Sunday, August 31, 2008

ARPUs up for most CDMA2000 carriers; UMB needs push

This blog is a part two of my conversation with CDMA Development Group's (CDG) Executive Director, Perry LaForge.

With China Telecom now pushing CDMA in China, CDG views this initiative, as a tremendous opportunity for CDMA in China. It has been working closely with China Telecom, a CDG member, as the carrier transitions China Unicom's CDMA assets.

LaForge says: "Having China's largest wireline operator focused on expanding CDMA2000 services and bundling them within their telecommunications portfolio will only increase their opportunities for success. We also look forward to seeing China Telecom introduce into China a large variety of new mobile broadband services enabled by Rev. A."

Let us now look at global operators and how they have attempted to crack the ARPU (average revenue per user) challenge.

According to LarForge, looking at recently-announced Q2 numbers, ARPUs are up across the board for most leading CDMA2000 operators and a lot of what is driving that is wireless data ARPU.

* In the US, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel have announced increased wireless data ARPUs in Q2 2008. Verizon's total data ARPU is up to $12.58, representing 24.41 percent of their total ARPU and a CAGR of 31.3 percent. The ARPU generated by Sprint's CDMA2000 subscribers has increased by 21 percent year-over-year to $14, representing 21.43 percent of their total ARPU.

* In Japan, KDDI continues to see wireless data ARPUs exceeding $20. LG Telecom increased its ARPU by 18 percent since launching Rev. A.

* In Europe and Russia, CDMA450 operators are seeing ARPUs well above $50. For example, Telefonica 02's non-SMS data ARPU now accounts for 43 percent of its total ARPU in the Czech Republic.

Since launching EV-DO, Skylink's profits from high-speed broadband data services in Russia have increased from 7 percent to 35 percent. In Norway, Rev. A is helping Nordisk Mobiltelefon get a 100 percent return on their investment in less than two years with only 100,000 subscribers.

* In Latin America, Centennial's ARPU from its Rev. A network in Puerto Rico is one of the highest in this market reaching $65 in a marketplace where the average for its competitors is somewhere in the $50s.

Data revenue is a key driver in delivering Centennial's competitive edge, currently accounting for approximately $7.50 per user on a monthly basis, and growing.

* In Africa, Starcomm's Rev. A subscribers in Nigeria generate in excess of $80 ARPU, which is more than three times higher than $24.25, which is the combined revenue they generate from voice and data from its average subscribers.

Clearly, technologies such as EV-DO Rev. A and HSPA are helping operators realize the expectations of 3G, which includes increased ARPUs from wireless data. CDMA2000 has cracked the ARPU challenge, for now, and is meeting the industry's expectations for 3G.

Finally, what's the status with UMB (ultra mobile broadband). Are the operators ready to embrace this technology?

As of now, no operators have made a commitment to UMB, yet.

LaForge says that LTE has garnered the most outspoken support when it comes to OFDMA-based mobile broadband technologies. The CDG is committed to assisting all of its members as they seek to complement their 3G CDMA assets through interoperability with LTE, Mobile WiMAX or UMB.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Make unique fashion statements with E Ink!

This is a continuation of my conversation with E Ink. An Electrophoretic Display (EPD) company and headquartered in Boston, the company makes rolls of EPD film that are later shipped to partners.

Founded in 1997 based on research started at the MIT Media Lab, E Ink Corp. is a leading supplier of electronic paper display (EPD) technologies. Products made with E Ink's revolutionary electronic ink possess a paper-like high contrast appearance, ultra-low power consumption and a thin, light form.

Recently, the company achieved a number of design wins in Japan. Throwing light on these developments, Sriram Peruvemba, Vice President of Marketing, E Ink Corp., said that the company's customers in Japan include Sony (for eBooks), Casio (for mobile phone the GzOne, most rugged version), Citizen (for signage products), Seiko (for wrist watches), Hitachi (for mobile phone, case art display), Teraoka (for Ink In Motion signs), Toppan (for train station arrival/departure information signs).

Based on E Ink's design wins in Japan, is there are a possibility that there will be more mobile phones using film-based displays?

Peruvemba said: "We see sub-segments of the mobile phone market that is disatisfied with the amount of use per battery charge with current LCD technology. We see opportunities for customers to make a unique fashion statement with their products by using our displays. Our displays are slightly thicker than a sheet of paper, so, it is easy to incorporate them as the outside skin of a mobile phone."

The display can be cut to any shape. The company encourage designers to "think outside the rectangle", the rectangle representing traditional display technologies, and there is no glass to break making E Ink's displays the most rugged.

Smart design trends
Given E Ink's vision of having a presence on every smart surface, it would be interesting to find out the company's views on the design trends among displays, and in semiconductors.

For starters, customers used to 30 hours of continuous operation on their eBooks will no longer accept two hours on their laptop battery or just a few hours on their cell phone battery, as the demand for lower power consuming displays will increase.

Peruvemba added: "Designers that hitherto designed their product to accommodate a rectangular display will seek displays that will work around their design, displays that offer unique shapes and sizes such as what is available with technologies like E Ink's EPD. Adoption of reflective display technologies into mobile phones, GPS, PDA's and laptop computers, will allow us to read the display outdoors without having to squint, shield the screen or seek shade."

This spring E Ink had announced new product advancements, like its next generation segmented display cells (SDC) and a new controller for active matrix displays that allows for menu options and pen-input. E Ink is offering a prototyping kit for each product line.

Elaborating on these developments, Peruvemba said that the segmented displays were relaunched with three major changes. They are now more flexible/bendable, they can tolerate a wider temperature range (-10 to +60 deg Centigrade)and are thinner (less than 400 micro meters).

"These features allowed E Ink to win designs with smart card makers, penetrate industrial market segments for battery indicators, and go where no display has gone before," he concluded.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CDG sees great opportunity for CDMA in India

Some time early this month, a very interesting development took place in Korea's telecom market. The CDMA Development Group (CDG) reported that LG Telecom's new CDMA2000 1x EV-DO Revision A (Rev. A) data service is flourishing in the Korean wireless services market, adding about 100,000 new data subscribers per month to its 3G data service, "OZ" ("Open Zone").

The OZ service has already resulted in a 14 percent increase in data average revenue per user (ARPU) from the previous quarter and a total of 287,000 OZ subscribers at the end of July.

Launched in April 2008, OZ gained market momentum by offering Korean consumers full-featured handsets with the compelling benefits of wireless broadband data services. The OZ service includes full browsing on the open Internet and unlimited fast data downloads, all at a flat-rate price. LG Telecom will expand its OZ service offering with 10 or more OZ-capable mobile handsets before the year end.

I caught up with Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDG, to find out a bit about the success of Rev A, and a little bit more about the global CDMA scenario, ARPUs, and his views on India, invariably!

Giving his overview of the global CDMA market, he said that globally, CDMA is growing rapidly and the ecosystem is strong. We're in the process of updating our numbers, but at the end of Q2 there were over 451 million CDMA subscribers worldwide, including 438 million CDMA2000 subscribers.

The EV-DO subscriber base grew from 65 million to 91 million over the past year, achieving a CAGR of 40 percent. Since the beginning of 2007, the number of commercial EV-DO Rev. A networks has also grown from three to 43, with another 35 being deployed.

CDMA continues to be the dominant technology in North America, while subscribership is growing fastest in Asian countries such as India and Indonesia. Additionally, the recently-restructured Chinese telecommunications sector has created a tremendous opportunity for CDMA with China Telecom.

Let's see what kind of services does Rev. A bring to Korea and globally. LaForge added: "LG Telecom launched its flat-rate "OZ" mobile broadband service, which is enabled by Rev. A and has been immensely popular, bringing in more than 100,000 subscribers per month since April 2008.

"The connectivity enabled by Rev. A is opening up a whole new level of wireless services to operators around the world, including user-generated content/social networking, broadcast TV/multicasting, mobile commerce, push-to-X, mobile advertising, mobile commerce, enterprise productivity applications and public safety initiatives."

So, how does the CDG foresee CDMA's growth in India?

Certainly, CDG sees an incredible opportunity for CDMA growth in India, especially when mobile broadband EV-DO services become widely available. Commenting on the new 3G spectrum policy, LaForge said it allows CDMA operators to gain access to 2x1.25MHz 3G spectrum in the 800MHz frequency band is a welcome first step towards that goal.

