Is the Indian semicon industry losing the plot?


Every time I see a new electronics or related segment being talked about in India — be it medical electronics/healthcare, RFID and smart cards, or for that matter, telecom, why do I get this feeling that the Indian semicon industry is slowly losing the plot? One hopes not!

The Indian technology industry is talking about practically everything, except semiconductors. Yes, I know we have a great pool of designers who work in the MNCs. Also, there are plenty of Indian design services companies doing excellent work (for others?). India’s strength in embedded is folk lore. Despite all of this, we are, where we were a few years ago!

Back in 2007, I’d done a story on how there were very remote chances of having a fab in India. Back then, some industry folks expressed  optimism that the fab story was not dead! However, that story is well and truly dead and buried, as of now! Today, no one wants to talk about a fab — fine, then!

Let’s do a reality check on India’s semiconductor score-card!

So far, India has not even managed to have a small foundry, forget about having a fab! Nor has the Indian industry managed to develop, nurture and build many (or any?) fabless companies of note. Can you tell me how many Indian fabless semicon companies have come up in the past five years? How many globally known Indian semicon product start-ups are there in our country for that matter? Okay, how many Indian semicon product start-ups are there in our country?

For that matter, how many ATMP units have come up in India? I do recall some industry folks mention in the past that there will be some ATMP units happening. Where are they? Okay, who, in India, is even trying to develop IP libraries?

Even if there is some success in building electronic product companes — that is and will be limited success! Neither is there any evidence of cutting-edge R&D being done in India. Please do not mix this up with the work being done by the Indian arms of the various MNCs.

Why, I don’t even think that the industry-academia partnership has developed substantially, leave alone mature!

If medical electronics, or some other related area, were to go on and succeed in the near future, it would be counted as a success for the Indian electronics industry, and not for the Indian semicon industry! Even if this did happen and it was counted as a ‘semicon success, can anyone make a guess as to how many of the chips going into such devices would be actually made in India – by Indian firms?

I had mentioned back in Feb. 2009  that “Can the Indian semicon industry dream big? (And even buy Qimonda?)! To refresh your memory, there was a large 300mm fab up for sale in Dresden, Germany. Well, even that never happened, or well, the Indian industry did not think it to be of much importance!

Back in August 2009, there was news about Texas Instruments (TI) placing a bid of $172.5 million for buying Qimonda’s 300mm production tools from its closed DRAM fab. While this highlighted TI’s focus on building the world’s first 300mm analog fab, I can’t stop wondering: what would have happened had an Indian investor actually bought Qimonda’s fab!

Perhaps, it would be better for the Indian semicon industry to stick to its globally known strengths of providing excellent semiconductor design services and embedded design services. At least, there will be clear direction in these areas.

Of course, there exist huge opportunities in all of the areas (or gaps) that I’ve touched upon.

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