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Dubai — an emerging silicon oasis

May 23, 2008

Don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and read a headline that heralds the coming of age of Dubai as a silicon frontier! The government of Dubai has been efficiently and effectively taking the necessary steps required to make that happen. It has set up the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) as the engine for propelling Dubai into the knowledge economy.

H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Ruler of Dubai, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, said, “Our vision is to make Dubai Silicon Oasis one of the world’s leading centers of advanced electronics innovation, design and development.”

Economy and business destination
Dubai boasts of a robust economy, the GDP being $53.8B in 2007. The GDP has a very low dependency on oil, which was >5 percent in 2006, a fact not well known to many. While it has a small population of just 1.42 million, people from other nationalities — a total of 185 — comprise a whopping 1.2 million or so.

Dubai is now counted among the world’s top financial centers, boasting of world-class infrastructure, state-of-the-art telecom, and already a home to 139 major Fortune 500 regional offices.

Dubai also boasts of the world’s fastest growing airport, which is located near Deira. A new airport, with six parallel runways, is under construction near Jebel Ali. Dubai also hast two seaports, including the world’s largest man made port in Jebel Ali.

The Dubai Metro project is also underway. If this is not enough to propel the city as a leading business destination, Dubai also has highly superior logistic facilities — all major cargo services operate out of here., besides reliable power and utilities, and state-of-the-art IT and telecom infrastructure.

Some major international investments in the UAE region make very interesting reading. For instance, Abu Dhabi has an 8.1 percent stake in Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Abu Dhabi also has 4.9 percent stake in Citigroup. Dubai Holdings has major investments in Daimler AG (2 percent), EADS (3.12 percent), and Tussauds Group (20 percent). The DIFX has a major stake in both NASDAQ and OMX.

The UAE itself is a regional powerhouse. UAE ranks #28, highest in the Arab world, compared to Israel #19 and Egypt #63. It is also the second largest MENA market for PCs — 594K units vs. 684K for Saudi Arabia, as per IDC.

DSOA’s value propositions
The DSOA was set up to create a universally recognized state-of-the-art technology oasis by facilitating and promoting technology-based industries, and R&D, within a fully integrated community. DSO is a technology-centric free zone. The Dubai Silicon Oasis is spread over 7.2sqkm. In fact, Dr. Jihad Kiwan, director, DSOA, pointed out that the DSOA was large enough to fit in eight wafer fabs!

The DSOA offers multiple value propositions. In terms of financial incentives, it offers full repatriation of capital and profit, 100 percent ownership, zero corporate tax for 49 years, which is renewable, and most importantly, zero income tax for 49 years, also renewable.

If this isn’t enough, the DSOA offers lower cost operations for technology companies, besides subsidized staff accommodations for R&D engineers. Throw in stringent IP laws, direct investment and support the creation of the DSOA tenants’ business ecosystem, and you have the complete package.

Technology hub
The DSO is fast becoming a hub for technology R&D activities in the region, and is also the home of regional HQ of major electronics companies. It currently has 119 tenants, as of early May 2008.

The entire ecosystem is being built within the DSOA. It is an emerging residential area, and will also be home to RIT Dubai, BITS Pilani Dubai, and GEMS Smart School. Add to this theme parks, golf clubs, seven-star hotels, etc. It is more of a fully ‘integrated city” purpose built by the government of Dubai, where its residents can work, live, learn and play.

Silicon and other activities
A variety of activities are promoted at the DSOA. In the microelectronics domain, there are activities related to IC design, EDA tools, semiconductor manufacturing, semiconductor assembly & test, as well as photovoltaics (PV).

Other general activities, not covering the semiconductors, include IT and IT security, telecom equipment, electronic and computer hardware, software development and solutions, nanotechnology, consultancy and business development, logistics, as well as talent development and recruitment.

The DSOA also houses the German Business Park and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Dubai. It has also made alliances with Synopsys, the EDA powerhouse, the American University of Sharjah, UAE University, University of Sharjah, BITS Pilani Dubai and Khalifa University.

The key business benefits of aligning with the DSO include access to a regional pool of talent, zero tax policy, competitive operating costs, and access to a regional market of 2 billion people. It also offers diverse support for creating R&D centers of Excellence.

Dubai Circuit Design
The Dubai Circuit Design (DCD) is one of the tenants within the DSOA with a vision to be the regional leading force for chip design innovation. DCD aims to provide customers with predictable chip design services and create a collaborative environment for its skilled engineers, which fosters creativity and innovation, while empowering them with the DSOA’s state-of-the-art computing infrastructure.

The DCD incidentally has an alliance with Synopsys. It allows the DCD to have easy access to cutting-edge EDA tools, IP, wide range of resources, as well as Design Sphere Access (state-of-the-art data center).

The 10-member chip design team at the DCD comprises various nationalities -– India, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt — has already taped out one 65nm design. The team itself comes from leading semiconductor companies, such as Intel, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Wipro and STMicro, with an average experience of eight to 10 years.

The design team is experienced in areas such as front-end design, back-end physical design, design flow methodology, design for testability (DFT), etc.

The DCD offers a variety of IC design services (RTL to GDSII), supporting all technology nodes — 65nm and below. It also has strong expertise in designing complex, multi-million gate, low power and performance-critical designs. DCD can also undertake foundry interface on behalf of the customers.

It also offers consultancy — on-site or from the design center. This includes areas such as complete DFT solution, physical design, timing/power signoff, physical verification, reliability verification and extraction, full-chip feasibility analysis and area reduction, IP integration, full-chip feasibility analysis and area reduction, etc.

The DCD design team has done an SMC (scalable metrics chip) implementation. This was done using TSMC’s 65nm low power (LP) technology. The encryption/decryption engine has ~ 8 million gates with 70 memory macros.

Other details of the project include dual core voltage (1.2v/0.96v) and IOs at 3.3v, wire bond design with 172 pads, 3.5×3.5 mm2 die size, 333Mhz/100Mhz design speed, as well as DFT (scan, ATPG, memory BIST, JTAG test interface).

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