He added: "We welcome the DoT's announcement of the spectrum guidelines for 3G services and congratulate the DoT for opening up the IMT-2000 recognized bands of 450MHz and 1900MHz bands for 3G services, in addition to the 2100MHz band.

"Although no spectrum is currently available in the 450MHz and 1900MHz bands, we trust that they will soon be made available for bidding to maintain a level playing field with GSM operators.

"Just as the competitive forces of CDMA2000 1X stimulated the rapid growth of telephony penetration in India, we expect EV-DO will add the necessary impetus to take the growth of Internet penetration in the country to the next level.

"The CDG agrees with the recommended principles of using spectrum efficiently, ensuring technology and service neutrality, and establishing a level playing field through auctioning with a reserve price for allocation of 3G spectrum."

Part two follows in the next blog.

India unlikely to become LCD TV manufacturing hub

A recent iSuppli report, dwelt on the fact that the hard economic times could actually turn out to be a boon for contract manufacturers serving the LCD-TV market. The reason given was that the leading brand names of the world are increasingly outsourcing their production to reduce risk.

This invariably leads to the China factor, and whether China is dominating when iSuppli speaks about outsourcing to EMS and ODM companies.

Again, I would like to thank Jonathan Cassell, Editorial Director and Manager, Public Relations, iSuppli, for helping me out a lot with my queries! Many thanks.

Responding to my query, Jeffrey Wu, senior analyst, EMS/ODM, for iSuppli Corp., El Segundo, Calif., USA, says that the China factor consists of a few critical elements, such as cheap labor, localized supply chains, manufacturing clusters, government-planned trade zones, etc.

China backlash observed
Wu adds: "In recent years, however, owing to: (a) rising labor costs (due to economic growth and the new labor laws in place), (b) increasing raw material costs (due to the price hike in crude oil), and (c) surging shipping and logistics costs (due to oil price increase), iSuppli has observed backlash in China.

"Nowadays, OEMs, EMS providers and ODMs factor in more considerations, besides the China factor, when calculating their total landed costs. For products that involve substantial tariffs (e.g. LCD TVs and mobile phones in India) and high shipping costs (industrial products such as factory automation equipment), companies tend to look beyond the China factor and set up manufacturing presences close to the end markets.

"For example, more and more companies establish new production plants in Eastern Europe to fulfill the demand in Western Europe and in India to support the demand in Southeast Asia, etc."

It is quite well known that the so-called hard economic times may not apply to China and India. How does iSuppli forsee LCD-TV manufacturing getting outsourced to places such as India?

India unlikely to become LCD TV manufacturing hub
Wu further adds: "Localized LCD TV production involves a few critical elements, including a sizable end market, high tariffs, supply chain readiness (especially panel supply and LCD module assembly) besides other factors.

"While localized LCD TV manufacturing in India is on the rise, the activities are limited to only final assembly India for the time being such that OEMs eschew tariffs. In other words, while the demand for LCD TVs in India has been growing, it is not high enough to justify localized LCD panel and module assembly for most panel suppliers, EMS providers and OEMs."

In short, iSuppli believes that more and more LCD TV production-related activities are taking place in India but India may not become the next LCD TV manufacturing hub in the near future.

Some leading Korean and Japanese makers have already been present in India for some time, and have been going very strong, especially, LG, Panasonic and Samsung. Would they be required to rethink on their outsourcing strategies as well?

Overall outsourcing strategies
According to Wu, Japanese and Koreans traditionally like to maintain their production in-house for they see manufacturing as one of their core competences.

"Specific to the Indian market, these companies ship in CKD or SKD parts into India and administer the final assembly in India. As of right now, their strong performances in the India market do not affect their overall outsourcing strategies.

"However, as these OEMs, especially Korean OEMs, begin to strategize their approach to outsourcing on a global level, their operations in India may be affected in the future. For instance, they may outsource finally assembly activities to their would-be EMS partners in the future," he concludes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What India brings to the table for semicon world! And, for Japan

This semicon blog's title has been inspired by some queries, largely from friends in Japan, who are looking at the Indian semiconductor market. The topic of great global (and Japanese) interest is: What does India bring to the table for the semicon world to go to India!

Interesting! The world has been keenly following the Indian semiconductor and fab policy, and can gather a lot of information off my blog itself! For those who'd like to know it all again in specifics, here we go again!

Indian semicon and fab policy
Around September last year, the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communication and IT, Government of India, came up with the Special Incentive Package Scheme (SIPS) to encourage investments for setting up semicon fabs, and other micro and nanotechnology manufacturing industries in India!

The "ecosystem units" have been clearly defined as units, other than a fab unit, for manufacture of semiconductors, displays, including LCDs, OLEDs, PDPs, any other emerging displays; storage devices; solar cells; photovoltaics; other advanced micro and nanotechnology products; and assembly and test of all the above products.

What has happened since?
Lots! Initially, there were two major proposals from HSMC and SemIndia for setting up wafer IC fabs. While those haven't really taken off yet, more investments have since happened in India.

Quite recently, the Indian semiconductor and fab policy attracted 12 major proposals, worth a whopping Rs. 93,000 crores! The Department of Information Technology (DIT), Government of India, has set up a panel of technical experts to evaluate these proposals.

Ten (10) of these proposals are for solar/PV. One is for a semiconductor wafer -- from Reliance Industries worth Rs. 18,521 crores, and another for TFT LCD flat panels -- from Videocon Industries, worth Rs. 8,000 crores.

The 10 proposals for solar/PV are from: KSK Surya (Rs. 3,211 crores), Lanco Solar (Rs. 12,938 crores), PV Technologies India (Rs. 6,000 crores), Phoenix Solar India (Rs. 1,200 crores), Reliance Industries (Rs. 11,631 crores), Signet Solar Inc. (Rs. 9,672 crores), Solar Semiconductor (Rs. 11,821 crores), TF Solar Power (Rs. 2,348 crores), Tata BP Solar India (Rs. 1,692.80 crores), and Titan Energy System (Rs. 5,880.58 crores). This is as far the latest developments are concerned!

Solar fabs have also been announced earlier by leading firms such as Videocon, Reliance and Moser Baer, etc. (Two of them are figuring here again!) There are also talks about developing solar farms in India, which is good.

What are India's strengths?
The clear strengths of the Indian semiconductor industry are embedded and design services! We are NOT YET into product development, but one sincerely hopes that it gathers pace.

The market drivers in India are mobile phone services, IT services/BPO, automobiles and IT hardware. India is also very strong in design tools, system architecture and VLSI design, has quite strong IP protection laws, and is reasonably strong in concept/innovation in semiconductors.

Testing and packaging are in a nascent stage. India will certainly have more of ATMP facilities. Nearly every single semicon giant has an India presence! That should indicate the amount of interest the outside world has on India. In fact, I am told, some key decisions are now made out of the Bangalore based outfits!

Electronics manufacturing
In the electronics manufacturing domain, India's strength lies in hardware, embedded software and industrial design, OEMs, component distribution (includes semiconductor and box build), and end user/distribution channel, as well as more than moderate strength in product design and manufacturing (ODM, EMS).

India is likely to witness $363 billion of equipment consumption and $155 billion of domestic production by 2015. India's electronic equipment consumption in 2005 was 1.8 percent. It is likely to grow to 5.5 percent in 2010 and 11 percent in 2015, as per a joint study conducted by the ISA and Frost & Sullivan.

The Indian semiconductor TAM (total available market) revenue is likely to grow by 2.5 times while the TM (total market) is likely to double revenues in 2009. The TAM is likely to grow at a CAGR of 35.8 percent and the TM is likely to grow at a CAGR of 26.7 percent, respectively, during the period 2006-09.

Telecom, and IT and office automation are the leading segments in TM and TAM. Consumer segment occupies the third fastest growing area in the TM, and the industrial segment is the third fastest growing area in the TAM.

The major semiconductor categories of interest include microprocessors, analog, memory, discretes and ASICs, while the major end use products include mobile handsets, BTS, desktops, notebooks, set-top boxes and CRT TVs.

India, the embedded superstar!
India's embedded design industry has been going from strength to strength. An IDC-ISA report forecasts the revenues from India's VLSI, board design and embedded software industry to grow to $10.96bn by 2010 from the current $6.08bn in 2007.

India is also focusing on moving up the semiconductor value chain. It is emphasizing on end-to-end product development, investing in IP development, developing India specific products, and partnering with OEMs to understand the market needs. Also, be aware that several leading EMS firms are present in India as well.

