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IEF 2013: New markets and opportunities in sub-20nm era!

October 15, 2013 1 comment

Future Horizons hosted the 22nd Annual International Electronics Forum, in association with IDA Ireland, on Oct. 2-4, 2013, at Dublin, Blanchardstown, Ireland. The forum was titled ‘New Markets and Opportunities in the Sub-20nm Era: Business as Usual OR It’s Different This Time.” Here are excerpts from some of the sessions. Those desirous of finding out much more should contact Malcolm Penn, CEO, Future Horizons.

Liam BritnellLiam Britnell, European manager and Research Scientist, Bluestone Global Tech (BGT) Materials spoke on Beyond Graphene: Heterostructures and Other Two-Dimensional Materials.

The global interest in graphene research has facilitated our understanding of this rather unique material. However, the transition from the laboratory to factory has hit some challenging obstacles. In this talk I will review the current state of graphene research, focusing on the techniques which allow large scale production.

I will then discuss various aspects of our research which is based on more complex structures beyond graphene. Firstly, hexagonal boron nitride can be used as a thin dielectric material where electrons can tunnel through. Secondly, graphene-boron nitride stacks can be used as tunnelling transistor devices with promising characteristics. The same devices show interesting physics, for example, negative differential conductivity can be found at higher biases. Finally, graphene stacked with thin semiconducting layers which show promising results in photodetection.

I will conclude by speculating the fields where graphene may realistically find applications and discuss the role of the National Graphene Institute in commercializing graphene.

Jean-Rene Lequepeys, VP Silicon Components, CEA-Leti, spoke on  Advanced Semiconductor Technologies Enabling High-Performance Jean-Rene Lequepeysand Energy Efficient Computing.

The key challenge for future high-end computing chips is energy efficiency in addition to traditional challenges such as yield/cost, static power, data transfer. In 2020, in order to maintain at an acceptable level the overall power consumption of all the computing systems, a gain in term of power efficiency of 1000 will be required.

To reach this objective, we need to work not only at process and technology level, but to propose disruptive multi-processor SoC architecture and to make some major evolutions on software and on the development of
applications. Some key semiconductor technologies will definitely play a key role such as: low power CMOS technologies, 3D stacking, silicon photonics and embedded non-volatile memory.

To reach this goal, the involvement of semiconductor industries will be necessary and a new ecosystem has to be put in place for establishing stronger partnerships between the semiconductor industry (IDM, foundry), IP provider, EDA provider, design house, systems and software industries.

Andile NgcabaAndile Ngcaba, CEO, Convergence Partners, spoke on Semiconductor’s Power and Africa – An African Perspective.

This presentation looks at the development of the semiconductor and electronics industries from an African perspective, both globally and in Africa. Understanding the challenges that are associated with the wide scale adoption of new electronics in the African continent.

Electronics have taken over the world, and it is unthinkable in today’s modern life to operate without utilising some form of electronics on a daily basis. Similarly, in Africa the development and adoption of electronics and utilisation of semiconductors have grown exponentially. This growth on the African continent was due to the rapid uptake of mobile communications. However, this has placed in stark relief the challenges facing increased adoption of electronics in Africa, namely power consumption.

This background is central to the thesis that the industry needs to look at addressing the twin challenges of low powered and low cost devices. In Africa there are limits to the ability to frequently and consistently charge or keep electronics connected to a reliable electricity grid. Therefore, the current advances in electronics has resulted in the power industry being the biggest beneficiary of the growth in the adoption of electronics.

What needs to be done is for the industry to support and foster research on this subject in Africa, working as a global community. The challenge is creating electronics that meet these cost and power challenges. Importantly, the solution needs to be driven by the semiconductor industry not the power industry. Focus is to be placed on operating in an off-grid environment and building sustainable solutions to the continued challenge of the absence of reliable and available power.

It is my contention that Africa, as it has done with the mobile communications industry and adoption of LED lighting, will leapfrog in terms of developing and adopting low powered and cost effective electronics.

Jo De Boeck, senior VP and CTO, IMEC, discussed Game-Changing Technology Roadmaps For Lifescience. Jo De Boeck

Personalized, preventive, predictive and participatory healthcare is on the horizon. Many nano-electronics research groups have entered the quest for more efficient health care in their mission statement. Electronic systems are proposed to assist in ambulatory monitoring of socalled ‘markers’ for wellness and health.

