Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Outlook for solar photovoltaics in 2009!

Friends and dear readers, this is my last blog post for 2008! Indeed, what a year this has been!!

Let me bid this year goodbye with a general outlook on the global solar photovoltaics industry for 2009.

iSuppli had recently put out a report on solar eclipse coming in 2009! I had blogged about the possible solar sunburn ahead, as well, earlier last week!

Another point that has interested me is: what happens to the top 20 global solar photovoltaic companies, based on iSuppli's analysis! This blog post has perhaps been the most popular in recent times.

I was very lucky to re-associate with Dr. Henning Wicht, Senior Director, Principal Analyst, iSuppli Deutschland GmbH, in Munich, Germany, for this discussion, thanks to the efforts of Jon Cassell and Debra Jaramilla!

How bad is solar?
The first and the most obvious question: how bad is the global solar market right now and why?

According to iSuppli, bringing an end to eight consecutive years of growth, global revenue for photovoltaic (PV), panels is likely to plunge by nearly 20 percent in 2009, as a massive oversupply causes prices to drop!

Worldwide revenue from shipments of panels will decline to $12.9 billion in 2009, down 19.1 percent from $15.9 billion in 2008. A drop of this magnitude has not occurred in the last 10 years and likely has not happened in the entire history of the solar industry.

Dr. Henning Wicht says that the upstream part of the solar business (cell, module, etc.) will suffer from price decline due to strong oversupply. The downstream side will benefit (installation, end-user, investor, etc.) by lower system prices.

Therefore, what can the solar players do to get over this coming bad phase in 2009? Well, three things: improve the cost structure, improve the sales side, and diversify downstream… These points hold strong for all fully integrated and non-integrated solar panel suppliers as well. By the way, fully integrated solar panel suppliers are likely to suffer less severe losses than non-integrated competitors.

There must be some way around to to bring about some balance within the current imbalance in the demand and supply situation. While Dr. Wicht agrees this is a difficult one to answer this early, he adds that supply and demand are diverging heavily. "With the current trajectories even in 2012, 100 percent more modules are produced than installed," he says. I promise to discuss this question again with the good Dr. in another six months time.

Word of wisdom
There are various support programs in place, and it is important to know whether they will continue to remain beneficial, both to support markets to become independent sustainable and to develop the regional industry.

Dr. Wicht believes the support programs are still required and beneficial. "If China, India, Mexico and other sunny regions would start to support solar installations, that could change the picture drastically," he notes.

A note of warning for new entrants in the solar photovoltaic space! Be aware that this warning has been earlier highlighted in the global semiconductor outlook for 2009! In tune with what the various analysts have maintained earlier, iSuppli also forsees newcomers in the solar photovoltaic line having problems in getting the required credit for their projects.

What next for Europe, emerging regions?
According to iSuppli, the short-term boost in demand from Spain and Germany has kept the installation companies busy, and solar orders and module prices high. But this boom is over. So, what's next for European players?

According to Dr. Wicht, Germany and Spain should continue their leading role as solar installation regions, even after the boom. France, Italy and Czech Republic are attractive, but still much smaller markets, he maintains.

iSuppli has also mentioned that the race to larger manufacturing scale comes to an end when the production is not sold anymore! In that case, what's the case for the emerging nations, like China and India? Aren't there buyers in such places?

Dr. Wicht says: "Demand in the traditional solar markets is not elastic enough to absorb all of the solar production. Potential new markets, for example, China and India, do not yet have installation capacities and administration to significantly change the global solar demand short term."

iSuppli also feels that the newer Chinese and Taiwanese suppliers will be hit particularly hard during 2009. The reason being, many suppliers have expanded their production capacities heavily without securing equally the sales/downstream part.

Global top 20 rankings to change?
Now to the most interesting part! Most of you have read about the top 20 global solar photovoltaic suppliers. Following the iSuppli warning of a 'solar eclipse' in 2009, there is every likelihood that there will be changes in that table!

Dr. Wicht adds, "However, the top 10 companies are typically better placed than the competition regarding their cost structures, downstream integration and vertical integration."

Obama's solar plans!
Now on to yet other interesting point! The US President-elect, Barack Obama's, New Energy for America plan could well have a significant impact on the US solar industry.

The plan's provisions include:

• A federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires 10 percent of electricity consumed in the US to come from renewable sources by 2012.
• A $150 billion investment over 10 years in research, technology demonstration and commercial deployment of clean energy technology.
• Extension of production tax credits for five years to encourage renewable energy production.
• A cap-and-trade system of carbon credits to provide an incentive for businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Wicht says: "We all know that Obama is in favor of renewable energy. However, he will not change a 160 percent oversupply of solar panels in 2009."

Bumpy ride to grid parity?
On another note, and a pretty favorite one: Is it going to be a "bumpy road" to grid parity? How will the subsidies be kept going?

Dr. Wicht notes: "Subsidies will continue. It will always be a bumby road because the ramping cycles differ heavily among silicon, cells, modules and the installation capacity. Please remember that the installation business will now benefit from low module prices. It will recover some of the margins it has lost in the last years due to high module prices."

Also, up to when will polysilicon constraints last? iSuppli had earlier indicated PV strategy changes. According to Dr. Wicht, the polysilicon prices are coming down already. "Our indication from October 2008 seems to be fairly good," he says.

Lastly, will iSuppli be still sticking by solar, semicon investments being equal by 2010?

Dr. Wicht says: "Please let me cite again our interview in October: The investments for solar production raising up to several hundreds of Mio USD, up to 1 Bio $ per production site. That is coming close to a semiconductor fab. The total capex of semiconductor is still 10 times larger than PV. However, PV is rising much faster."

That will be all for this year, folks!

Look forward to sharing much more captivating moments in semiconductors, electronics, solar photovoltaics, telecom, etc., in 2009!

Wishing all of you a very happy, prosperous and successful 2009. Be safe and look after yourself! See you next year!! :)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Altera on FPGAs outlook for 2009

Hardly any segment of the global semiconductor industry has escaped the economic financial crisis! Nevertheless, as the year draws to a close, several segments are planning strategies for tackling what could well be a difficult 2009! FPGAs are no exception!

Jennifer Lo, Senior Marketing Manager, Altera Asia Pacific, agrees. Highlighting the impact, as per reports in the media, the economical environment we are getting into is extremely challenging. Recently, Gartner lowered its 2009 semiconductor forecast to 'down 16 percent' as compared to 2008.

Altera placed strongly
Lo says that compared to the other semiconductor companies, many of whom are taking very drastic measures in cutting down costs and preserving capital, Altera is in a very strong position, both financially and product-wise.

Financially, Altera is said to have taken steps to focus on cost reductions and simplification internally, a few years ago. The company is seeing great results from those efforts. "You may check our financial data and find that we are essentially debt-free and have very healthy balance sheet. We continue to be profitable even under the very challenging environment we are in," Lo contends.

Product-wise, Altera announced a few days ago that it is shipping the industry’s 40nm product, considered a key milestone. "We are very excited about it with this new product family, Stratix IV, which offers the industry’s largest density, highest performance, highest system bandwidth and lowest power, targeting customers in a variety of markets, including communications, broadcast, test, medical and military," she says.

Going forward in 2009, Altera will continue to rollout the rest of the members in the Stratix IV product family. It will also continue to execute new product strategies in the plan with full confidence.

Tackling demand weakness in FPGAs
There have been whispers regarding demand weakness in the FPGA industry. On the contrary, Lo adds that lower power, lower cost and smaller space are still common needs for portable applications for 2009. These needs may drive PLD vendors to focus on architecture and process to address power and cost. Also, work on package to develop a smaller device. Altera's goal is to still focus on these common needs.

The Altera MAX II Z already offers the lowest dynamic power and comparable static power in industry already. The company may focus more on package size on 2009.

Although leading-edge FPGAs are scaling to 40nm and beyond, have the tools caught up with these new and complex processes? She says that lowering power consumption and improving customer productivity have been the focus of Altera's product strategies for the past few years.

Lo adds: "Lowering power consumption means lowering costs for customers, not only in the BOM cost (reducing heatsink or cooling requirement), but also the ongoing operating cost (fans, air-conditioning costs,…etc). At this day and age of ever increasing fuel and electricity costs, this is gaining significance in customers' selection consideration. Seeing such a need, reducing device power consumption has been a major element in the company's product planning and execution."

Altera's Max II Z product in the low-cost CPLD line offers the lowest dynamic power and static power in the industry that is catered for the portable applications. On the high end of the spectrum, with Stratix IV GX, for example, with the advanced 40nm process node, Altera utilizes the 'Strained Silicon' technology, lower core voltage of 0.9V, triple gate oxide, as well as low-K inter-metal dielectric material low power transceiver designs.

"In terms of design, we put in extra effort in lowering the overall power consumption in the transceivers as well as optimized DDR memory interfaces," she notes.

Coupled with programmable power technology, which allows customers to use high performance (hence, high power consumption) circuitry for design along the critical path, while either using low-power circuit on other parts of the design or turning the logic blocks completely off while not in use, all process and design innovations work together toward one common goal of lowering the overall power consumption in the customer design.

