Friday, February 13, 2009

Indian silicon wafer fab story seems dead and buried! Should we revive it?

Now then, this will make a very interesting read! Back in October 2007, I had discussed the timing and the need for a silicon wafer fab in India, in-depth, with Anil Gupta, managing director, India Operations, ARM.

We have come a long way since then! There was all the hype last year about SemIndia's fab, which never really did happen, and eventually, BV Naidu moved on! Then came the rush to solar fabs. Recently, when I blogged on how a Qimonda buy could be good for India, I am told that it is really outrageous. No problem, it is merely a suggestion.

At times, I have got the feeling whether the Indian semiconductor industry is losing its way! However, when I see all around, it is hale and hearty, and business as usual -- fabs or no fabs!

It was interesting to meet up again with Anil Gupta of ARM, and to find out what he thought about what I thought!

Starting with an old question, whether India has the capability to sustain or even build a product development ecosystem? Gupta said: "We need the following for this:
* Entrepreneurs committed to product development and willing to take that risk.
* Investors willing to take risk on product development companies.
* Consumption (this will happen as the economy improves any way).
* Deep enough technical/technological knowledge/know-how to put reasonably competent end products together (It exists. Examples like Sukam, Tejas and other are there).

Indian fab story dead and buried
Turning focus on fabs, is the Indian silicon wafer fab story completely dead and buried now? Gupta notes: "When TSMC says they are running at only 38 percent capacity, one can imagine what the rest of the fabs must be going through. In any case, the Indian fab story was a longer term story and the current economic climate actually makes it further and further remote. So yes, it is dead and buried now!"

Wow! India probably flattered to deceive! However, I am an optimist, and hope that one day, India will have its own silicon wafer fabs!

Gupta adds: "What worries me now is the glut of the solar/PV fabs. By the industry estimates, solar/PV is a viable option only when the price of oil is >$100 per barrel (oil is at $40 per barrel now). This means, there would be challenges for the solar cell industry too! One can only hope that the economy picks up growth soon enough and sends the price of oil higher so that solar becomes a viable option."

Again, this is a concern I have as well. The rush toward solar is good, but then, is this what the Indian semiconductor industry really needs? Where's all that talk of developing silicon and product companies? You simply cannot equate the two -- semicon and solar! You can't have a policy, and then ignore the main crux either, and simply go for the ones that are easily attainable! It does not project a good impression, or maybe, I am somehow wrong in my assessment. Hence, my feeling that the industry could be losing its way somewhere!

However, Gupta feels that's not really the case! What has been working until now, still continues to work!! "Our strengths are design and verification. We will continue to be in demand for that. The other pastures we explore, there are a lot of uncertainties," he adds.

"The challenge is to pick the right pasture where the grass remains green even in the summer. This is not easy to find and does require that we bet on some of them and learn through the experience," he advises.

How can India really buzz?
What now needs to be done to get the semiconductor industry in India really buzzing? Surely, local consumption is key. Local consumption would hopefully foster electronic product innovation just like products by two-wheeler manufacturers and the Tata Nano.

"The current initiatives in the industry for rural applications are also quite interesting. I am optimistic that some good offerings will come out of this. While these may not be specifically from a “semiconductor” perspective, at least at the “system” level these would make sense," says Gupta.

What India NOW offers to semicon world?
What does India NOW offer to the semicon world, in these times of a global recession?

The Indian economy is still mostly internal consumption oriented, as opposed to exports oriented. This is very different from the economies of island nations like Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, which are very heavily export oriented.

In a recession like the current one, these predominantly export-oriented economies experience a far greater crunch than the others. Thus, as long as products are being sold in Indian markets at the right price points, there would be consumption.

Gupta says, "This time around, the world would come out of recession mainly driven by Asian countries, India being one. People in the industry that I talk to tell me that as the worst is over in this crisis, and as things begin to pick up, India will once again be the beneficiary of a lot of work moving here. However, my personal view is somewhat different.

"I believe that the last round did witness this phenomenon mainly because it was the honeymoon period. But by now, the honeymoon period is over and the India centres of these companies are working hard to reach a level where they become “mission critical” to the businesses of their companies.

"The journey hasn’t been very easy for multiple reasons. And by now, the cost differentials also do not look as attractive as they did before. Hence, what work comes here would come only after a careful assessment and very selectively (not by leap of faith)."

I did blog about how Qimonda could be a good buy for starting a memory fab in India. You have all the facts in front of you! My question to the Indian semiconductor industry is: should we revive the call for having a silicon wafer fab in India, post SemIndia and post recession?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.