New life science tools deliver the prospect of personal diagnostics and therapy in e.g., the cardiac, neurological and oncology field. Early diagnose, detailed and fast screening technology and companioning devices to deliver the evidence of therapy effectiveness could indeed stir a – desperately needed – healthcare revolution. This talk addresses the exciting trends in ‘PPPP’ health care and relates them to an innovation roadmap in process technology, electronic circuits and system concepts.
Read more…

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

August 6, 2012 Comments off

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! 😉

Ingredients for successful fabless Indian semiconductor industry: Dr. Wally Rhines

February 7, 2012 1 comment

Dr. Wally Rhines, chairman and CEO, Mentor Graphics.

Dr. Wally Rhines, chairman and CEO, Mentor Graphics.

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…

Fabless fables and all that! Is India listening?

August 15, 2011 1 comment

I received an interesting news alert from the Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA), formerly, Fabless Semiconductor Association, which spoke about how fabless companies, only, were funded in July 2011. Well, it also led me to this feeling that each time there is any new electronics or related segment being talked about globally, it seems that the Indian semiconductor industry is slowly losing the plot! One surely hopes not!!

May I take your attention back to Pravin Desale’s speech during Mentor Graphics’ U2U conference of December 2009. He had cited some numbers during his speech, borrowing heavily from GSA. According to the GSA Dec. 2008 figures, distribution of fabless IC companies is: Canada 29, USA 606, Europe 151, Israel 61 and Asia 510 — China 222, Taiwan 196, Korea 47, Japan 16, Taiwan 16, Singapore 7, Malaysia 4, and India 2-28 (two fabless companies and 28 design services/IC providers).

Agreed that these numbers should have changed a bit, if not, a lot.

The ISA is born! Oct. 28, 2004, Bangalore, India.

The ISA is born! Oct. 28, 2004, Bangalore, India.

Now, when the India Semiconductor Association (ISA) was formed on Oct. 28, 2004, members at the BangaloreIT.com that November, dwelt upon the need for fabless companies.

Somshankar Das, e4e, had said that for building fabless semiconductor companies in India, the country had a major advantage, as Indian talent was a large part of the global semiconductor industry. Some other advantages in favor of India at that time (Nov. 2004), were: local IC design service firms, who were creators of selective IP as well. Development of smart chips with embedded software was ongoing. Next, the US-funded cross border semiconductor firms were setting up development centers in India. Dr. Bobby Mitra, TI, had cited the need for microelectronics as the national agenda.

Well, where are we today? Why hasn’t the fabless semiconductor industry grown in India?  Just two months ago, I wrote on how, China’s fabless market was set to double by 2015. Is any such movement even happening in India? At least, I am not aware, in case it were!

The establishment of fabless semiconductor companies is one good way to drive the growth of the semiconductor industry in India.

I still have the  photograph of the founding members of the ISA, which is pasted above. The original participants were: Dr. Ananda, Dr. Madhu Atre, S. Uma Mahesh, Rajendra Khare, Dr. Sridhar Mitta, Dr. Anand Anandkumar, V. Veerappan, S. Janakiraman and Dr. Satya Gupta. Today, the ISA only has Dr. Satya Gupta as a representative. One hopes the others have not been left behind in the run of events following the ISA’s formation!

By the way, why am I referring to the original ISA, and fabless companies? Perhaps, there is a very deep significance!

Chinese fabless market set to double! And India’s?

June 10, 2011 Comments off

I received a report from IHS iSuppli, which stated that China’s fabless market is likely to double by 2015! Well done, China, and all kudos.

According to the report, there are 3Cs – China, Consumer and Convergence — that China has been focusing on. However, there are three more Cs — Culture, Content and Contribution — that the report urges China to focus on.

The report states: “The companies must accommodate and adjust to the differing cultures of overseas customers. They must learn more about end-content sectors that drive the growth of technology markets. And China’s fabless firms must take advantage of government contributions to the industry, given that Beijing has instituted a range of policies designed to improve the fabless industry in areas including investments, tax rates and capital investments.”

Having taken its own sweet time,  the Chinese fabless industry is coming up well, and fast! However, what is the state of the fabless market in India?

If one goes back to Dec. 2009, Pravin Desale,  VP and MD India operations, LSI Corp., while speaking at Mentor Graphics’ U2U conference, had said that India has only two (2) fabless firms. If this number, or even a number below double digit is considered to be correct, then India surely has a lot of catching up to do!

Now, who are the leaders in the fabless semiconductor business globally? That’s Qualcomm, Broadcom, even AMD (as per 2010 reports), MediaTek and Marvell. Four of these companies are based in the USA, leaving MediaTek as the only Asian (Taiwan) representative.