Lo says: "In customer productivity improvement, we’ve invested in the feature sets in our design software, Quartus II, to enable team-based designs, incremental compilation, as well as faster compilation time compared to the other competing software. We also have a wide suite of IPs in a multitude of applications and technologies, such as our Nios embedded processors, the many memory interfaces and peripherals. Combining all of those with our SOPCBuilder tool also enables customers to integrate system designs with very much reduced time and effort."

There have also been some talks lately about FPGA design starts being quite flat over the last couple of years.

Altera sees a lot of new market applications for FPGAs, apart from the traditional communications market. Out of the many market segments that it participates in, the company feels that communications, military and industrial segments will be in better situation than others in the next couple of years. Needless to say, Altera will continue to focus on these segments.

Tackling complexity
Tackling complexity is a major focus area for projecting FPGAs as a growth segment for 2009.

Lo says: that as with other previous downturns, the industry may go through its reformation, which may inevitably involve some weaker companies to either go out of business due to deteriorating business environment or get acquired by stronger companies. Altera is very confident that programmable logic, with its highly flexibility, versatile application, will have a good market position in 2009.

The Hardcopy ASIC is said to have been Altera's major differentiator from the other PLD/FPGA vendors.

"We are the only company having both an FPGA vehicle to enable fast time-to-market and simultaneously possessing the seamless migration platform to low-cost production support using Hardcopy ASIC. With the industry trend of fewer and fewer ASIC starts due to the high NRE costs and high justifying volume, there will also be less investment in the ASSP front given the contracting demand. We see Hardcopy as a major competitive edge that will us bring to a different rank in the industry," she notes.

Indeed, it is good to see companies thinking very hard about tackling a difficult 2009! There's lot of fight left, and it's not that semiconductor companies haven't faced downturns earlier. Keep the faith and allow these folks to come up tops again!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Why solar/PV is good for India? An ISA perspective!

Recently, the India Semiconductor Association (ISA) held an educative briefing session on the potential of the solar PV market in India, which was conducted by Rajiv Jain, Director, Government Relations, ISA.

This meeting was held well before iSuppli issued a warning that there could be global solar sunburn in 2009! I am sincerely hoping that most of the points mentioned by ISA's Jain still hold good in the coming year, and that India really does well and takes off in solar photovoltaics.

The ISA's vision: To help make India an attractive global destination for PV manufacturing and a world leader in solar energy.

Starting with the basics of photovoltaics, he said that it is a package of solar cells used to convert energy from sun to electricity. In simpler words, photons from sunlight knock electrons into higher state of energy, thus creating electricity. The electricity can be used to power equipment or recharge a battery. A typical PV system mainly consists of a PV module, battery, inverter, controller and junction box.

Focusing on the technological landscape, he touched upon the two key technologies for solar: crystalline and thin film.

Crystalline silicon is said to be the most mature Si wafer technology, with the largest market share. Though, high on cost, it has a typical efficieny of 14-18 percent. Crystalline silicon is said to suitable for rooftop applications.

Thin film is nothing but thin layers of photosensitive materials on glass. It is currently on high growth due to silicon shortage, and very low on cost due to low material consumption. The efficiency is about 6.5-8 percent.

A third technology, nanotechnology, is the future technology for cost reduction. It is more in the R&D space as of now.

Present scenario for solar
So what's the present scenario? In 2007, of $71 billion invested in new renewable energy (RE) capacity globally, 30 percent was in solar PV. It is the fastest growing area in the energy sector, with a CAGR of 47 percent over the last five years.

Grid-connected solar PV has been high growth market segment in 2007 (50 percent increase). Also, 86 percent of the PV installations are largely in four countries, with Germany at 47 percent being the outright leader.

Market drivers are said to be attractive feed-in tariffs, national PV market development and acceptance, RE obligations through solar PV, access to cheaper mode of finance, manufacturing incentives as well as strong R&D.

Why solar for India
I have addressed this in an earlier blog post. Here's what Jain had to say, and it is mostly in line with the earlier discussions.

First, India has among the highest solar irradiance globally. It also has the best quality reserves of silica in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. India has also established itself low cost producer and assembler of solar PV cells and modules.

The major challenges include attaining scale and integration for cost reduction, and, R&D for development of the industry.

Solar insolation in India
To start with, the daily average solar energy incident varies from 4-7kWh per m2. Next, we have multiple sites with solar irradiation >2000 hours per year. In contrast, Germany has 900-1,200 hours per year. Further, most parts of India have 300-300 sunny days in a year translating into a potential of 600GW. Also, potential in some states like Rajasthan is 35-40 MW per m2.

It is well known that the Indian semiconductor policy of 2007 has triggered off the now well publicized efforts in solar initiatives. The government of India has received 16 applications with investments envisaged at app Rs. 1,55,000 crores.

The investments in solar PV manufacturing exceed Rs 1,25,000 crores. Generation based incentives (GBI) are going to be key.

Potential market segments in India
There are quite a few, actually. In rural electrification, the government of India's target is to achieve 'Electricity for all by 2012'. About 18,000 remote villages will likely be electrified through RE. About ~25 percent of the remote villages, i.e., 4,500 villages, form a very viable market.

Next comes telecom back-up power! PV is a cost effective alternative to diesel generators (DG) for back up power for shorter duration, as DG based systems suffer from several disadvantages.

Another key market could be grid connected solar PV based generation. Current tariffs do not provide attractive IRR to developers. Decreasing system prices are however, likely to improve the economics.

Finally, roof based BIPV is said to be an alternative to reduce the cost of power procured by commercial buildings.

ISA's recommendations
The ISA has also made salient recommendations via its report on the industry. These include areas such as manufacturing: with an aim to encourage companies investing in 'Scale and integration', provision of capital subsidy to larger number of units, availability of funds at a cheaper rate, and an emphasis on R&D.

Also, the ISA has recommended that GBI be given for a tenure of 20 years, with the present period being 10 years. Further, it has suggested an accelerated depreciation along with the GBI scheme, and the availability of GBI for an unlimited capacity for a period of five years. The ISA has recommended an enactment of the RE Law requiring utilities to progressively increase power purchase from RE.

On its part, the ISA has been working with the government of India and various state governments as well. It has a sound rapport with concerned ministries - MNRE, DIT and NMCC.

The ISA has also assisted in the technical evaluation of solar PV proposals received in Fab City, Hyderabad. It has also drafted a semiconductor policy for the government of Karnataka, which should be out early next year, hopefully. The ISA is also working with several other state governments to promote the industry in their states.

The second ISA Solar PV Conclave is scheduled for November 2009 at Hyderabad.

Very good intentions, all of these! Now, for the Indian industry and the government to deliver, and walk hand in hand!!

Rapidly growing local market bring new opportunities for EDA in India

Those following the EDA industry are well aware that its been an industry in some trouble right through this year.

If you visited EDA Consortium's web site, this becomes clear. In Q1-08, the global EDA industry revenue for Q1 2008 declined 1.2 percent to $1,350.7 million compared to $1,366.8 million in Q1 2007.

Later, the EDA industry revenue for Q2 2008 declined 3.7 percent to $1357.4 million compared to $1408.8 million in Q2 2007, as reported by the EDA Consortium.

I am still waiting to see how the Q3 results shape up. My guess is, it would be even lower than Q2, unless there are a few surprises!

The EDA market in India, as per the ISA F&S Report 2005, was US$110m. The latest figures are not yet available, though I would believe the Indian EDA industry is likely to do better than the global industry, unless, there have been some slowdown effects here as well.

I had an interesting discussion with Jaswinder Ahuja, Corporate Vice President and Managing Director, Cadence Design Systems (I) Pvt. Ltd and Chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA), on the (dipping?) fortunes of the EDA industry lately.

According to Ahuja, 2008 has been a challenging year. The global financial crisis has impacted several industries and the EDA industry was no exception. Due to the overall downturn in the economy, companies are being more cautious and are delaying purchase decisions, a move that is impacting the overall EDA industry.

Coming to the drivers for EDA in India this year, there are a few key ones! First, the design centres have gained expertise and are now doing cutting-edge designs out of India. They have moved up the value chain from doing block-level design to increasingly owning up end-to-end design and design starts.

Second, several Indian design services companies have made significant acquisitions, showing that their businesses have not just taken root, but also flourished. MindTree Consulting’s acquisition of TES PV and Wipro’s acquisition of Oki's wireless chip design arm are cases in point, added Ahuja.

He said: "The Indian EDA industry has been growing and we will see more technology adoptions and proliferations in India Design Centers. Also, the rapidly growing local market is unfolding new opportunities."

EDA outlook 2009
Going forward, market pressures and design complexities are just some of the issues design teams face today. Cadence's customers, for instance, would like to plan in the context of IP selection, run analysis around power, performance and cost perspectives. Design predictability will be a priority, said Ahuja.

The key focus areas for the EDA industry will be new design for manufacturing technologies as designs move to advanced nodes; verification and verification IPs and multicore processing support for EDA flows as a result of increased integration.

Also, SaaS is likely to gain traction as companies are compelled to consider flexible engagement models to access state-of-the art design environments that help design teams reduce risk and cost, yet increase time-to-productivity.

Are there any opportunities for EDA folks in solar? Ahuja disclosed that in a recent poll by ISA, to the question 'Solar PV has potential in India', almost 90 percent of respondents replied Agree or Strongly Agree.

