proof will show itself in Q3-08.

There are a set of market fundamentals that are in remarkably strong form. The global economy still strong, and even showing signs of ‘not getting worse’ in the US. However, there is also tight fab capacity. No matter, the unit demand has been holding firm and ASPs are holding no longer in free fall.

Even the memory market has been holding up much better for now. Penn says that memory ASPs have been ‘flat’ for six months now. So, there has been some upward movement in ASPs. According to Penn, memories have been flat, and are no longer falling. The logic has been increasing, but micro is still falling, and the overall total ICs is trending up.

The impact of Apple’s iPhone 3G has been minimal so far on the chip market. Penn says: “It’s just one item in a very large and complex mix of products. The overall i-phone volume is miniscule,” adds Penn.

With several advancements and announcements happening in the solar/PV segment, it may seem that the solar/PV market is taking over from where the chip market slipped. Penn says that although it certainly is a growth market for the equipment suppliers, but with still very small numbers, it cannot make up for the semicon equipment/capex slowdown.

Future Horizons had earlier forecasted 12 percent growth for the global semiconductor in 2008. With some other analysts revising forecasts, let us examine whether Future Horizons consider a revision as well.

Penn says: “If I were doing the forecast now, I’d have probably settled on 10 percent rather than 12 percent, but this is fine-tuning the maths, and not the analysis. We will not be changing our forecast at the July seminar.

“Our overall message is clear. The growth this year will NOT be 4-5 percent. I really do not care, if 10 percent rather than 12 percent is the final real number. We are not in the business of ‘guessing the right number’, rather, just getting the trends and analysis right.”

Penny yet to drop
Finally, there is a need to take into account the falling cap ex, tight capacity, focus on profits, continuing strong market demand, second half seasonal effects, etc. The forecast tea leaves all seem to be pointing in the same positive direction. Has the worm finally turned for the industry? Future Horizons thinks so! It also believes that the penny has yet to drop and that the impact on the market will be dramatic.

Penn explains that low capex means less new capacity (12 months later). And less new capacity means tighter supply. Tighter supply means price increases and rationing.

In parallel, falling ASPs means less profits. Less profits means an unwillingness to invest. Low ASPs means a reluctance to supply. Eventually, either someone exits the business or they increase the price.

“Positive unit growth (it is, IC units are up 9.2 percent YTD on 2007) and a positive ASP growth (so far 2008 YTD the trend is still negative 3.9, but this will reduce in 2H at least to zero, my guess is slightly positive. It is already only half last year’s decline) means strong value growth hence our belief growth will end up in the ’10 percent’ range,” he adds.

Chip market is beginning to hum again!


Future Horizons has released the May WSTS results today on the global semiconductor industry, which indicate that the chip market is slowly starting to buzz again.

Malcolm Penn, chairman and CEO, Future Horizons, points out that as shown in May’s WSTS results, March’s sale figures romped home with a vengeance – reversing February’s lacklustre performance – with IC sales up 10.8 percent on February and 8.2 percent on the same time last year.

More importantly, the ASPs were up 13.3 percent on February and 2.1 percent on March 2007.

While the increase on February 2008 is merely part of the normal month 3 versus month 2 quarterly patterns, the increase over the same period last year is much more statistically -– and structurally -– significant.

“Finally, the chip market is starting to hum. Now is NOT the time to cut back on the 2008 forecast,” he adds.

Now then, why is the chip market exactly humming? What’s actually happened? Well, nothing specific! It is merely an overall step-by-step general improvement in everything, helped along by the normal seasonal improvement in business in the second half of the year.

So many forecasters and firms have their own forecasts. What happens now if some of these forecasts are cut or revised? Will that affect the market overall market? The answer is simple — a forecast is simply just that — a forecast — not fact! Penn says, “The market will judge whether the other forecasters’ analyses of the market were right, as it wll indeed judge whether we are right too!”

Earlier, I had blogged about Future Horizons forecasting 12 percent growth in 2008 for the global semiconductor industry. Keep an eye on that one!

Further, have the ASPs stabilized, as those are indeed a dodgy lot? Penn feels, “We believe yes, although, there will still be the normal month-on-month variations and wobbles.”

I shall continue this story in my next blog… so keep reading folks! My very warm regards and thanks to all of you who do stop by to read and comment.

VLSI as a career in India


It is a great pleasure to find people, most of whom I don’t even know, either leave comments on my blog, or even leave a post asking for help. First of all, I would like to thank all of those who read my blog posts. Two, I would like to thank a reader, Paul, for his best wishes pertaining to my recovery. Thank you friend!

I would also like to address a query left by a young reader R. Shrivatsan. It is my pleasure to let you all know that he is going to do a PG course in VLSI in Bangalore. There are lot of opportunities in the VLSI space in the country, and it would do India a lot of good if more such youngsters took to this line. India needs people with experience in VLSI!

I am not a career consultant, nor am I qualified enough to give VLSI tips to people. However, I will try and list some sites who can offer that kind of guidance to people interested in VLSI as a career.

A very good place to start looking for VLSI related information is the VLSI Society of India. This is the site that covers all that is related to VLSI. There are some related sites as well, and I am sure it would help those interested in pursuing VLSI as a career. The India Semiconductor Association is also a good place to ask around for VLSI related information.

I’d like to add that the VLSI Society of India signed an MoU with the Visweswaraya Technological University (Belgaum, Karnataka) and the India Semiconductor Association in June 2005 to spread and improve the quality of VLSI education. Under the aegis of this MoU, colleges that offer M.Tech programs in VLSI Design and Embedded Systems have been identified as centers where champions from the industry will work in close cooperation with faculty champions to improve the quality of M.Tech programs.

I also came across certain sites offering some valuable information. The VLSI Chip Design site lists some of the leading ASIC and VLSI design companies in India. Then, there is this nice little blog — India VLSI — which also has some good indications as far as VLSI companies in India are concerned.

Next, there’s a nice site — VLSI Chip Design — which also offers lots of answers, as well as news, jobs and views about the semiconductor industry in India.

Further, there a host of very good verification companies in India, such as EVE, Tessolve, etc. Lot of work is going on in this space as well. I also came across EDA 101 — a new community for electronic design engineers, managers, students and consultants whose career includes use or management of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools in modern digital and analog design.

There is lot of information going around on opportunities in VLSI in India. My best wishes to Shrivatsan, and hope that India gets a great VLSI engineer.

Lastly, I would like to invite knowledgeable people to send me links, etc. on any good sites, education institutes in India, pertaining to VLSI. I will publish the links and information on my blog and also acknowledge those people. Many thanks!

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