What should investors do?
Certainly, invest in India! The Indian semicon policy clearly defines the "ecosystem units." Global manufacturers of displays, including LCDs, OLEDs, PDPs, any other emerging displays; storage devices; including SSDs, solar cells; photovoltaics; other advanced micro and nanotechnology products, should certainly look at investing in India, and consider manufacturing here!

Lots of solar fabs are likely to come up, so there will be a great demand for solar related equipment, chemicals, testing, etc. We hope that one wafer IC fab comes up as well, so there will be opportunity for semicon equipment manufacturers. However, do be prepared to wait as things may not move as fast as some may expect.

There is lot of opportunity for fabless companies and in ATMP as well. There are several Indian firms, small ones, who may be interested in partnering. Some trading companies may find India of interest, especially in the solar/PV and ATMP segments.

Keep an eye on the IT/semicon policies some states, especially, Karnataka have in store. A host of opportunities could become available, once Karnataka comes up with a policy. More states may follow suit!

Well, do contact me in case you need further assistance!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NAND update: Market likely to recover in H2-09

iSuppli's recently published a report on the current NAND market conditions, which highlighted that Micron had managed to buck the weak NAND market conditions, and was actually closing the gap with Hynix in Q2 2008.

To find out more about the global NAND Flash market scenario, I managed to discuss the health of the NAND market conditions, performance of certain companies, and the possible impact of SSDs on the NAND market, in depth with Nam Hyung Kim, Director & Chief Analyst, Memory, for the market research firm, iSuppli Corp., El Segundo, Calif., USA.

I would also like to thank Jonathan Cassell, Editorial Director and Manager, Public Relations, iSuppli, for helping me out a lot! Without his assistance, this would not have been possible! Many thanks.

Now on to iSuppli and the NAND update. First up, NAND continues to be weak. How much longer, before we can see some sort of recovery?

Nam Hyung Kim says that the NAND market conditions will depend on the suppliers' manufacturing capacity plans and on the global economy. The health of the NAND flash market is largely determined by consumer spending, since more than 85 percent of demand for the memory is generated by consumer-electronics-type products like digital still cameras, mobile handsets and flash storage devices.

"Market conditions won't improve much this quarter. However, iSuppli Corp. does expect NAND prices to stabilize to some degree during the fourth quarter due to a slowdown in certain suppliers' capacity expansion plans. A major recovery is expected in the second half of 2009," he says.

So, what's the reason for Micron to have done better in a weak market scenario?

According to Kim, Micron is doing well based on market share and sales growth—but not in terms of profitability. Micron has been expanding its market share by ramping up production aggressively. The company joined the flash market later than its competitors and is trying to catch up. In the memory world, a supplier needs to have critical scale. Without scale, the company won't be competitive. Thus, Micron is increasing its scale—i.e., its volume—to be more like the size of the top-three suppliers at this moment.

If Micron has been aggressive, why haven't the others? Possibly, the others could have also planned or migrate to 34nm! However, except for Samsung, all of the suppliers are losing money in their NAND businesses now.

"Each supplier has a different product mix and strategy, so being aggressive during tough times is not a suitable approach for certain firms. Others also plan to migrate their process to sub 40 nanometers. However, Micron will be the first one that produces 34nm products this year," adds Kim.

iSuppli has now cut its 2008 NAND annual flash revenue growth forecast from 9 percent to virtually zero. When the slowdown had already been predicted during the end of last year, what was the need to cut predictions?

Kim agrees that this is indeed the second cut this year. "We cut our forecast early this year to 9 percent, which was a dramatic reduction from the more than 20 percent growth forecast previously. I believe, we were the first research firm that cut the market growth dramatically this year, followed by other research firms.

"The NAND flash market is relatively new and has lots of growth potential. However, oversupply issues, along with weak consumer spending, prompted us to cut the growth outlook further this time."

Coming to the subject of solid-state drives, what are the chances of SSDs in helping with a turnaround in the NAND market? Or, are they (SSDs) hyped?

"I should not say SSDs (solid-state drives) are overhyped," adds Kim. "There are lots of issues that the industry must overcome when bringing SSD technology to the real world. Hard disk drives (HDDs) have been used in PCs for more than 30 years, so the movement to SSD technology won't be very rapid."

iSuppli had predicted that SSDs would not impact the market this year or next year. The real prime time for SSD adoption will be in 2010. There are many optimization problems associated with SSDs, which is typical at an early stage in the technology industry. By 2011, iSuppli believes SSDs will be the number one NAND flash market driver in terms of dollar value.

iSuppli also believes that the global NAND flash per-megabit average selling price (ASP) will decline by about 60 percent in 2008, compared to its previous forecast of a 56 percent decline. On quizzing, he says, "As mentioned, the NAND flash market, even in third-quarter, holiday season, won't have a turn around, which brings the ASP down to the 60 percent level."

When NAND is taken out of the equation, how does the semiconductor industry look like? iSuppli believes that the 2009 global semiconductor market growth will be higher than that of this year. The semiconductor market is also cyclical, so it will be impacted by global GDP growth this year.

Finally, how does the research firm forsee Nymonyx (there was an article saying it will conquer NAND Flash)?

According to Kim, Numonyx is still a major NOR flash supplier with limited NAND flash market share. Unlike Intel, Numonyx's focus is on mobile applications. Its joint-venture partner, Hynix, is scaling down its NAND flash production at this time and is focusing on DRAM production.

iSuppli doesn't expect Numonyx to be a formidable competitor in the NAND flash memory market during the near term.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

E Ink on every smart surface!

As per iSuppli, flexible displays are playing an increasingly important role in the global high-tech industry, serving as the crucial enabling technology for a new generation of portable devices that are designed to combine mobility with compelling user interfaces. iSuppli also forecasts that the total flexible display market will reach $2.8 billion by 2013, from about $80 million in 2007.

Flexible displays were on center stage at the recently held Society for Information Display (SID) 2008 International Symposium, Seminar and Exhibition, in May at Los Angeles. One of the participants, E Ink, showcased a variety of flexible electrophoretic bi-stable displays, from simple direct drive screens for wristwatches, to beautifully-designed mobile-phone cover displays, to active matrix high resolution displays for e-book/mobile phones, such as those used in Polymer Vision's Readius.

E Ink, an Electrophoretic Display (EPD) company headquartered in Boston, has been most successful in the market so far. E Ink makes rolls of EPD film that are then shipped to its partners.

I caught up with Sriram Peruvemba, Vice President of Marketing, E Ink Corp., during his recent trip to India, in an attempt to find out more about the company, its direction in the EPD domain, and obviously, a possible interest in the Indian semiconductor and manufacturing segments.

Founded in 1997 based on research started at the MIT Media Lab, E Ink is the leading supplier of electronic paper display (EPD) technologies. Products made with E Ink's revolutionary electronic ink possess a paper-like high contrast appearance, ultra-low power consumption and a thin, light form.

E Ink's technology is ideal for many consumer and industrial applications spanning handheld devices like eBooks, eNewspapers, Web browsers, watches, and public information and promotional signs. Future technology developments will enable many new applications through ultra-thin, lightweight, rugged, flexible, full color displays.

E Ink has commercialized many different forms of "Electronic Paper" solutions over the past decade. Most recently, Sony, Lexar, Motorola and others have all won prestigious awards for their use of E Ink's technology in their devices. Customers value E Ink's technology for its brightness, high contrast, and low power -- attributes that are similar to paper.

E Ink is currently mass manufacturing high-resolution displays for several e-books, including the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, as well as for signage, watches and other portable devices.

"There are three words that describe E Ink : Innovative, Collaborative, Scalable. We constantly reinvent our product to make it better, we have a partnership approach to build an eco-system around our products and our products are mass produced," he said.

E Ink's products do use semiconductors in its construction, but its products are categorized as flat panel display (FPD), rather than a more broad based semicon segment.

According to Peruvemba, the TAM (Total Available Market) for flat panels is about $90billion, dominated by LCDs. While these displays are changeable, they are not well suited for reading. Most people using LCD monitors and laptops, often print documents for easy reading since these backlit screens strain the eyes.

The TAM for the publishing industry (books, magazines, newspapers) is estimated to be $400 billion. These pulp based paper medium are easy to read, but the content does not change. Besides, this medium is becoming a luxury as it requires us to cut trees, thereby increasing our carbon footprint.