With the worldwide focus on alternative energy systems, India has witnessed several companies announcing investments in PV segment. This is good news for the Indian semiconductor ecosystem.

Cadence has a broad portfolio of technologies that addresses the needs of different players in the ecosystem.

Low power initiatives
Low power has always been a key focus area in semiconductors. According to Ahuja, power efficient design is gaining importance across the design chain and EDA companies will have to look closely at 'green' technologies.

Energy efficiency at the system and application level for wired and wireless products will be one of the focus areas. Emerging technologies that allow applications and systems developers to evaluate how their programs use power both individually and in a dynamic, multi-application model of the end system will help expand the role of EDA into system-level design.

The Power Forward Initiative (PFI), an industry alliance comprising of companies across the semiconductor design chain will work towards a more systematic, integrated approach to low-power design.

Outlook 2009
With the new year about to start in less than a week's time, the impact of the financial crisis will see an increased demand for mid-range product technology as consumers shift spend toward 'essential', rather than 'desirable' electronic products.

As per Ahuja, globally, semiconductor companies are focusing on their core strengths, consolidating and realigning resources. Across sectors, they will look for systems that marry functionality with cost efficiencies.

"Growth for semiconductor companies will come from energy related and low-power technologies that are able to drive market share shifts," he noted.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

DRAM makers being offered lifelines via bail out plans!

Browsing the Web these past days has brought me to various stories, mostly discussing the various bail out plans being provided for some leading DRAM makers.

It all started with Germany based Qimonda announcing that it has arranged a Euro 325 million financing package for the ramp up of its innovative Buried Wordline technology.

Yesterday, Hynix, the Korean DRAM maker, received a bail out of $597 million, according to reports on Fabtech. The story also reports that Powerchip Semiconductor, Taiwan's largest DRAM maker, is also seeking new funding.

Then, DigiTimes, a very good technology news Web site from Taiwan, reported yesterday that Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) had reportedly developed an NT$200 billion (US $6.5 billion) bail out plan for Taiwan's hard-hit DRAM makers.

Sitting in India makes it a little difficult to speak with global companies based in Taiwan, Korea and Germany. I sometimes wish I could get some help from reliable sources as to what's the actual ground situation.

Having said that, it is good to see various national governments showing their deep concern about the state of the global DRAM industry and about technologies. And, let us keep all criticisms aside, as to who performed and who didn't! Here's a lesson for India to learn from, as closer home, it has a semiconductor industry really in its infancy!

Right now, the global semiconductor industry is facing a downturn and memory is the hardest hit! Hence, if any measures are being taken to somehow bring DRAM back on track, it should be welcomed.

Qimonda, Hynix, Powerchip, etc., are not small names in the global industry. Poor performance from memory players saw them dropping out of the top 20 global semiconductor players' rankings in 2008.

All the lifelines being provided to these major players now means that these companies need to pull it off, somehow, and extricate themselves from the depths they have fallen into. If they fail, they will perish! And, they all know that!!

I'd be very keen to see the responses of DRAMeXchange and iSuppli on these bail out plans.

Merry X'mas everyone, and hope you all have a great time!

PS: I have iSuppli's feedback!

Speaking on the Taiwan government's bail-out plan as well as Hynix's rescue package from banks, John Lei, Analyst, memory, iSuppli Corp., said: "In general, Hynix's package is much like a short-term relief for their near-term debt, while the Taiwan government aims at the possible consolidation of five suppliers."

"All these packages could bring more uncertainties to the maket, however, based on iSuppli's assumption and forecasts. The industry operation profit margin will hit bottom in Q4-08, but profitability of the industry will not occur until Q4-09," he added.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Solar sunburn likely in 2009? India, are you listening?

iSuppli's just issued a warning that 2009 could well see the coming of a solar market eclipse!

Come to think of it! Just last week, in the Semiconductor International webcast, the analysts did mention that there could be tough times ahead for solar! In fact, Aida Jebens, Senior Economist, VLSI Research Inc., did indicate that solar/PV would pick up in the next two years and that 2009 could be a tough year.

If you look at the India situation, I have been getting the feeling all the time that all of a sudden, too many companies were entering this market segment, as though it is a land of promised gold! Perhaps, it is, and one sincerely wishes that all of those investments proposed for solar do not come unstuck.

This August, following the announcement of the national semiconductor policy (the Special Incentive Package Scheme, or SIPS), the government of India received 12 proposals amounting to a total investment of Rs. 92,915.38 crore. Ten of these proposals were for solar/PV, from: KSK Surya (Rs. 3,211 crore), Lanco Solar (Rs. 12,938 crore), PV Technologies India (Rs. 6,000 crore), Phoenix Solar India (Rs.1,200 crore), Reliance Industries (Rs.11,631 crore), Signet Solar (Rs. 9,672 crore), Solar Semiconductor (Rs.11,821 crore), TF Solar Power (Rs. 2,348 crore), Tata BP Solar India (Rs. 1,692.80 crore), and Titan Energy System (Rs. 5,880.58 crore).

Then, late September, Vavasi Telegence (Rs. 39,000 crore), EPV Solar (Rs. 4,000 crore), and Lanco Solar (Rs. 12,938 crore), also announced major investments.

Now, given the quite ruthless kind of financial crisis the world is currently engulfed in, several have raised doubts whether solar players would be able to get the credit they need. Or, would they run into rough weather?

On paper, some of these companies are big corporate houses, with several years of standing. However, reality can be quite different, and can bite! I've yet to hear whether all of these companies have managed to raise the requisite capital. One sure wishes that they have all been busy and will be successful!

Otherwise, all one needs to look at is iSuppli's warning. According to iSuppli, 'Bringing an end to eight consecutive years of growth, global revenue for photovoltaic (PV), panels is expected to plunge by nearly 20 percent in 2009, as a massive oversupply causes prices to drop.'

Will it be a case of massive oversupply in India? We haven't exactly started. Hence, perhaps, we will come to deal with oversupply later. The key thing is to get all of these solar/PV projects off the ground!

The India Semiconductor Association (ISA), and now, SEMI India, have been promoting the solar/PV industry very aggressively. The work they've done so far has been commendable, and I've been witness to all of their activities. However, keep in mind that these are only industry associations, who can only advice, guide, debate and promote the industry, and also provide industry statistics for everyone to consume.

The real action can only happen once the proposals have been cleared by the Indian government and the players have managed to arrange for the requisite capital for their projects. The Indian fab story with SemIndia is all to familiar, and there should not be a repitition with solar/PV projects.

Therefore, the role of the government of India will be extremely critical and crucial. The good health of the Indian solar/PV industry is entirely in its hands, and not in the hands of the industry associations.

Perhaps, the Indian government could do well to look at how the Taiwan government is playing a critical role in reviving the hard hit DRAM industry and also at the German free state of Saxony, which has played a key role in financing the ailing Qimonda.

Otherwise, the Indian solar/PV industry could get hit, even before it takes off the ground! And, as a nation, we cannot afford that to happen!

India has so far has had a good story going in solar. There are hopes that solar/PV will trigger off a spate of manufacturing activities in India, besides creating lots of jobs. Don't think we can afford to spoil all of this!

The industry in India is still very much in its infancy. Let the baby play happily in the water (solar) tub, instead of throwing the water out! This baby needs a lot of hand-holding to get stronger in the years to come.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Semicon outlook 2009: Global market could be down 7pc or more

Friends, I've just got off a very interesting, but predictable, webcast on the outlook for the global semiconductor industry organized by Semiconductor International.

The news coming out of this webcast is not very good for the industry. And as the moderator commented toward the end, I'd say too, "I hope these guys are all terribly wrong!"

All of the experts, as listed below, have predicted a dismal 2009 for the global semiconductor industry, starting from a negative 7 percent or more!

For everyone's information, the participating experts at the webcast were:

* Moshe Handelsman, President, Advanced Forecasting Inc.
* Aida Jebens, Senior Economist, VLSI Research Inc.
* Carl Johnson, Executive Director, Research Infrastructure.
* Dale Ford, Senior Vice President, Market Intelligence, iSuppli Corp.
* Lara Chamness, Senior Market Analyst, Industry Research and Statistics, SEMI.

So, the key question: What is the global semiconductor industry going to look like in 2009?

Semicon -7pc down in 2009 or more?
VLSI Research's Aida Jebens said that they are pegging electronics as either flat or negative for 2009. The semiconductor market would be down 7 percent as well. It could be worse, she added, depending on how the November and December 2008 numbers come out to be!

iSuppli's Dale Ford was cautious, given that the firm has not yet announced its forecast publicly. (I've discussed the industry at length earlier, with Dale Ford.) As for guidance, he said that iSuppli sees the electronic equipment market declining roughly in the 1pc range.

With regard to semiconductors, iSuppli had given some interim guidance with the industry turning down 9.4 percent. He added that in iSuppli's final forecast, it could be more negative, although, not double digit negative. However, he added, "We do see growth coming down nearly to that range."

Handelsman from Advanced Forecasting, added that while his company's policy was not to divulge the exact numbers, except to their clients, he provided insights that there will be decline for ICs in revenues, which will be larger than 2008. Regarding equipment, the decline will be significantly larger than what other sources believe it will be. This is quite discouraging, folks!