Do Indian companies have the necessary experience of designing complete chips from scratch? Perhaps, some may have. Can the Indian companies get the silicon manufactured easily (local manufacturing) and later, debugging it? Here comes the first major gray area! Do the Indian companies have easy access to tools? Perhaps, some, most of them, have that access today!

Now, guess what? The last para — I had written about 7 years ago!  😉

Study on semiconductor design, embedded software and services industry in India

April 6, 2011 Comments off

The India Semiconductor Association (ISA) has released a study on semiconductor design, embedded software and services industry, along with Ernst & Young.

According to the report, the key challenges constraining the growth of the semiconductor design industry are summarized under five major issues:
i) Quality, availability and maturity of talent.
ii) Absence of a startup and SME ecosystem.
iii) Lack of a semiconductor ecosystem.
iv) Lack of adequate infrastructure, policies and implementable incentives.
v) External issues such as competition from Asian countries and protectionist policies by some countries.

The report then goes on to tackle each one of these issues in detail under elaborate recommendations.

These recommendations require the concerted and co-ordinated efforts by the government, industry and academia to aid India reach the next level of growth and achieve the specific goals envisaged for the industry. The goals are:

Goal 1:
Maintain leadership in semiconductor design by incubating 50 fabless semiconductor companies, each with the potential to grow to $200 million in annual revenues by 2020.

Goal 2: Build on India’s favorable intellectual property protection image and make it among the top 5 destinations for intellectual property creation in the semiconductor design industry.

Goal 3: Capitalize on indigenous demand in strategic sectors to provide impetus to the Indian fabless semiconductor industry.

Goal 4: Sustain and nurture high-class semiconductor design manpower at a growth rate of 20 percent year-on-year to double its current output levels to reach a workforce size of 400,000 in the next five years.

The very first goal itself is a bit far fetched, but not that it can’t be achieved. To reach anywhere close to this goal, a concerted all round effort would be required from all in the industry. The fourth goal would have been better as the first goal, but never mind.

The second goal looks fine, but it is the third goal that seems a bit far off. This is April 2011, and still, there are talks about capitalizing on the indigenous demand in strategic sectors in order to provide impetus to the Indian fabless semiconductor industry?

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! Read more…

Is global semicon inventory level headed for oversupply in Q3?

October 29, 2010 Comments off

Early this month, iSuppli had indicated that semiconductor inventory levels may have headed into oversupply territory in Q3.

It said: “Semiconductor Days Of Inventory (DOI) for chip suppliers are estimated to have climbed to 75.9 days in the third quarter of 2010, up 1.5 days from Q2. DOI in Q3 also was 4.8 percent higher than the seasonally adjusted average for the period.”

iSuppli added that the value of inventory was not been this high since the second quarter of 2008, when semiconductor suppliers’ stockpiles peaked at $35.4 billion.

Thanks to Jon Cassell and Debra Jaramilla at iSuppli, I was able to speak with Sharon Stiefel, analyst for semiconductor inventory and manufacturing for iSuppli on this situation.

Is there really an oversupply?

Sharon Stiefel, iSuppli.

Sharon Stiefel, iSuppli.

I asked Sharon Stiefel that given the growth that 2010 has seen so far, why are semiconductor inventory levels heading into oversupply territory in Q3?

She said that semiconductor inventories, overall, have risen both in terms of DOI and dollars for the past several quarters, and not yet achieved pre-recession levels last seen in 2008. “The overly lean conditions of 2009 and early 2010 are giving way to inventory levels, which are more appropriate for the strong growth experienced in 2010.

“Oversupply in Q3 2010 is not a foregone conclusion, but is possible that if the companies are not able to match manufacturing run rates with demand as the year winds to a close,” she added.

Which sectors have been witnessing or recording some softness in demand and why?

Stiefel said: “Companies reporting Q3 revenues over the past two weeks have reported a softening in demand, particularly in PC and consumer end markets, attributed to the continued uncertainty in the global economy, leaving consumers unwilling to spend.  A company with more exposure to these sectors has more potential of excessive inventories, versus a company with a more balanced product portfolio.”

Industry needs to moderate inventories
It is also said in iSuppli’s release that: ‘The industry will need to moderate inventories at the appropriate time in its growth curve in order to capture current revenue opportunities while they still exist.’ So, when exactly is that appropriate time?

Stiefel noted: “The appropriate time is when sales opportunities exist – projected quarters of growth, rather than revenue contraction. Semiconductor revenues are projected to grow in Q3 2010, contract in Q4 2010 and Q1 2011, and then resume moderate single digit growth for the remainder of 2011.” Read more…

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