He said that E Ink's EPDs are aimed at occupying the space in between these two markets, which neither satisfy completely. "Our displays, like the traditional electronic displays, will allow content to be changed on the fly and they are as easy to read as ordinary paper. This revolutionary technology took 10 years to develop. Now, it is being adapted in several applications aimed at replacing pulp based paper documents as in books, newspapers and other documents," he noted.

So how does E Ink see the flexible and printed electronics display market evolving? Peruvemba said: "We see a trend toward flexible displays, higher pixel resolution, non-rectangular shapes, lower power consuming displays, sunlight readability, mercury-less devices and displays designed for eco-friendly applications."

Flexible displays will replace the fragile, glass based ones not just because they look and feel like paper, but they are significantly more rugged, thinner and lighter.

"We are talking about being able to drop the displays without breaking them, sustain bumps and vibration, displays that will continue to work if you accidentally stepped on them."

With E Ink's Vizplex imaging film based displays, you can now have eNewspapers that look like paper, feel like paper, weigh as much as paper, consume very little power, can be dropped to the floor like paper, be read from any angle like paper but offer changeable content, allow a more ecologically responsible option with a level of customization and variety that is impossible with ordinary paper or book.

And what's the future like for electronic paper display technologies? According to Peruvemba, the future is extremely promising. Print publication will go electronic, and this is not a IF but a WHEN.

For one, the level of convenience with electronic paper will cause more people to read more varieties of publications. Today, a traveler could carry an iLiad eBook from iRex that could contain books, magazines and newspapers vs carrying the paper version of just one of the above given the space and weight constraints with ordinary paper.

In fact, a traveler carrying say the Sony Reader eBook in their briefcase could literally take their entire home library with them. Many eBooks offered by Sony, iRex, Amazon, Jinke, Bookeen, Star eBook, Neolux, Netronix, Astak Mentor, etc., allow you to save over 100 books within the device.

He said: "We will see higher resolution displays in consumer devices, displays that have pixel resolution of 300-400 dpi coupled with lower power consumption, ruggedness and sunlight readability aimed at replacing paper. Mercury filled backlights will be replaced making displays more eco-friendly.

"Finally, you can plant a tree and wait 20 years for it to grow, and generate reasonable amount of oxygen or you can read electronic books and newspapers on your Electronic Paper Display and save 20 trees in the next 20 minutes." Electronic Paper Displays will continue to evolve and replace pulp-based paper.

E Ink's electronic paper is also used in lower information content displays in applications like wrist watches, cell phone cover, memory sticks, battery indicators, signage applications etc. These displays are flexible, can be cut to any size, allow the designer to "think outside the rectangle".

Peruvemba said his company's vision is: E Ink on Every Smart Surface!

"Our displays, we believe, will be used on non-flat surfaces, in three dimensional form, replacing paper, on buildings, even on clothes and vehicles," he added.

E Ink has been providing Electrophoretic Displays (EPD). What all applications can these be used for?

Peruvemba noted: "Applications for our high information content matrix displays include: eBooks (there are 10 manufacturers today with about 15 different models), eNewspapers, eTextbooks (imagine replacing that heavy backpack that students carry, with a single eTextbook that can carry their entire library and allow for animation to explain say "photosynthesis" phonemenon better than a static image on ordinary paper text book), Web browsers, GPS devices, data collectors, marine navigation, etc.

"Applications for our lower information content displays include battery indicators, USB memory sticks, wrist watches, smart cards, indoor and outdoor signs and even magazine covers (see Esquire's plans for its October issue marking its 75th anniversary)"

Highlights or key features of electrophoretic displays include:

Paper Like: E Ink Vizplex displays are actually made of bits of paper and ink. We use the same material used in oridinary paper and ordinary ink to generate the white and black colors.

Low Power: With our displays you can leave your power cord at home.

Flexible: Our display bend so your product won't break.

Sunlight Readable: E Ink displays require no shade. Imagine using your laptop outdoors in bright sunlight. With E Ink, you can!

Thin, Light: Paper white and feather lite. Requires no harmful mercury filled backlight, as this is a reflective display technology.

Wide viewing: Read fast from any angle.

Finally, and obviously, what would be E Ink's interest in India? Peruvemba cited the huge market as an instant observation. Also, newspapers are on a decline in North America. However, newspaper circulation is on the increase in India. This is probably true for textbooks, fiction and non-fiction publications, etc.

He said: "India represents a large and growing market for our products. We currently have customers that are evaluating our display technologies for various applications."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Japan semicon firms seek close ties with India

The India Semiconductor Association (ISA) recently organized the India-Fukuoka (Japan) IT, Embedded Software and Semiconductor Business Workshop 2008. A host of companies and institutes from Fukuoka, Japan participated in the workshop seeking partnerships, alliances, and business in the semiconductor space in India.

My first impression was that all of the Japanese firms present at the workshop are quite interested in the Indian semiconductor market, and especially in the embedded space. Besides, some of them may look at investments, should the opportunity arise. Some of the participants are also looking at the direction fabs are taking in India, besides the solar/PV market.

The participating companies and institutes at the workshop were:

1. Daichi Institution Industry Co. Ltd
2. DISCO (Dai Ichi Seitosho Co. Ltd) Corp.
3. Fukuoka University
4. Fukuoka Industry, Science & Technology Foundation
5. Inoueki Co. Ltd
6. Invest Japan
7. JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization)
8. Kyushu Economic Research Center
9. CLAIR (The Japan Council of Local Authorities for International Relations), Singapore

Masane Saito, Chief, JETRO, said that the total trade between India and Japan was worth $9.9 billion during 2007, a 25 percent growth. India's strengths included knowledge-based services, high-quality talent, etc. He added that Japan required a lot of embedded systems engineers, perhaps, hinting at Indian engineers and the opportunity that lies ahead of them.

Todd Takaki, Director, Inoueki, clearly highlighted that his company was looking at the manufacturing segment in India. A semiconductor trading company, it delivers chemicals to IC fabs, among others. He added that companies from Japan needed to see the inroads being made in India, both frontend and backend. While Inoueki is also looking at making investments in the country, Takaki stressed the need to have a developed market.

Akihiro Kawaguchi, International Science Technology Co-ordinator, Fukuoka Industry, Science & Technology (IST) Foundation, highlighted the Fukuoka Cluster for advanced system LSI design and development. He also touched upon the Silicon Sea Belt Fukuoka Project, which streches from China, covering South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, right up to Bangalore, India. This belt has the potential of the world's largest semiconductor market (60 percent), emerging car industry market, ever-developing wireless market, and the world's largest population of engineers.

The Fukuoka IST is also part of the Knowledge Cluster Initiative, a national program carried out by Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), in co-operation with the local governments.

Dr. Hajime Tomokage, professor, Fukuoka University, touched upon the semiconductor business network via the MAP (microelectronics assembling and packaging) and RTS (reverse trade show) programs.

The Kyushu silicon island has a 6 percent share of the global IC production with over 20 percent raw wafers. SUMCO has four fabs in Kyushu. The silicon island also has 16 fabs, including those of Renesas, Toshiba, Sony, NEC, Yamaha, etc. Overall, it is home to nearly 650 semicon related companies. Kyushu is now looking for Asian customers, and specifically, from India.

Some other features include the national project on SiP (system-in-a-package) and MEMS, which have been place since 2002, as well as the SiPOS (System Integration Platform Organization Standards) platform.

Keiji Honjo, Leader, Product Innovation Sales Group, DISCO Corp., touched about his firm's business. DISCO's activities revolve on: manufacture and sale of precision cutting, grinding and polishing machines; maintenance of precision cutting, grinding and polishing machines; training in the operation and maintenance of precision cutting, grinding and polishing machines; disassembly and recycling of precision cutting, grinding and polishing machines; lease of precision cutting, grinding and polishing machines, and sale of used machines; manufacture and sale of precision diamond abrasive tools; and for-fee processing. It is also seeking business interests in India.

Yutaka Akagawa, Executive Director, Daichi Institution Industry Co. Ltd, said the company is also into 8Gen LCD business. It transfers the glass substrate for the LCDs. The company highlighted Clifter, a device, which carries the wafer cassette, LCD cassette, and so on, vertically, with the holding cleanliness to the clean room on the up-down floor.

Interested Indian companies desirous of tying up with these Japanese companies are welcome to send in their queries.

In my next blog, I will discuss specifically what India brings to the table for the semicon world to go to India, and especially, Japanese companies, since we are on Japan! This is also a request from a friend from the Far East!! I may be a bit inaccurate in my assessment, but I will try my best.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Farnell banking big on India

Farnell Electronics, a part of the Premier Farnell group of companies, recently established its sales presence in Pune, as part of its phased rollout plan, post the launch of the company in June 2008.