Research Infrastructure's Carl Johnson, while calling numbers as a moving target, provided some guidance as well. According to him, the electronics equipment sales will be down, close to 10 percent.

Even the IC sales will be down, close to the 15 percent range. In the capital equipment business, the numbers are not going to be good either. Johnson said that it could probably be at least a 30 percent decline in 2009. There are also chances that the industry might even approach the numbers that it reached during the downturns in the mid nineties!

Finally, SEMI's Lara Chamness, closed in on the outlook for semiconductor equipment and materials. According to her, for semiconductor equipment, 2009 will definitely be a negative year, somewhere around -22 percent! For semiconductor materials, SEMI is looking at -1 percent decline in 2009.

Tough times ahead for solar?
There's a bit more than this to add in this blog, especially on the analysts take on solar.

Maybe, those investing in solar, in India, need to see this as well, and take all of the necessary steps, if required. With the kind of financial crisis that we are currently in, people are definitely going to have problems getting credit.

According to VLSI Research's Aida Jebens, there could be a tough time for solar in 2009. It will pick up, but not in the next two years.

Right then folks, that's all for now! You have seen the numbers that will matter! I shall try and update this outlook 2009 report on semiconductors sometime later!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Taiwan government reacts to DRAM turmoil is a lesson in itself!

Taiwan based DRAMeXchange recently sent me a release, which discussed in length the steps the Taiwan government is taking in an attempt to "save one of the '2 trillion twin stars', the DRAM industry". The Taiwanese Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) was designated to draft the policies, principals, strategic goals and strategic directions of the DRAM industry rescue plan.

According to DRAMeXchange: At 6 PM, December 16, the Taiwanese Ministry of Economic Affairs held a press conference about the DRAM rescue plan, emphasized in the past 10 years the investment amount of the DRAM industry surpassed NT$ 850 billion, and created a complete industry supply chain, which widely covers upstream chip makers, to downstream packaging and testing companies, and module houses. If the recession brought down the industry, the Taiwan industrial chain will be affected severely.

The Taiwanese government showed sincerity and willingness, and hoped that Taiwanese DRAM vendors can actively start to consolidate horizontally and vertically, and make joint proposing plans to the government. The government will not take the leading position, but the strategic direction is long term integration, which is not just merger but also includes cooperation of co-research, co-develop, and co-manufacturing.

The government also emphasized that it will tend to strengthen the relationship among the co-operation of Taiwanese, American, and Japanese DRAM vendors.

In another report, Gartner has gone as far as dubbing the DRAM industry as the wild card for the semiconductor industry in 2009! The DRAM industry has been in a downturn for the past 18 months and losses are now approaching $12 billion, it says.

How the Taiwanese DRAM industry reacts to the efforts of the Taiwan government will be visible in the coming months. Among other bail out plans, the Taiwan government has also focused on the need for the local industry to develop its own technology.

Taiwan takes great pride in having been a leader in technology and R&D for long. If the DRAM industry does not recover quickly enough, it would indeed impact the country's industrial chain as well.

What's interesting to note is the key role the government of Taiwan is playing in all of this. It again stresses the importance of government contribution within the semiconductor industry. And, there is also a lesson in all of this for India!

Closer home, in India, I am (and I am sure, interested readers and parties are too) still waiting to hear on what happened to the several proposals that were received for solar/PV, as well as on the various state policies, especially, Karnataka.

All believe that these would surely get pushed through in the new year. However, there is a need to show some speed in this regard as well. You cannot afford to wait for too long in the semiconductor industry. The SemIndia fab story is all to well known and hopefully, still fresh in everyone's minds.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Top 10 captivating moments in Indian semicon during 2008

Yes, the time has come for all of us to say goodbye to this year. It has been a very captivating year for the Indian semiconductor industry. Some consider it to be a year the industry came of age, while some others would look at the year as one where fab promises failed India.

Nevertheless, as I've maintained, having or not having a fab won't affect India very much as its traditional strengths have been in embedded and design services.

There have been several moments during the year that I personally savor. In fact, I have either witnessed most of those or written/blogged about them.

The top 10 captivating moments in Indian semiconductors during 2008, according to me, are:

1. S. Janakiraman, former chairman, ISA, declared before the world, in May at Dubai, during the IEF 2008, about India's growing strength in global telecom.

2. Growing interest in the solar photovoltaic industry in India, and subsequent proposals made by various companies, including Reliance.

3. EDA companies, such as Magma and also Synopsys, making their entry, or at least, intentions known, in the solar/PV industry.

4. Intel's new chip, designed largely in Bangalore, and of course, the Intel Developer Forum in Taipei, Taiwan.

5. Visit of a strong Japanese delegation to Bangalore, which showed remarkable keenness regarding possible investments in India.

6. BV Naidu quitting SemIndia, and putting in doubt India's fab story. Well, that's a different story, and one person's exit would not mean much to such a large industry.

7. ISA Excite, and the minister announcing that Karnataka could have its own semiconductor policy. The policy should be out in the new year, hopefully.

8. AMD's new chip, the Shanghai, which again, had a lot of involvement from AMD's Bangalore team.

9. NXP India achieving RF CMOS in a single chip. The entire analog and RF work was done in Bangalore, India.

10. Go parallel or perish, said James Reinders, of Intel! Parallelism or parallel computing involves the simultaneous use of more than one computer or processor to execute a program.

I was also present during the launch of Synopsys' Galaxy Custom Designer, which tackles the analog mixed-signal (AMS) challenges. It would occupy a joint 10th position.

There may have been some other moments as well! Would like to hear from all of you what are those other great times in India semiconductor industry during 2008!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NXP India's Rajeev Mehtani on top trends in global/Indian electronics and semicon!

When a new year approaches, we start analyzing the year gone by and try to gauge what could happen in the coming year. This really holds true, as far as the technology industry is concerned.

It's been a week since I've been mulling over these myself, especially, pondering over developments in the global semiconductor and electronics industries, as well as what could happen in India during 2009. Well, lots will happen, and I can't wait for the new year to start!

I caught up with Rajeev Mehtani, vice president and managing director, NXP Semiconductors, India, and discussed in depth about the trends for 2009. Here's a look at that discussion.


1. The DTH story will continue to increase in India with companies such as Tata Sky, DISH TV, BIG TV, etc., gaining market share. Owing to these challenges, there would be significant consolidation among the cable operators. Digitalization will also be seen in 2009.

2. The slowdown will affect growth across all sectors. Our view is that LCD TVs as well as STBs will continue to grow.

3. The year 2009 will witness e-commerce revolution and the RFID sector will grow at a 40-50 percent clip. The government has been sponsoring a lot of projects, which include RFID in the metros, e-passport cards and national ID cards. By mid-2009, we can expect a mass deployment of these projects as well as micro payments.

4. Manufacturing in India will continue to grow; EMS or OEMs, such as Samsung, Nokia, Flextronics, etc.

5. There could be a move from services to products in electronics and semiconductor spaces. The number of funded startups has grown significantly over the last years and more and more ideas are coming on the table.

6. The solar/PV sector will grow in India. High entry cost of capital for panels will be a barrier for this sector. Government enhancement is necessary. India will be different than other countries as people won't push energy back into the grid; it will be used more for household consumption. The India grid is unstable. Tracking it requires a lot of expensive electronic switching. Solar deployment could be at the micro level, and also community level, where it makes more sense.

7. The startups in India are mostly Web 2.0 based, although there aren't many hardware startups.


1. The semiconductor industry is truly global, That is mostly because it is a very expensive industry.

2. Things are a bit murky in the semiconductor industry. It would probably be dipping 10-15 percent next year.

3. Globally, energy management and home automation will start to take off in 2009. Satellite broadcasters will also continue to gain more strength.

4. On a worldwide scale, 3G will win. You will have 3G phones, and you'd add LTE to those. India is slightly different. Only 20 percent of Indian households are ready for broadband access. In India, WiMAX could be a way to have wireless broadband at home.

5. Industries moving to 300mm fabs will be making up only 20-25pc of the market. Not many need 45nm or 40nm chips. People will question any major capex, until there's a big return and wait for recession to end. The bright spot is solar!

6. The fabless strategy would be the only way to go forward. While MNCs with fabless strategy are present in India, Indian startups in this space are quite few.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Altera strategy to partner with Indian design services firms

Turning my attention to the programmable logic market, I took advantage of my recent meeting with Jordan Plofsky, Senior Vice President Market, Altera Corp., during the Altera SOPC conference.

Programmable logic consumption in India has been estimated at between $20-$25 million in 2008, largely driven by strong growth in communications infrastructure and increased spending in the military sector. The Indian programmable logic market is likely to grow at a CAGR of 25 percent over the next three years.

Altera's India strategy
In this context, it will be interesting to note Altera's strategy within the Indian semiconductor industry.

Plofsky says that as multinational companies are transferring more design work to their R&D teams in India, local companies are expanding their range of products, and independent design service companies are capturing a bigger piece of the outsourced design pie, Altera forecasts the increased need for high quality application support.

He says: "Unlike other companies who have design services operations in India, which compete with the local independent design services, our strategy is to partner with the local India design services industry. We are expanding our direct and indirect support channels to provide higher quality services to our customers here."

Altera is also supporting the development of the education sector in India, which is modernizing to turn out well trained engineers to satisfy the appetite of the industry. "We also run industrial workshops and seminars, like the recent SOPC World in Bangalore and New Delhi, to educate the design community on the direction of semiconductor technology," adds Plofsky.

Altera has also set up Altera Joint Laboratories in leading universities across India to provide a better platform for undergraduates to grasp basics of programmability.

Role in solar?
With investments in solar/PV happening, is there a role for Altera and other FPGA companies? This is a question that I invariably ask everyone in the semiconductor industry!

According to Plofsky, one of the promising applications is smart metering. It is the practice of getting the users and the infrastructure to be power aware and then using different usage patterns to lower energy usage and energy costs by applying smart algorithms.

Addressing low-power design
Power consumption has always been a big concern for designers in all markets and Altera has a number of different solutions.

In the CPLD area, Altera announced its zero power MAX IIZ devices in late 2007. Offering the highest density and I/O count in packages as small as 5x5mm, compared to macrocell-based CPLDs, MAX IIZ devices allow designers to meet changing functional requirements and lower power while saving board space.

Consuming 75 percent less power than competing FPGAs, the Altera Cyclone III devices are the industry's first and only 65-nm low-cost FPGA family, and offer digital system designers an unprecedented combination of density, power and cost.

To address the low-power demands of high density customers, the Stratix III and Stratix IV family members feature Altera's patented Programmable Power Technology. This power-saving technology optimizes logic, DSP and memory blocks to maximize performance where needed while delivering the lowest power elsewhere in the design. And in addition these designs can be converted to HardCopy ASIC devices that can reduce power consumption by 50-70 percent.

As for new products in the LTE, TD-SCDMA and NFC spaces, Plofsky says that with the new 40-nm devices, Altera is uniquely positioned to deliver solutions that provide the density, performance and power for these emerging applications. The combination of DSP blocks, memory and transceivers was optimized for these communication applications.

Roadmap beyond
Altera just announced its 40nm devices in May and it is said to be on target to deliver those devices by the end of 2008.

Adds Plofsky: "We have already started development work on smaller process geometries with test chips in fab now, but it is too early to go into any family detail at this time."

Memory market to witness another negative sales growth in 2009

This is a continuation from my previous blog on the outlook for the global semiconductor industry, and iSuppli's ranking of the Top 20 global semiconductor companies.

Thanks to Jon Cassell at iSuppli, I also got into a conversation with Nam Hyung Kim, Director & Chief Analyst, iSuppli. Kim touched upon the outlook for DRAM and the memory market as a whole.

Further analyzing iSuppli's top 20 rankings, among the leading memory makers, Hynix has performed the worst. On this aspect, Kim says that DRAM sales is likely to decline by 20 percent in 2008. Thus, Hynix’s performance is not far from overall challenging status considering it also scaled NAND flash business back dramatically.

On another note, Qimonda is also among the strugglers, and there have been whispers about its possible bankruptcy. However, iSuppli did not comment on this topic.

So, how much longer will it take before the memory market can come out of its current woes? Kim adds: "The memory industry inevitably will experience another negative sales growth in 2009. However, the rate of sales decline will be much lower than that of 2008.

"The year 2009 will be the third year of the memory market downturn. Therefore, supply growth reduction will take place fast, resulting in lower price drop compared to 2008."

Finally, what's the way forward for DRAM, NOR and SRAM? Kim asserts that iSuppli expect the following sales growth in 2009 (preliminary):
* DRAM: single digit percentage sales decline; and
* NAND, NOR, SRAM will experience mid to high teens sales decline.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Global semicon could decline by over 5pc in 2009!

The year 2008 will soon be relegated to history, albeit with the dubious distinction of handing out an extremely unforgettable year for the memory chip makers!

This trend was starkly evident, as a major downturn in this segment caused revenue to fall for nearly all suppliers and contributed to negative results for the overall semiconductor industry, according to recently released preliminary market-share figures from iSuppli Corp. (The memory market is being dealt with in the next blog!)

The key question remains as to whether the semicon industry has really lost the money-making ability? According to Dale Ford, senior vice president, market intelligence services, for iSuppli, the semiconductor industry goes through cycles of revenue growth and profitability. He says, "It would not be correct to extrapolate the current challenges of the semiconductor industry and say that the industry has “lost its money-making ability.”

iSuppli expects that the the industry will experience some level of restructuring during this downturn that will help it emerge to renewed revenue growth and profitability.

Revenue to drop 2 percent
Given the current scenario, it is taken for granted now that the global semicon revenue will likely decline in 2008. Ford says: "iSuppli predicts that the semiconductor industry will decline by 2 percent in 2008. However, it is possible for the decline to worsen as more companies revise down their fourth quarter guidance."

The primary reasons for the decline are the over supply of memory ICs and resulting steep price declines and the global financial/economic crisis that has impacted consumer spending and the production of electronic equipment.

Fabless flies high
Coming down to the top 20 semiconductor suppliers (see table above), it would be interesting to see how the fabless companies have fared overall.

Ford says that Qualcomm, Broadcom and nVidia are predicted to be the only fabless companies in the top 20 semiconductor suppliers in 2008.

"Qualcomm and Broadcom are expected to see their revenues grow by 19.6 percent and 26.4 percent, respectively. Only nVidia is expected to see a decline in revenues with a projected contraction of 0.5 percent," he adds.

There are some non-memory players in the top 20, who have registered declines. While it is not possible to comment on every single company, Ford mentions that the declining revenues are due to a variety of factors, including divestiture of business units, declining markets, and lost market share.

Fab spend and outlook 2009
Critically, there is a need to also see how the fab spends are looking like in 2009.

According to SEMI's recent World Fab Forecast, spending on fab construction projects in 2008 is likely to decline by 41 percent year-over-year (YoY), as projects are pushed out or put on hold. In 2009, the Americas and Japan are expected to be the only regions with positive growth rates for construction spending.

Ford adds, "Currently, we see fab spending declining significantly in 2009."

Overall, what's the outlook going to be like for the global semiconductor industry in 2009! Ford concludes: "We have not released a formal forecast to the press at this time. However, I will say that we expect the semiconductor market to decline by more than 5 percent in 2009."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My blog is the world's best!

Wow! I am overwhelmed!

This morning, when I stepped into the office, I'd no clue what lay ahead. This blog had been recently nominated in Electronics's first ever Electronics Blog Awards 2008, under the Electronic Hardware category.

My blog was declared the winner in this category (!.

Several friends and well wishers have requested me to post an image about the winner's announcement page, so here it is!All of the other bloggers in the list are equally worthy, and they are all winners. My heartiest congratulations to all of my fellow nominees. I haven't even met anyone of you, ever! Hope I can, some time soon.

I've always maintained that love writing (or blogging) about things that are close to my heart. Semicon and telecom are prime in that category, two topics that I am really very fond of.

My blog -- well, it all started as a regular affair. There are a whole lot of great bloggers out there, who also write on similar topics. I was and am just one among those. Nor was and am I ever looking for traffic, etc., as it is my contention that people will only stop by and read your blog post or article IF there's something of interest to them. So, I was my only reader ;) I thought!

I didn't even realize that so many people would be reading my blog posts. Well, things changed somewhere, I don't know how. Wish I could thank everyone personally!

Thanks, dear friends, for stopping by my blog occasionally. I just don't have words to express myself.

All I can say is a big thank you to Electronics Weekly for picking up my blog. Thanks to the person who nominated my blog, as I've no idea who nominated it. Thanks also to Google for creating the Blogspot platform so that people like me can blog. Many thanks to all of those friends, well wishers and readers who voted for me. Hope you all find my blog useful.

Dear friends and readers, please keep those suggestions coming so I can strive to improve myself even further over time.

P.S. A former colleague and close friend, Debashish Choudhury, has also added a link on Global SMT site. Thanks Debu for the honor! ;)

Cybermedia/CIOL, very kindly, posted a news release announcing my victory. Many thanks for to CIOL and Cybermedia.

Later, in the evening, Pradeep Gupta, CyberMedia's managing director, sent out an email to the entire company, announcing my win. Thanks a lot for this very nice and touching gesture, Sir.

Finally, Electronics Weekly sent a mail to me saying: "You were the clear winner in your category, so congratulations! If I may, I'll send you a 'Blog Awards, Winner' badge for your blog, to commemorate the victory!" Thanks to Electronics Weekly again!

Top trends for global/Indian semiconductor industry in 2009

Right then, folks! Here are the much awaited top trends for global semiconductor industry for 2009!

First, let's start with microprocessors and microcontrollers. One of the most apt persons to answer this query was Jordan Plofsky, senior vice president, Market, Altera Corp., during his recent visit to India for the Altera SOPC Conference.

Top trend in microprocessors/microcontrollers
Undoubtedly, the major trend will be the shift to multicore and its challenges. These challenges include:

* Parallel programming tools.
* Memory bandwidth allocation.
* O/S support.
* Verification tools.
* Power reduction and performance improvements.

In one of my previous blogs, I had discussed with Intel how parallel programming is getting to be regular! Also, AMD is well on an identical path! Hence, this key global trend is very much in line with the focus on parallelism!

Top global semiconductor trends for 2009
According to Plofsky, the major trends would be:

* Consolidation
* Power management
* Supply chain dynamics changing – inventory reduction
* Focus on operational costs in a slower growth environment

Indian semicon trends
And what about the top trends for the Indian semiconductor industry? Here are some thoughts from S. Janakiraman, former chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA) and President and CEO-R&D Services, MindTree.