Headquartered in Bangalore, the company has already established seven other branch offices in cities, including Bangalore, Coimbatore, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Mumbai, and, plans to set up another branch in Kolkata.

Harriet Green, CEO, said, "We have put up a new India Web site, which has over 450,000 products. Our site also supports live chat. We also have eight call centers. Our support is largely for the SMEs. We are a publicly filed company in India." The company has over 2 million customers worldwide.

On Farnell, she further added: "We have a great supply chain ecosystem for our customers. This is total care for customers. As an example, we stock all of TI's 40,000+ products. We take a Web order every 8 seconds. We are extending this investment in India."

Ravi Pagar, Director, Farnell Electronics, added that users are able to search on the Indian Web site for components and products by part numbers.

The company has two technology centers, one in China and another in Bangalore, India. According to Green, Farnell's goal is to achieve $1 billion for the Indian market.

She added: "We have already invested Rs. 200 million in the purchase of Hynetics, besides hiring people and on infrastructure. We will spend another Rs 200 million on branches, warehousing, etc."

Complying with RoHS, REACH and WEEE
With so much of focus nowadays on green electronics, it is natural for Farnell to be one of the leading proponents. Green said, "Our components are REACH, RoHS and WEEE compliant."

She added: "Unfortunately, the lead content in Bangalore is quite high. We will also work with the environmental agencies here and work on resolving this problem."

Farnell is said to be the only components distributor in China, which is stocking products that are RoHS compliant. "We give a guarantee on our invoice that our products are RoHS, REACH and WEE compliant. In China, each province has zones where electronics products are dumped," she said.

According to her, all major components manufacturers were now becoming environment compliant. "The supply chain is more now in balance as the electronics environment is maturing."

Speaking on partnerships, she noted: "We are exclusive partners with Altera in Asia. We also have a special partnership with TI. We have over 4,500 authorized partnerships globally, with companies in semiconductors, passives, electromechanical, connectors, wires, screens, ICs, repairs, power, displays, flexible substrates, optos, etc."

Pagar added: "Sony Ericsson is setting up a design center in Chennai. We are partners globally, and they wanted to replicate that in India. We have a similar kind of relationship with GM."

Highlighting the fact that India has a great design industry, he felt that if more distributors like Farnell were to enter India, it would only go on to help the country.

Xilinx on microprocessor trends, solar/PV

This semicon blog will basically examine the key trends in microprocessors, as well as whether companies such as Xilinx -- a key player in FPGAs -- has any kind of role to play in the solar/PV domain.

For the record, this is the concluding part of the discussion with Vincent Ratford, Senior Vice President, Solutions Development Group, Xilinx.

First, on to solar/PV! We have been reading and hearing a lot about the rapid advances being made in solar/PV. With so much investments in solar/PV happening globally, is there a role for Xilinx to play in this segment?

Ratford said: "Perhaps! Our devices are great for prototyping new ideas and often find their way into new markets. In base stations, our devices are used to reduce the power up to 50 percent. In signal processing applications, we have a decided performance/power advantage vs. discrete signal processors. Many of these 'Green' applications require some form of signal and embedded processing." Interesting, and this point needs some further examination!

Another area of main concern within the global semiconductor industry is low-power design. According to Ratford, there are a variety of ways to save system power.

He added: "We are designing features in our new products that will reduce active and standby power. We also have power-estimation and optimization tools. I would say, there is a lot more to be done in this area at all levels, software, IP and silicon."

Ratford was however, tight-lipped about Xilinx's product roadmap beyond the Virtex V. Obviously, we need to remain very tuned toward this!

Key microprocessor trends
Now this is another interesting area. A few weeks ago, I had received a great article from Texas Instruments, which mentioned about five key microprocessor trends today.

Microprocessors have always been among the key areas of interest for semiconductor design and development. On being quizzed on what could be the five major trends for microprocessors, Xilinx's Ratford said: "For our embedded customers it is:

* Rising adoption of Linux.
* Increasing use of multi-core and some multi-processing.
* Accelerating trend to increase the connectivity, bandwidth and reduce the latency between the processor and the FPGA.
* Improve the OOBE (Out of the Box Experience) for non-FPGA developers.
* Reduce power.

Before signing off, my thoughts also veered toward LTE and TD-SCDMA, one 4G and the other, a 3G technology. Both these technologies have been very much in the news lately, especially, TD-SCDMA, which is currently in use at the Beijing Olympics.

As expected, Xilinx has also forayed into both LTE and TD-SCDMA spaces!

Ratford said: "Yes, we have complete reference designs for LTE and TD-SCDMA and have secured most of the prototype sockets for these air interface standards with Virtex-5. We have a very strong IP portfolio for the radio shelf and baseband and our Sytem Generator and AccelDSP tools are used extensively."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

FPGA vs. ASIC and FPGA trends

This semicon blog is a continuation of the recent discussion I had with Vincent Ratford, Senior Vice President, Solutions Development Group, Xilinx.

Traditionally, there has always been a classic debate: FPGAs vs. ASICs! To find out more on the current status of this ever going discussion, I asked Ratford for his thoughts on this topic.

He said: "To answer this you have to take a long term view and look forward five years to what a 22nm device might look like and the cost to develop it. ASIC starts have declined over the last five years and continue to decline with ASSPs taking their place. For ASSPs to continue, they have to amortize the development cost across multiple customers, but with $50M development costs climbing to $100M, the number of applications that can support this is shrinking.

"FPGAs now look like SoCs with embedded processors, signal processing, multi-gigabit transceivers and a broad portfolio of IPs available from Xilinx or third parties. With shorter design cycles and increasing need to differentiate or die, we believe the world is increasingly turning to programmable devices.

"The investments we [Xilinx] are making in IP and software to enable more complex systems to be designed will carry our silicon platform forward and enable growth. Our challenges, going forward, are reducing power, providing more capability at a lower cost and simplifying the programming. As we make progress on all these fronts, we will take share from the ASIC/ASSP providers."

Global FPGA industry trends
Given the current semiconductor scenario, there is a need to estimate the global FPGA industry. According to iSuppli, the programmable logic market was $3.6 billion in CY2007. Xilinx revenues were $1.841 billion.

Given the wobble in the current global semicon scenario, where is the FPGA industry headed? Ratford said that Xilinx is forecasting 5-9 percent growth in FY09, which started in April 2008.

He added: "Our most recent quarter ending June was a record quarter for the company at $488 million, with 4 percent sequential growth. Our customers' design cycles are 12-18 months, so that tends to delay any weakness. However, design activity has been and still is strong. Our customers are highly diversified with over 20,000 across all the vertical markets. We see strong growth in ISM, automotive, aerospace and defense, and slow growth in telecommunications, which is our largest market at ~46 percent of sales."

According to him, wireless telecom, which constitutes about 40 percent of Xilinx's telecom revenue, is starting to go through a round of infrastructure buildouts with LTE and TD-SCDMA. This occurs about every five years.

"As these start to deploy, we expect to see some growth beyond what we are currently seeing. Finally, customers do a lot of prototyping with our platforms. We see no significant slowdown at this time," he noted.

Taking on Altera
Altera recently released the Stratix IV FPGA and HardCopy ASICs. It would be interesting to find out whether Xilinx has released anything that is close to or better than the Altera Stratix IV FPGA or the HardCopy ASIC.

Xilinx's Ratford said: "Our Virtex-5 products on 65nm have been shipping for 18 months, growing quickly and gaining market share vs. Stratix-3, which is also on 65nm. Since Altera has had difficulty executing on 65nm as far as Stratix III is concerned, they've had to jump to 45/40nm and recently pre-announced Stratix IV. Altera is saying they will ship first samples by December, however it takes quite some time to ramp to volume on a node and to put in place all the software and IP required.

"Our 45/40nm design has been underway for some time and we'll be in the market with a complete solution at the same time as Altera. What matters is when you ramp to production and when you have critical mass of IP so customers can start designs. We have a much larger IP portolio. Customer design activity on high-end FPGA will remain on 65nm devices for sometime to come. We estimate that Xilinx has about a 97 percent market-share in the high-end with our Virtex-5 family.

Alternative to HardCopy
Apparently, Xilinx also has an alternative to Altera's HardCopy. Ratford pointed to Xilinx's EasyPath, which provides similar cost reduction path for customers.