Top 5 trends for Indian semicon industry in 2009
According to Jani Sir, the key trends in India during 2009 are:

* Global customers will have higher cost pressure and increase level of offshoring and outsourcing in 2009.
* India will become an even more important market for selling semiconductors as India will show higher percentage growth than other markets.
* Decided in India and originated in India products will licensed and manufactured for the global market.
* Business models for design services will start shifting from T&M and linear with people strength to risk-reward, non linear and more skin in the game.
* India will start inventing products that matter to rural and bottom of the pyramid segments.

All of these are in line with what's happening in the Indian semiconductor industry -- focus on embedded and design services, coupled with product development, which is beginning to see several starts. Also, several MNCs are now designing products out of India. Two recent top-of-the-mind instances are those of Intel and AMD. Others will follow suit, definitely.

Well, these trends could be tough to beat! What do you think folks?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Four key drivers for Agilent!

Agilent has been a leader in T&M for quite some time, and India remains a key market for the company.

According to Venkatesh Valluri, President and Country General Manager, Agilent Technologies India, the global market size for T&M in electronics and life sciences is $43 billion. This includes $18 billion in electronics and $25 billion in life sciences. From the India side, the size is about $1 billion.

He says: "Testing is becoming a more integral part of the product development process, especially in general electronics. It is now coming of age. As for the rate of expansion, it is approximately 15-20 percent YoY, and it is higher in India than in other parts of the world."

Drivers for T&M
Telecom has been the leading driver. However, telecom growth may not be sustained YoY, for say, the next 10 years. "You can't get 100 million subscribers each year! The difference would be more in the quality of service (QoS). This automatically drives testing and measurement," he adds.

The second driver is the aerospace industry. The difference is through high-end technology. Agilent's ADC conversion technology is one of the best in the world. In the next few years, new programs will make this segment even more stronger.

The third driver is manufacturing electronics. In India, it is definitely not as aggressive as China, but it is coming up. Even most of the EMS players are present here. Therefore, some ecosystem is building up.

The fourth driver is the design validation process. As the global R&D centers start coming into India, the companies are also starting to do product design.

Agilent in solar
Hold it guys! Agilent is all set to play a big role in the emerging solar/PV segment as well. According to Valluri, in India, solar/PV is getting into a manufacturing transition.

He notes "Agilent plays strongly in the nanomeasurement area. As solar emerges in India, nanomeasurement technology will become important. Agilent has the AFM (atomic force microscopy), which is a leading product line."

Semicon in India
All of the large semiconductor companies are based in India. Also, a lot of high-end work is also happening here. The design validation market is slowly coming up.

Agilent feels that the semiconductor companies would need products with the right price points. There will be a need to build the right value at the right price points, says Valluri.

On the gloomy economic climate, he agrees that while the economic climate will not be so robust in 2009, Agilent operate in markets that are considered steady. "We believe that it will be reasonably okay to remain committed to such markets," he says.

China, India largest growth markets
Ron Nersesian, Vice President and General Manager, Wireless Business Unit, Electronic Measurements Group, Agilent, points out that it is good to see growth that has been happening.

He says: "Growth in our business has been exceptional. It is an opportunity to work with the local companies as well as the Nokias of the world. We also see opportunities in aerospace and defence, wireless R&D, and installation and maintenance areas. China and India are the largest growth markets."

Agilent's strategic intent is to become the leading test and measurement company.

"If you look at the new wireless standards, we would like to provide solutions for all of these standards. We are working on both WiMAX and LTE. We are working with the top wireless vendors as well, says Nersesian.

In aerospace, Agilent work on signal analyzers, signal sources, etc. It also makes network analyzers and component test products, as well as non-linear vector analyzers.

Agilent has also invested in the network surveillance area. "We are focusing on RF surveillance and solutions as well, which can be of great interest to the Indian government," adds Nersesian.

Time for parallel to get regular!

Given the major global developments in multi-core, it is obvious that the chip design industry is moving toward this technology platform.

However, as with any new development, multi-core platforms bring their own sets of challenges that need to be addressed as easily and skilfully as possible.

It is in this context that Intel has started its Intel Academic Community Program. This program is focused on preparing the next generation of software professionals for multi-core platforms. Excellent! Time for parallel to get regular!!

The Intel program aims at expanding the computer science curriculum to include multi-threading software for multi-core platforms. It already had tie ups with 45 universities globally, delivering curriculum in 2006, and 400+ in 2007. Intel is also contributing expertise, educational course materials, dual-core PC platforms, software development tools and funding.

Intel has already invested over $1 billion in education. Intel has programs right across the board. This year, about 90 faculty members attended the 2008 Asia Academic Forum.

Multi-core focus area
According to Scott Apeland, Director, Developer Network for Intel, at the sidelines of IDF 2008, Taipei, the company's has always been stressing on innovation and technologies. One of the key focus areas has been multi-core. He says: "Multi-core has created significant changes in the industry. It has to be parallel, rather than sequential.We have provided tools to make it easier to develop, test, debug and optimize multi-core software."

Two years ago, Intel had partnered with 40 universities to provide multi-core information into the curriculum. These universities were extremely receptive. Today, Intel has partnered with over 850+ universities globally.

"In India, we started with the tier 1 institutes. So, they are also training their partners. The engineers who would be coming out of these institutes with the training will definitely have the competitive edge. There is a new pipeline for the new talent coming out from all of these universities," says Apeland.

Web-based program
Intel has developed a Web-based program, where users can download the tools. They can license them as well, and even download the curriculum, etc. Those faculty using this program can also share ideas and experiences with the other participating faculties. Apeland adds: "Now, the institutes are also starting to communicate together. We have created the community and the people are interacting."

Harshad Deshpande, Asia Pacific & Japan Program Manager, Intel Software & Solutions Group, elaborated that Intel works with VCs, UMs and the HRD ministry, etc., in India, and also conduct seminars. "We share information, etc., and then roll it out. The UPTU and the VTU have already started using this. Also, the NITs (formerly, RECs), have taken this up as well," he says.

"For certain tier 1 institutes, we have the Intel Higher Education Team. Intel scholars visit these institutes, and have multiple, close engagements. Our portal is the Intel Software Network, the resource for parallel programming tools."

Need for parallel programmers
Commenting on the growing need for parallel programmers, Apeland notes: "We are hearing from companies that they need more parallel programmers.

The whole industry is moving toward multi-core. Developers need to learn the new skills and move ahead."

Parallel is regular
According to Apeland, this may happen in the next five to 10 years, when we have better ways to use parallel programming.

He notes: "By 2010, this may start happening. For example, Wipro, in India, has been getting customer requirements for parallelism.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Saluting Mumbaikars and Indians -- we rock, despite cowardly, terrorist acts

Fellow Indians, it is really tragic to see the unfortunate events happening in Mumbai live on TV. Very thankfully, all of those that I know are safe and sound in the city. Salute to all of those brave Indians who laid down their lives in the line of fire, and to those innocents who lost their lives in this cowardly act.

India and Mumbai will not be overwhelmed by these events! We are a proud, strong and resilient bunch of people.

There are forums on the Web, such as Facebook -- 'Mumbai Meri Jaan' and on eCademy, there's a forum where emails have been literally pouring in. Am sure, there are several fellow bloggers posting live stuff on the happenings in Mumbai.

The terrorist act was meant to destabilize the Indian financial system, if you may, or even the hospitality and travel industries, and the IT/hi-tech industries. Yes, those carrying out these acts may have succeeded in the very near short-term.

Yes, the situation is much better than before. However, the gun battles rage, and it is soon going to be a full 24 hours since the terror attacks started -- actually, in another 25 mins from now.

All Indians and Mumbaikars stand united. We will not allow such acts to overwhelm us. There are critical hostage situations that still need to be dealt with first. The presence of security personnel has been very comforting.

I was very pleasantly delighted to receive an invitation today from the India Semiconductor Association (ISA) for its forthcoming Vision Summit in early 2009. The theme of this summit is aptly titled "India: Gateway to Future Markets."

Yes, indeed! There is the famous Gateway of India in Mumbai, right in front of the Taj Hotel. That's where most visitors go -- to soak in the breathtaking view. It is literally the gateway to India's financial capital, which is Mumbai

The ISA Vision Summit is also the gateway to future markets in India! There are so many of those Indian product design companies, who are ruling the roost globally! Not to forget, the very strong Indian line-up within the Indian semiconductor and embedded design industry. Solar/photovoltaic is also coming up in a big way, and there will be lot of interest in the potential of renewable energy in India.

Get the message?

You can also see many articles from captains of the Indian industry pointing out how this attack will only have a very short-term impact on India. There may be small breaks in activities with minimal effect, but it will not stop India Inc. from marching forward, despite these cowardly, terrorist attacks.

India is strong and rocking! And beautiful!! Proud to be an Indian!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

2009 will not be 2001 repeat for global chip industry

The fact that the ongoing economic gloom has brought some doom for the global chip market is well known. H1-2008 held up well, better than most had predicted. However, now, the economic gloom in the global financial system has managed to nick the US, and Europe, and lately, Japan, into recessionary conditions, taking the global chip industry along with it!

Some fear that the recession will be as bad as 2001 and that 2009 could re-enact 2001! However, Future Horizons' Malcolm Penn differs, and I'd agree with him. In 2001, there was this huge dotcom collapse, coupled with the unfortunate happenings of 9/11, and a 'massive inventory burn just as a huge amount of excess capacity was coming on stream.'

What's the situation now? There's no serious overcapacity, and the pre-slowdown utilization rate were in the 90 percent region. Capex was already in retrenchment, well before the slowdown. Nor are there any serious excess inventory in the supply chain.

So, that only leaves the problem of the global financial gloom. Lot of money is being thrown about at the problem, hoping that it would pull the world out of the mess it currently finds itself in.

But, can the industry afford to NOT innovate? This is the time to innovate and find new ways to come out of the hole it finds itself in. The industry must also reconcile to single-digit growths mostly, from now on, I guess.

There has been no new 'killer device of mass use' like the mobile phone. Simply, no one has been able to come up with any new device of such mass appeal! The mobile phone, as we knew it, was only meant for voice. Now, it ports a camera, an MP3 player, Internet browsing, email, etc. It gave birth to PDAs, and probably, now, mobile Internet devices (MIDs).

It amuses me a lot when I find companies talking about providing full Internet experience on the mobile phone. It amuses me even further when I find a lot of people and companies talking about how they expect people to be on the Internet all the time! Surely, there are other things to do in one's life than simply staying hooked to the Internet! Or maybe, they have a crystal ball to gaze in, all the time!

The industry needs to be careful about all the predictions and technologies. Not all will succeed. What they should try their hand at is at being innovative! Or, has innovation completely gone out of the window?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Freescale to leverage on embedded processing leadership: Rich Beyer

During the recent Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) 2008 India, in Bangalore, Rich Beyer, CEO, Freescale indicated that the company will continue to leverage its leadership in embedded processing in the high-growth industrial, consumer, networking and automotive markets.

He said: "We are the number one supplier of automotive semiconductors, and this has been built on a leadership position in automotive microcontrollers and with technology leadership in telematics, sensors, analog and power management for safety and infotainment. We are the leader in communications processors for networking, and we are number one in RF power amplifiers for wireless infrastructure. We will extend this leadership to address the growing demand for broadband and Internet access, both wired and wireless.

"We also offer technology leadership in our i.MX multimedia processors, sensors, analog and power management for embedded solutions used in personal mobile internet devices, personal navigation, gaming and other consumer applications." Beyer's vision is that Freescale will help redefine best-in-class customer support.

Beyer touched upon the three three major trends impacting the world, the markets, and its customers. These are The Net Effect: this is the emergence of user-created content and the insatiable demand for bandwidth to fuel the multimedia experience. Health and Safety: the need for improved healthcare monitoring and the opportunity for electronics to keep us out of harm's way. And, Going Green: the need for energy.

The Net Effect
According to Beyer, Freescale is the only semiconductor company to publicly demonstrate working LTE technology in both handset and network platforms. We expect to be in field trials with cellular infrastructure providers in early 2009, and field deployment shortly thereafter in selected markets.

Freescale's QorIQ (Core-IQ) multicore platform will address the new era in networking. The QorIQ communications platform brings to market multicore technology that takes system performance, power efficiency and programmability to a new level. "As we enter this new era of networking, we will continue to leverage our long heritage in embedded processing," he added. "We are leveraging many of our existing as well as new innovations in our QorIQ communications platforms."

He also touched upon the acquisition of Intoto, a leading provider of software platform products for multicore networking and communications applications. According to Beyer, "Multicore implementation is not just about great hardware, it has to focus on the software and the developer's experience."

Health and Safety
Beyer talked about the need to find new solutions, and that those solutions will be based on semiconductor technology, as the current methods of housing and caring for the senior members of our society will not scale.

With over 2 billion cell phones in use worldwide, the estimated market for wireless remote monitoring systems to help care for the sick is projected to increase to a $345 billion market by 2010. "The proliferation of personal medical devices connecting patient and doctor will redefine the way we conduct regular check-ups, help detect diseases early, dramatically decrease complications, and simplify care," he added.

He also highlighted the Monebo and Freescale partnership to deliver an ECG-on-a-Chip platforms for OEMs to integrate into a variety of other implementations.

Freescale envision applications in the medical market like hospital bedside monitors, telemedicine and portable ambulatory monitors. It also sees possibilities on the consumer side with products for fitness and personal health.

Going Green
"Perhaps, the most significant challenge facing the engineering community is the need to increase energy efficiency in everything we create," said Beyer. He touched upon emerging standards like Wireless Highway Addressable Remote Transducer, or WirelessHART, which are helping deliver affordable and efficient industrial-strength wireless networking solutions.

According to him, major industrial automation vendors believe that wireless sensors will make up 60 percent of the instrumentation in a future green field plant and in existing plants; many believe that wireless technology will result in a 30-40 percent increase in instrumentation.

Beyer touched upom how Freescale drove the effort to form the Wireless Industrial Technology Konsortium, or WiTECK, and its first project is to develop a fully certified WirelessHART stack by December of this year.

Given the rising demand for more fuel efficient vehicles, in the mid-term, Freescale believes that the more likely candidate is the plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle.

Beyer also touched upon smart meters. He said: "One of our North American customers, Trilliant a leading provider of advanced metering network solutions uses our 802.15.4 solution in their smart meters to help deliver demand response and grid management programs to more than 100 utility companies. Major utility companies across Europe are also planning to deploy smart meter networks in the coming years. Italy has already deployed 25 million connected meters, and France and Spain are running pilot projects for the planned deployment of their automated meter network in 2011."

Solar lanterns in India
Turning towards India, Beyer mentioned that 26 million Indian households are without an electrical connection, and that the Indian government provides a subsidy on kerosene oil for lamps to help provide lighting for these homes.

With the rising price of oil and the carbon emissions associated with burning kerosene, the Prime Minister's Energy Coordination Committee is considering a proposal to shift part of this subsidy to fund solar lanterns in India's rural areas. If implemented on a large scale, replacing at least one kerosene lantern with a solar-powered LED lantern in each of these homes could eliminate 1.9 million metric tones of carbon dioxide per year.

In this context, Beyer highlighted Freescale's work with InnovLite, a Bangalore-based provider of new generation lighting technology, to help create clean and energy-efficient lighting solutions.

AMD's roadmap 2009 provides lots of answers... now, to deliver!

AMD's roadmap 2009, or guidance, presented during its 2008 Financial Analyst Day on Nov. 13th, provided a lot of answers to several of the questions it had been facing. Also, AMD did something Intel hasn't! It did not revise the Q4 guidance!! During a webcast, AMD CFO, Bob Rivet, said he would offer an update to the company’s earnings outlook in the first week of December. Also, one of AMD's announcements, the Yukon, is definitely not going to take on Intel's Atom, and should be priced higher.

Kicking of proceedings, Dirk Meyer, President and CEO, talked about a complete AMD & Foundry Company realignment, which includes executing key technology transitions. These include: deliver 2nd wave of 45nm products and platforms -- including chipsets; transition to 40nm graphics products; finalize 32nm designs for 2010 production. Also, deliver, market and sell platforms; and continue operational excellence.

Later, during the Q&A session, when asked about the validity of AMD's cross-license for patents with Intel, Meyer said there was no legal issue. AMD's agreement with Intel allows AMD subsidiaries to be licensed. The Foundry Company, 43.5 percent owned by AMD, qualifies as a subsidiary, as defined, as per the agreement with Intel.

Asset Smart strategy
According to Rivet, who spoke last during the Webcast, it has been a tough operating environment. However, AMD launched Asset Smart; achieved operating profitability in Q3-08 and is now making progress toward $1.5B operating income breakeven by early ‘09. It also has a richer MPU product mix and the first 45nm product has been launched. Graphics has returned to operating profitability. AMD has already divested its DTV business and plans to sell handheld.

Asset Smart manufacturing strategy
* Strategic commitment from Mubadala
* The Foundry Company plans multi-billion dollar build-out of leading edge fabs in Dresden and Upstate New York
* Expanded IBM partnership delivering leading-edge bulk and SOI process technology

Stronger financial structure
* ~$1B new cash investment
* ~$1.2B debt assumed by The Foundry Company
* Future fab capital expenditures optional
* Reduced process technology R&D costs
* Improved free cash flow by elimination of required fabrication capital expenditures offset somewhat by wafers purchased for cash (foundry model)
* Leaner and more variable business model, with a lower breakeven point of ~$1.5B

The Foundry Company
Doug Grose, Senior VP, Manufacturing & Supply Chain Management and Incoming CEO, The Foundry Company, highlighted AMD's 2009 manufacturing priorities. These are: transition to best-in-class foundry model; complete conversion to 45nm production; and successful 32nm technology development.

This October 7, AMD and the Advanced Technology Investment Co. announced their intention to create a new global enterprise, The Foundry Company, to address the growing global demand for independent, leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing. This announcement was the lynchpin of AMD’s Asset Smart plan, and a key initiative designed to enable the company to achieve sustainable profitability.