"Our approach doesn't require design compromises like that of HardCopy. Altera's most recent quarter showed HardCopy revenue down 2 percent to about $10M/quarter. It's insignificant!"

The last part of this discussion continues later this week! Watch this space, dear readers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

EVE betting strong on Indian semicon industry

I have known Montu Makadia, Director and Country Sales Manager, EVE Design Automation Pvt. Ltd, since his days at eInfochips. It was interesting to learn more about the company and its strategy for India over the coming years.

For those who came in late, EVE offers a broad range of hardware-assisted verification solutions on the market, from acceleration to fast emulation and prototyping, with the most cycles per dollar. EVE products lead to a significant shortening of the overall verification cycle of complex integrated circuits and electronic systems design.

EVE products also work in conjunction with popular Verilog and VHDL-based software simulators from Synopsys, Cadence Design Systems and Mentor Graphics. Its sales headquarters in the United States is in San Jose, California. EVE's manufacturing, R&D and corporate headquarters is located in Palaiseau, France.

Estimating the Indian semiconductor industry, Makadia said the global semiconductor market continues to grow, driven by the demand for consumer-oriented electronic devices. The Indian semiconductor industry, in particular, appears quite strong and is an attractive market opportunity for EVE.

"That's because of its push into digital media, telecom and mobile communications markets that presents tremendous growth opportunities for companies such as EVE," he said.

According to him, industry watchers should see strong growth in semiconductors in India in the coming years, propelled by smaller process technologies, multi-core architectures and the ever-increasing software content in system-on-chips (SoCs). With more SoC designs, the demand increases for hardware/software co-verification solutions.

EVE's belief in the Indian market has been so strong that EVE Design Automation Pvt. Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary based in Bangalore, was formed in 2007. EVE DA markets and supports the Zebu (for 'zero bugs') hardware-assisted verification platforms of accelerators, emulators and FPGA prototypes.

ZeBu enhances SoC performance
So, how exactly does ZeBu help analyze, benchmark and measure performance of the system-on-chip (SoC) over realistic scenarios?

Makadia said: "We have been really successful last year promoting the Zebu based emulation platform. Our existing customers, as well as new prospects in India, have shown great interest and recognized real value in adopting Zebu, not only for hardware verification but also for hardware and software co-verification.

"The Zebu platforms enable software validation and co-verification in a range of several megahertz, thus replacing the deployment of ASIC or prototype boards. For instance, we booted operating systems, e.g., Linux and WinCE, on processors designs mapped into ZeBu emulation platforms at 10-20 megahertz using a transactor-based verification methodology."

How can EVE's ZeBu be the choice of startups who need first-pass silicon success? Makadia added that startups in need of first-pass silicon success and designers worldwide have found that emulation tools such as Zebu are the only option for debugging hardware and testing the integration of hardware and software within complex SoCs.

He noted: "This is especially true when the task calls for executing billions of cycles in less than one hour and there's a need for full visibility into the hardware. The ability to track hardware and software interaction offered by Zebu is considered a plus."

ZeBu helps to analyze benchmark and measure SoC performance with realistic scenarios by running at speeds well above one megahertz. It is capable of executing complete test scenarios within an acceptable timeframe and just shy of running in real time.

This is interesting, and further examination needs to be done to evaluate how the emulation segment is performing and where it is evolving, especially, in India?

Makadia said: "After several years of stagnation, the overall market for emulation has been growing due to escalating complexity in hardware and in embedded software. Other factors have made emulators attractive once again. They run faster, are easier to use, have smaller footprints and are cheaper than older generations."

The growth trend for emulation and hardware/software co-verification solutions will continue in the foreseeable future, especially in India.

Speaking on EVE's overall strategy, he added that the company will continue to introduce even better performing emulation platforms through innovative architectures and enhanced supporting software to increase adoption by all market segments of the electronics industry.

Further, EVE is evaluating strategic partnerships and possible mergers with various synergistic companies to expand the attraction of its offerings.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Why compare, ape or even try to 'kill' iPhone?

The Apple iPhone and now, the iPhone 3G, has caught everyone's imagination. You come across reports such as top alternatives to the iPhone. Or, about companies launching new mobile phones and those inadvertently getting compared to the Apple iPhone! Or even, reports of how newer mobile phones could 'kill' the iPhone!

Quite hilarious and nothing new here! It has happened quite a few times in the past!

Nothing will "kill" the Apple iPhone, and at least, not so fast! Nor is any iPhone killer anywhere close in sight!!

Public memory is indeed short!!

Quite a few years back, Apple launched the very colorful iMacs! All of a sudden, there was a slew of similar PCs with color or 'color monitor covers'. Back then, Apple had rewritten the rules of the PC industry in some manner, besides re-invigorating the Apple brand itself.

Next came the iPod, and later, colorful iPods. It led to a surge in media players, MP3/MP4 players, etc., from other several players as well. Not to speak of the iPod giving birth to a whole new range of Mac accessories! The iPod continues to be in the news, and successfully so!

A similar thing has happened this time!

With the advent of the iPhone, and now iPhone 3G, we sometimes see reports of how the iPhone could influence the memory market! Or, how the impact of Apple's iPhone 3G has been minimal on the chip market. Or, how it's just one item in a very large and complex mix of products.

Or, how the Apple Safari works so very well on the iPhone. Or, how the Accelerometer allows viewing pictures in any way you wish. Or, how you can do wireless social networking! Or, how the mobile OS battle has heated up! Or, how the App Store has so many wonderful applications for the iPhone!

Has creativity gone out of the window?

My question is: Who has stopped the others from doing things differently? No one!

Public memory is indeed short! So many were quick to run down the Apple Newton, which was clearly ahead of its time. However, it led to the advent of a host of PDAs, though many may disagree with me on this thought, and so be it.

The first mistake that people commit are either comparing their products or the phone they buy with the iPhone! Why are you even comparing?

Apple has been very creative, so why is that so difficult to accept? Try and do better than Apple, if possible.

Perhaps, it would be better to concentrate on developing newer and better phones and other devices with even better features, rather than either comparing with or aping the iPhone, or even trying to beat it or 'kill it'! Where's the need?

Remember that Nokia phone model with changeable covers in 2000? Or, the Sony Ericssion T68? Likewise, each product is unique, has its deserved place in the sun, and also has its own shelf life.

The iPhone is a wonderful benchmark, for now. Do remember that the mobile phone design bar has constantly and consistently been raised.

Am sure, it would be no different this time!

No one told you that should NOT buy any other mobile phone. Did Apple ask you to buy the iPhone? It's your choice! I don't even have one!!

Alongside, we are also seeing a whole range of mobile phones, which are said to be good alternatives to the iPhone! Maybe they are.

Till then, Apple and iPhone deserve their place in the sun, make no mistake! Isn't everyone trying to "ride" the iPhone wave anyway? That's proof of life!

India is Xilinx's most active region for design activity!

Xilinx has been a global leader in programmable logic solutions with over 51 percent market share during 2007, according to iSuppli. PLDs represent an exciting growth potential in the chip market thanks to their flexible nature and ability to change functionality even after being manufactured.

I caught up with Vincent Ratford, Senior Vice President, Solutions Development Group, Xilinx, to find out more about the company's role in India. Firstly, Xilinx clearly sees India and Asia/Pac as a high growth area for its business.

Ratford said: "India itself has a lot of design activity with many of our customers working with design services and IP companies there. For that reason, we have invested in a large engineering team (125 people and grew last year at 60 percent) working on IP, software, system applications and IC design. These teams augment global development teams around the world with some teams having product responsibility."

As a company, Xilinx tracks design activity and production, and India is its most active region for design activity. It is also investing a lot in university programs.

He added: "We have significant market share in India vs. the other FPGA vendors. We expect this to continue. We are investing heavily in our Xilinx University Program providing tool, board, training for professors and setting up FPGA, embedded and DSP curriculums. We have a strong technical team supporting customers locally either directly or alongside of our distribution partners."

So how does Xilinx view the strength of the Indian embedded design segment? Ratford referred to EETimes, which conducts a survey annually on embedded processing. The most recent data showed only about 1/3 of the embedded users using FPGAs, but over 50 percent of them were considering.

He said: "I think we have just scratched the surface on our embedded opportunity. We have over 10k licensed embedded users worldwide, with the smallest percentage in Asia/Pac, but it's growing rapidly.