At the 2008 AMD Financial Analyst Day event, AMD provided more details on what its manufacturing operations will look like once the spin-out of The Foundry Company is complete.
* For the Silicon on Insulator (SOI) and bulk manufacturing processes needed to build AMD CPUs and APUs, The Foundry Company plans to offer AMD 65nm, 45nm and 32nm manufacturing capabilities at:
- Fab 36 (Dresden)
- Fab 38 (Dresden)
- Fab 4x (Saratoga County, NY)
* For the bulk manufacturing processes AMD uses to manufacture its chipsets and GPUs, AMD plans to have access to 55nm, 40nm and 32nm manufacturing capabilities at:
- TSMC/UMC (Taiwan)
- Fab 38 (Dresden)
- Fab 4x (Saratoga County, NY)
* The Foundry Company also provided an update on its progress towards moving to a new 32nm manufacturing process for bulk and SOI production. The company confirmed that it will complete 32nm test chips in Dresden by the end of year, and is on schedule to successfully incorporate High-k Metal Gate within this process node. 32nm technology development will ramp in late 2009 in preparation for 1H 2010 volume production.

Platforms for ultraportable notebooks and mini-notebooks
There has been lot of interest in ultraportable notebooks and mini-notebooks, owing to their small form factor and lightweight profile. AMD also announced new platforms aimed at serving these markets.
* AMD introduced two ultraportable notebook platforms -- Congo and Yukon. Congo is based on the dual-core Conesus CPU with the RS780M and SB710 chipset. Yukon is based on a single-core CPU with the RS690E and SB600 chipset. While targeted at the ultra-portable market, these platforms are designed to address a portion of mini-notebook market, especially at the dissatisfied users of limited Internet experience of mini-notebooks. Yukon is planned to be available in 1H09 followed by Congo in 2H09.
* AMD announced the 2010 ultraportable notebook platform code named Nile. It will feature dual-core Geneva CPU utilizing DDR3.
* In 2011, AMD plans to introduce the dual-core Ontario APU for ultraportable and mini-notebook platforms.

Server platforms
* Fiorano, the first AMD platform to combine AMD server processors and chipsets. It is on schedule for mid-2009 introduction based on planned release of the AMD SR5690 chipset. Fiorano will likely support Shanghai and the upcoming six-core Istanbul processor in 2H09.
* AMD's next-generation, DDR3-based server platform, Maranello, remains on track for introduction in 1H10.

Desktop platforms
* Dragon is set to launch in Q1 2009 and feature AMD's upcoming 45nm AMD Phenom II X4 quad-core processors, codenamed Deneb.
* Kodiak is scheduled to enhance AMD Business Class platforms in 2H09.
* Pisces mainstream desktop platform will debut in 2H09.
* Maui is its new home theater platform planned for launch in Q408.

There you have it! Everyone wants the global semiconductor industry to be humming and chirping! It would be great if AMD delivers on its promise and hopefully, becomes profitable all over again as well.

For those keen, PDF files of all of AMD's presentations can be downloaded from its web site.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The 'Bangalore' in Shanghai! But AMD still has lots of questions to answer!!

Welcome Shanghai, AMD's latest 45nm quad-core Opteron processor! It was launched with great fanfare in Bangalore today. However, lots of other questions remain unanswered. It is hoped that some answers will come out of AMD's 2008 Financial Analyst Day, which starts later today, in the US. More of those questions later!

First, the chip maker focused on three key points: virtualization performance; delivering up to 35 percent more performance and up to 35 percent decrease in power consumption at idle; and up to 21 percent CPU power savings.

Shanghai is packed with a lot of virtualization features, evidently aimed at the enterprise segment. It allows faster switching between virtual machines. Among other features, Shanghai allows live migration, which was also demonstrated at the launch,
and the cache has been doubled to 8MB. As per the AMD spokespersons, the Shanghai platform already boasts of over 25 ready platforms and more platforms will be announced by its customers in the coming months. It is said that with the Shanghai, AMD is well positioned in the 2P market.

The 45nm quad-core AMD Opteron processors build on AMD's legacy as the virtualization platform of choice, with the new processor already powering nine global OEM servers specifically designed for virtualization. The processors deliver faster 'world switch' time, which enhances virtual machine efficiency, and feature improved Rapid Virtualization Indexing, AMD's innovation in AMD-V that reduces the overhead associated with software virtualization.

On the energy efficiency side, AMD's Smart Fetch technology reduces power consumption by allowing cores to enter a 'halt' state during processing idle times with zero impact on application performance and compliments AMD's CoolCore technology, which reduces power on unused sections of each processor to further reduce power consumption. Shanghai supports DDR2, and not DDR3, for now!

The 'Bangalore' in 'Shanghai'
You can see Karthik Muttuswamy, Silicon Design Head, AMD India, Bangalore, along with others, holding the wafer in the picture above. Karthik's team was involved in all aspects of Shanghai, from architecture to tapeout. Shanghai was developed across Centers of Excellence in the United States and India. The US/India teams delivered key sections of the chip. AMD India's Bangalore team put them all together to create the complete design.

It is a matter of really great pride that India is playing a decisive role in driving the roadmap for the next generation processors and has contributed tremendously to the latest 45nm server processors, he said.

Lots of unanswered questions for AMD!
Well, AMD surely has managed to bring Shanghai faster to the market than expected. It is said to be the only X86 MPU spanning the 2P, 4P and 8P server segment. So far so good! There are lots of questions that AMD has to answer! (Oh, I did ask three of these questions!)

Now, where is that Atom killer? Where is AMD's strategy in the netbooks and mobile Internet devices spaces (MIDs)? Don't tell those aren't important for them, with rival Intel going for broke in that segment! Where is AMD's strategy, then, for OEMs to push its technologies into much smaller form factors?

What about Abu Dhabi-based Advanced Technology Investment Co. and The Foundry Company? How will this deal proceed given AMD's cross-licensing agreement with Intel? Or, how will the foundry compete against the likes of TSMCs of this world? Will the Shanghai bring about a brilliant or much better Q4 for AMD? What's the projection like? And well, how will the Shanghai strengthen AMD's position in the MPU segment? How will AMD fare in the global semiconductor industry next year?

I also thought that AMD would probably touch upon embedded computing, but well, nothing of that sort, as this was a Shanghai launch. Maybe, that'll come later!

It is hoped that a lot of answers to these questions, and much more, will come out at the Financial Analyst Day later today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Embedded computing -- 15mn devices not so far away!

It has been close to three weeks since the Intel IDF @ Taipei, Taiwan. However, way too many things happened there, which still deserve a mention. One such event would be the keynote on embedded Internet by Doug Davis, Intel's Vice President, Digital Enterprise Group and General Manager, Embedded and Communications Group.

Today, there are 5 billion connected devices, and this number should likely go up to 15 billion by 2015, as per IDC. However, technology barriers need to be overcome. Davis cited these challenges as reliability and long life, software scalability, low power and low cost, privacy and data security, IPv4 addressing and open standards. As of now, the Intel architecture (IA) is said to be (due to lack of any good competition) the preferred architecture for the embedded Internet.

While on embedded products, post the Intel Atom processor, Davis said that the Menlow XL is likely for a Q1-09 introduction. The associated market segments include retail, PoS, digital signage, kiosks, vending, ATM, etc.

On digital PoS for retail markets, Davis highlighted India, and rightly so, adding that digital retail PoS would find applications, given the growing and quite affluent Indian middle class. Such a digital PoS device could improve inventory management and transaction security, allow more efficient space utilization, etc. Yet another application is digital signage for business intelligence [as informative displays].

Davis showed all of us MediaCart's example. MediaCart is providing a unique shopping experience. It is trying to revolutionize the shopping experience with a computerized shopping cart that assists shoppers, delivers targeted communications at the point of purchase, and streamlines store operations. Incidentally, Singapore's Venture GES was contracted by MediaCart to develop the new shopping experience cart.

Pervasive embedded computing
Davis believes that embedded computing would become more pervasive in the days ahead. "The Intel architecture has all of the unparalleled scalability to meet these needs," he added.

Davis estimated that China could go on to become the world's largest semiconductor market over the next five years or so. Semiconductor TAM for industrial automation is likely to grow from $13.5 billion in 2008 to $17.5 billion in 2012. India is said to be the second largest destination for industrial automation, which is interesting, and something to look forward to.

Digital factory
We have all had some visions, sometimes of how a digital factory would look like? And, who would be working at such a factory. Possibly, robots, or industrial robots would make up the attendance!

Well, if KUKA, a company that builds the world's leading robotic and automation devices is to be believed, we are a little closer than before to this vision or dream. Bruno Geiger, managing director, Asia Pacific, KUKA, pointed out in his chat with Davis that the company makes robotic and automation devices based on Intel's platorms. That, 'takes us closer to the vision of a digital factory!' This is a great example of multi-core in industrial automation.

Portal for embedded designers
Getting back to the embedded Internet, Davis said that the greatest challenge for customers is to integrate new technologies. To address this need, Intel is investing in a new Web portal for embedded designers. He announced that the Intel Architecture Embedded Design Center, a Web portal for embedded designers, will likely get launched in the spring of 2009. This is indeed something to look forward to!

Asia has all the trappings to become the largest market for embedded computing, and Taiwan, the largest market for automation. Well, don't count India out! Embedded systems and software is India's strength, and don't be surprised to see and hear about lots of such activities from the country.