"We think there is a lot of unlicensed, and therefore, untracked useage. Going forward, we will be able to track adoption more closely. We are now starting to track useage with our WebTalk tool and have found that about half of the designs using our latest 10.1 release have processors on them. Finally, when we conduct seminars and workshops worldwide, our embedded sessions are the most heavily attended."

On the role that Xilinx would be playing in India, he said: "Today, we have a strong offering in soft and hard processors for our Virtex and Spartan series FPGAs. We are investing in training and providing development kits to expand the number of embedded developers who can support our platforms.

"We have been developing embedded peripherals, device drivers and are now starting to develop embedded tools there. We expect to expand this. So it's market development, product development and enabling our ecosystem partners to build on top of our platforms. We are investing in India faster than any other region and plan to leverage our development team there."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Garuda car likely to cost Rs. 4 lakhs (US $10,000)

Last Saturday, the R.V. College of Engineering, Bangalore unveiled Garuda, its super fuel efficient car! Team Leader Nishant Sarawgi, and members Kayaan, Darshan, Bharat, Jacob, Krishna, Gautham and Rakshit from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, R.V. College of Engineering, Bangalore developed a shared vision to build this super fuel efficient car! Power to the students of RVCE, Bangalore, India!

Yesterday, I again caught up with Nishant Sarawgi to learn more about the Garuda car and its commercial viability.

Potential for commercialization
According to him, the car is a R&D prototype on the whole. However, the designs and technologies that have gone into its making have the potential to create a significant impact on the automobile industry.

"The auto industry is hungry for greener technology, lesser emissions and high energy efficiencies, and therefore, several companies have expressed interest in this project. A lot of R&D has gone into it and if not now, then as the project progresses and evolves over time, the components and innovations therein will have the potential for commercialization," he said.

Sarawgi added: "As already mentioned, our car has also been built with the intention of participating in international competitions like the SAE Supermileage, USA, and Shell Eco-Marathon, UK, where the best student teams in the world compete to try and set new world records in energy efficiency/fuel economy.

"These competitions are very significant as they highlight major global issues of oil crisis and energy conservation besides creating awareness among the youth and general public to take constructive steps towards tackling such issues. Special focus is given to the use of new and innovative technologies to address these global issues."

As far as a commercial launch is concerned, the time-frame would depend on the massive amount of financial, technological, marketing and infrastructural support and the backup his team receives from the industry in due course of time.

Garuda's project cost Rs 4 lakhs
One question on everyone's mind has been, what can be the approximate price of Garuda? Sarawgi said: "It would be a little difficult to quote the exact price of 'Garuda' as it involved various other parameters apart from the components and machining that went into making the car.

"For example, logistics (both local and international), PR activities, transportation, administrative work, etc., also figured in the expenditure. The total project expenditure would be around Rs 4 lakhs (approximately, US $10,000).

From a short distance, Garuda seems to look like a prototype of an F1 model. How would the actual car look like: an SUV or a family car? While Sarawgi is thrilled that the prototype is being compared to an F1 car, he clarified that it doesn't actually look like an F1 model from any angle!

It is different in many ways: be it the shape, size, the body contours, the styling, the weight, the materials used, the system components, the driver's positioning and seating, driver's comfort, driver's visibility, driver safety measures, the overall weight-distribution, the location of the centre of gravity of the car, the car dimensions(length, width, height, etc.).

He said: "Moreover, an F1 car is all about the adrenalin and thrills of high speed, torque and power, whereas 'Garuda' is about high fuel-efficiency, energy conservation, greener technologies, and foray into the world of alternate energy resources and innovations. It has nothing to do with high speeds and power. The maximum speed of our existing car ranges from 40-60 kms per hour."

"The price tag attached with a Formula 1 car is usually in the range of Rs. 30-35 crores, whereas the price of our car would be in the range of Rs. 3.5-4 lakhs," he added.

An F1 car has four wheels. However, the car 'Garuda' has three wheels (bicycle wheels, which are extremely light-weight and offer optimal aerodynamic efficiency for high mileage).

Sarawgi said: "Also, an F1 car is made for motor racing, with very limited possibilities of actual implementation in the commercial road-driven cars, whereas 'Garuda' Supermileage prototype is built with the intention of trying to commercialize the designs and concepts of the team to find some meaningful and feasible applications in the consumer cars of tomorrow.

"We would say that the team is already thinking on the lines of trying to take the design and layout of the existing car to the next level by enhancing the overall vehicle performance and use of better components. We might have to go back to the drawing board with respect to certain systems of our car, so it is going to take some time before we finally freeze on the outer appearance (layout and design) of our future car. However, we are sure it would be nothing like a bulky and heavy SUV!"

Garuda runs on iso-octane pure petrol, kerosene
Great! What about the mileage? Does the Garuda car run on petrol or diesel, or some other fuel?

Sarawgi added: "Our car primarily runs on iso-octane pure petrol. It can also run on kerosene. It depends on the engine and other integrated systems used on the car. As of now, our car can run on both petrol as well as kerosene."

Finally, how green is the car, given that Garuda's thrust has been toward high fuel-efficiency, energy conservation, greener technologies, and foray into the world of alternate energy resources.

Nishant said: "There's a simple empirical formula to answer this question... Less fuel consumption --> lesser emissions --> lesser pollution --> minimal contribution to global warming and climate change, finally leads to a respectable green car!

"We are using petrol, no doubt, but there is minimal usage of petrol and the mileage that we get out of it saves a lot of fuel. There are concepts of hybrid, solar or electricity-propelled vehicles, but it would take a lot of time, funding and infrastructure to mass-produce such cars for the consumers, which are feasible and practical.

"We are starting off with petrol, but we can change it later on and make it run on a totally different fuel. It all depends on which technology is more relevant and feasible at that time: whether hybrid, electric, bio-diesel, methanol, solar, hydrogen fuel cells, etc.," he added.

He highlighted the fact that the prototype car is giving a very high mileage from petrol itself. Most cars of today run on petrol. Therefore, the prototype is of great interest to everyone!

"We hope that our modest attempt would inspire people of all ages and from all walks of life to take up individual or collective responsibility of conserving our energy resources and save the planet from the adverse effects of global warming and climate change," he concluded.

Best of luck, guys!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

RVCE unveils Garuda super fuel-efficient car

Students from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, R.V. College of Engineering, Bangalore, have developed the Garuda supermileage car, which was unveiled last Saturday at the College campus by Dilip Chhabria of DC fame, an internationally renowned authority on car designs.

Armed with the aim to represent their College and India in international events such as the SAE Supermileage and the Shell Eco-Marathons, the group of enthusiastic and like-minded students -- Team Leader Nishant Sarawgi, along with Kayaan, Darshan, Bharat, Jacob, Krishna, Gautham and Rakshit from the College's Department of Mechanical Engineering, developed a shared vision to build a super fuel-efficient car.

This dream was realized with the unveiling of the Garuda RVCE supermileage car! This car is said to give an amazing mileage of about 200 km/litre and is slated to give a mindboggling 500 km/litre in due course.

After evaluating the features of the car and understanding the specific design details from the students, Chhabria expressed his great sense of confidence and appreciation of the design and technological capability of students in achieving this fantastic mileage.

Sarawgi says: "The project not only gave us a chance to implement the concepts we learned in theory, but also helped each one of us in unleashing the inner potential to innovate and find implementable solutions to practical problems. The fusion of theory and practice has proved to be invaluable in re-inforcing knowledge, while also enabling us to think out of the box. The many innovative solutions that emerged during the whole process led us to sharpen our application skills. One very core objective, which guided the process was also to help create awareness of the burning environmental issues like global warming, oil crisis and the need for green technologies and conservation of energy."

Key features of the prototype include: HONDA GK 100 97 cc, 2 Hp air cooled engine; TAV 2 Torq_A-Verter and asymmetric CVT transmission systems; Tubular A1 6063 T6 chassis; use of glass fibre for the shell; Bontrager, 16-inch Moulton sizes recumbent wheels; Twin tie road steering system; Inteneidate freewheel design; variable jet carburetor and simple caliper cycle brakes.

The next steps, as per Bharat, a team member, is to improve the existing design and enhance the fuel efficiency to above 500 km/lit, and participate in international competitions like SAE Supermileage-USA, Shell Eco Marathon-UK, etc., next year.

Dr. S.C. Sharma, Principal, RVCE, congratulated the team for being among the first Indian teams to design and develop a super fuel-efficient vehicle. Dr. M.K. Panduranga Shetty, President of the Rashtreeya Sikshana Samithi Trust expressed his sense of pride on the achievement of the students and promised all support in such endeavours.

The team worked under the able guidance and support of Dr B. Anand, HoD, Mech. Dept. Patron, along with Dr. R.S. Kulkarni as the Faculty Advisor.

Sarawgi expressed deep gratitude to Tantra Infosolutions (Total Outsource Group), CD Adapco and Chameleon Motors, who willingly came forward to sponsor the initiative. Tantra Infosolutions provided strong engineering and financial support; CD Adapco chipped in with the critical engineering design software; and Chameleon Motors provided infrastructural support during the building of the car. Bimal Auto Agency provided logistics support and Innoversant Solutions provided strong support in project management, marketing and PR.

Indian fab policy gets 12 proposals; solar dominates

Just about 10 odd days ago, I had blogged about building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV)! I had also mentioned how solar/PV will be the next big story in India, with BIPV right up there at the very top!

Well, according to a published report on India Infoline, the Indian semiconductor and fab policy has attracted 12 major proposals, worth a whopping Rs. 93,000 crores!

A Press Information Bureau (PIB) release says that the Department of Information Technology (DIT), Government of India, has set up a panel of technical experts to evaluate the proposals.

The promoters will come up to the Appraisal Committee for sanction of subsidy under the scheme once they have reached the threshold limit of investment, as indicated in the guidelines of the Special Incentive Package Scheme.

A majority of these proposals -- ten (10) -- are for solar/PV. One proposal is for a semiconductor wafer -- from Reliance Industries worth Rs. 18,521 crores, and another for TFT LCD flat panels -- from Videocon Industries, worth Rs. 8,000 crores.

The 10 proposals for solar/PV are from: KSK Surya (Rs. 3,211 crores), Lanco Solar (Rs. 12,938 crores), PV Technologies India (Rs. 6,000 crores), Phoenix Solar India (Rs. 1,200 crores), Reliance Industries (Rs. 11,631 crores), Signet Solar Inc. (Rs. 9,672 crores), Solar Semiconductor (Rs. 11,821 crores), TF Solar Power (Rs. 2,348 crores), Tata BP Solar India (Rs. 1,692.80 crores), and Titan Energy System (Rs. 5,880.58 crores).

Does the Indian solar/PV story now start making some sense? It is very much in line to become the next big success story for India after the Indian telecom story!

Evidently, Reliance Industries is the major player in all of this, having proposed both a semicon wafer fab as well as a solar/PV fab. Lanco Solar, Solar Semiconductor, Signet Solar, Videocon, and PV Technologies are some of the other big players proposing to enter the Indian semiconductor/fab space.

Well, this is really great news for the Indian semiconductor industry! Further, it comes close on the heels of the announcement of the 3G spectrum policy and MNP policy by the government of India.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Madhusudan V. Atre, president, Applied Materials India, had mentioned that taking the solar/PV route was perhaps, a practical route for India to enter manufacturing. How true are those words!

Late June, I too had proposed, among others points, that Karnataka (and other Indian states) look at having some solar/PV fabs.

Dr. Pradip K. Dutta, Corporate Vice President & Managing Director, Synopsys (India) Pvt Ltd had also mentioned late June that it was too early to write off the Indian fab story. We now have the answer to that question of having fabs in India!

All of this should also excite those investors looking to enter India. The huge interest and subsequent proposals for solar/PV can also lead to India having some of its own solar farms as well!

The India Semiconductor Association should be congratulated for having made this happen. It is soon going to a year since the Indian government had announced the semiconductor policy. Now, with these mega proposals in place, maybe, we will see more investors in the Indian semicon and solar/PV fab spaces.

Top 10 Indian semicon companies review
Another interesting thought! Last year, around this time, I had prepared a list of the Top 10 Indian semiconductor companies. This particular blog has been among the most accessed.

Perhaps, a review is in order! Besides, several Indian players are beginning to make a mark, like Cosmic Circuits, SemIndia, etc. The list of August 2007 mostly had Indian design services companies. This feature of Indian design services companies dominating a top 10 list will probably continue for some more time, till all of these proposals bear fruit into concrete, productive fabs.

I am sure, with those mega investments coming into the Indian semicon wafer IC fab and solar/PV fabs, most of the companies would soon figure in any top 10 list!\

Surely, 2009 should be quite exciting as all of this means a very positive future and outlook for the Indian semiconductor industry.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Indian software developers, here's your chance to win US $25,000!

This piece was information was sent to me by a friend, Ms Tahira Amjad. Thanks a lot!

Skyway Software is a US-based software development company that provides technology and processes to IT organizations to simplify their software delivery systems, often reducing application development and deployment schedules by 30 percent or more.

The company's flagship product, Skyway Builder, is an open-source, model-centric JEE application development and deployment tool for delivering RIAs (Rich Internet applications) and Web Services to the Spring Framework.

Unlike any other development tool, Skyway Builder provides comprehensive modeling capabilities at three distinct application layers -- Web/UI layer, service layer, and data layer -- and fully functional solutions may be delivered easily to a wide variety of open-source and commercial infrastructures.

In order to introduce Skyway software to developers in India -- a market Skyway Software considers 'as the leading force in software development' -- it is are sponsoring the SkywayCup, a multinational challenge for software developers to create a new, viable and working application using Skyway Software's Skyway Builder Community Edition (CE), or to create a logical and workable extension to Skyway Builder itself.

The contest will give away prize money of more than US$40,000, and full information on the contest can be found at

It's the Skyway Cup!
Rich applications that benefit and delight end users in today's enterprises, built by developers like you, will be a critical component of the Skyway Software vision.

So that you can help us realize our vision as quickly as possible, we have created the Skyway Cup, which will provide almost $50,000 in awards -- no strings attached -- for great solutions built using Skyway Builder.

By creating the Skyway Cup, we want to showcase how members of our Skyway Community are using Skyway Builder to build Rich Internet Applications, as well as demonstrate how our members are using Skyway Builder to serve their specific needs.

Friday, August 1, 2008

India announces 3G spectrum, MNP guidelines

Finally, the wait's over! The Indian government today announced the guidelines for 3G (third-generation mobile communications) spectrum as well as mobile number portability (MNP).

First, all players -- Indian and global -- have been invited to bid for 3G spectrum, making it a truly level-playing field. The condition for a foreign player or telecom operator is that it should have some experience in running 3G telecom services.

Those interested to know more about the guidelines for auction and allottment of spectrum for 3G telecom services, can download the documents from DoT's site.

Apparently, the 3G guidelines allow 10 players in the Indian 3G space, including both Indian and foreign players.

Spectrum in the 2.1GHz band would be available for the 3G telecom services through bidding/auction. Spectrum shall be auctioned in blocks of 2x5MHz in the 2.1GHz band. As per the DoT guidelines, the number of blocks to be auctioned may vary from five to 10, subject to the availability in different telecom service areas. Should there be non-availability, the number of blocks may be less than five in a telecom service area.

The MNP allows mobile phone users/subscribers to change their operators, while retaining their mobile phone numbers.

As per the DoT guidelines, a customer can approach a 'recipient operator' to port his or her number. The 'donor operator' cannot re-use that customer's ported number till such time the ported number is in use. The donor operator can only have the ported number once it has been surrendered by the ported customer.

Well, both of these announcements are going to add to India's brilliant telecom success story.

As for the foreign players coming into the country, quite a few are already present. It would be great to see the likes of NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, China Telecom, China Mobile, Telefonica, etc., enter the 3G space in India. As for 3G technology itself, TD-SCDMA, HSPA, etc., should be considered as well.

Oh yes, there's some good news for those itching to use the Apple iPhone 3G. Once, the 3G networks are in place, there's nothing that can stop this from happening.

On the MNP front, a good majority of Indian subscribers are on prepaid. So, there may be quite a few changeovers happening! It could well prove to be a nightmare for the operators, but then, that's the fun of having a level-playing field and the challenge of playing in the booming Indian telecom market.

Postscrpt: A reader, Abhshek, left a very interesting and relevant comment regarding 3G services that users could be charged heftily. I quite agree with him! The 3G operators would need to price their services right. It should be win-win for both operators and users.

To start off, service charges could possibly be on the higher side, as the 3G licenses won't come cheap, and operators would also look at the revenue angle. However, over time, service charges are quite likely to come down, if the pattern of the Indian telecom history is repeated. Many thanks for your comment, Abhishek.