Saturday, March 28, 2009

Top 10 telecom predictions for 2009: Deloitte

Deloitte recently came out with its TMT (telecom, media and technology) predictions for 2009. Here are some bits from the telecom predictions for 2009. May I also take this opportunity to thank V. Srikumar, partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, for sharing this study. Thank you, sir!

1. Smartphones: how to stay clever in the downturn.
Mobile phone manufacturers should focus on developing smart phones features consumers want to use and are willing to pay for. They should work closely with operators to create easy-to-use services based on specific functionality that users value, says Deloitte. Smart phone manufacturers could also consider selling devices as price-competitive replacements for laptops. For some workers a smart phone may address all their communications, connectivity and applications requirements.

2. Data ascends from the basement to the boardroom.
Indeed! Data on customer information has been residing with telcos since ages. It is time now for the telcos to recognize that the data or information assets could become as significant to value creation as physical assets. Deloitte recommends that this customer information be integrated, and not appended or archived. It suggests that telcos should consider how to structure their activities to utilize their full spectrum of information. Having a CIO on the top management team and further, implementing a data governance framework, may become essential.

3. Digital communication loses its message.
In 2009, employees are likely to communicate digitally with each other in more ways, and in greater volumes, than ever before, says Deloitte. However, email may become obscure. The success of instant messaging was based on its greater immediacy and lesser formality. Growth of services like text messaging, has been driven by similar benefits. Companies should consider discouraging email for one day a week. Even not making indiscriminate use of the 'reply-all' function could save them time and money. Also, social networks may find that the best approach is to offer 'white-label' solutions to corporations, advises Deloitte.

4. The joys of disintermediation: why operators should embrace the application store.
According to Deloitte, in 2009, mobile phone users are likely to download over 10 billion applications to their mobile phones. A majority of applications are likely to be sourced from sites managed by mobile device manufacturers, consumer electronics firms and software houses. Although some operators may launch their own application stores38, the majority are likely to see no alternative to allowing their customers to access third parties' stores. As the consumer awareness of mobile applications increases, the number of voice subscribers that add data subscriptions may well rise, boosting revenues. Applications could be used to drive operator loyalty and reduce retention costs.

5. Integration unleashes mobile phone convergence, finally.
Deloitte advises that while mobile handset manufacturers are getting better at convergence, they would still need to proceed with care. They should not assume that the mere addition of more features would guarantee success. Operators should study the consumers' use of converged products in detail. It may help them identify revenue opportunities relating to converged functionality. The mobile phone may soon come to be regarded as the most successful converged product of all time.

6. Farewell mobile phone, welcome the wireless device.
All players in the mobile industry should understand how they are affected, for better or worse, by the emergence of the low-cost, multiple-standard chipset. The business case for the integration of wireless technology into a range of devices may be stronger. Mobile operators should consider their positioning -- whether to remain focused on the provision of long-range cellular mobile standards, or to become the aggregators of multiple wireless standards. Similarly, companies in other sectors should consider what low-cost integrated chipsets could enable.

7. The mobile broadband accident in slow motion.
As per Deloitte's study, data now exceeds voice volume on some mobile networks68, and with data traffic growing by several hundred percent on others, the cost of carrying data traffic could rapidly erode margins. Where possible, operators should try to divert heavy data traffic from cellular networks, and route it via other networks, such as WiFi-hotspots or home-broadband connections, at structured data tariffs. The operators need to focus marketing attention on managing customer expectations. They should examine the business model for mobile broadband carefully as well. With PC manufacturers increasingly integrating mobile broadband connectivity into their devices, diversification may soon be necessary.

8. The third screen goes dark: mobile television loses its reception
Deloite's study points out that everyone involved in the mobile TV industry -- an operator, a handset developer or a creative -- should take a long, hard, look at the demand for mobile television so far. The downturn could be a perfect opportunity to call time on a format that has too many fundamental challenges to work. It does not mean there's no space for mobile TV! Mobile telephony could provide an efficient payment mechanism for VoD -- delivered to the home set-top box, particularly for smaller VoD players. They can also be used to control the DVR. TV broadcasters can use mobile as part of their CRM strategies. Lots can be done, actually!

9. One for all and all for one: fiber networks change the shape of competition.
Shared ownership may reduce fiber's cost and risk, but may also require a new, unfamiliar approach to competition. Telcos and other companies should determine which skills they may need to hire to be able to compete on basis of services, or service levels, alone. Also, fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) or street-side cabinets may provide more than enough capacity for consumer and small business broadband, at a quarter of the cost of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). Further, governments should complement their commitment to fiber deployment with campaigns to encourage adoption.

10. Mobile termination rates in Europe: a cut too far or a cut too fast?
Mobile operators in Europe, especially, have acknowledged that mobile termination rates (MTRs) must decline. However, 2009 is likely to see them push for a less drastic descent than the EC proposes. Consumer groups should monitor progress very carefully. Operators' knee-jerk reactions to sudden cuts could disadvantage millions of consumers, particularly those on low incomes. It may be better to call for a more moderate approach, from both operators and regulators. The local regulators should consider developing MTR glide paths that respect operators' costs and market conditions.

Top 10 technology predictions for 2009: Deloitte

Deloitte recently came out with its TMT (telecom, media and technology) predictions for 2009. Here are some bits from the technology predictions for 2009. May I take this opportunity to thank V. Srikumar, partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, for sharing this study.

1. Making every electron count: the rise of the SmartGrid.
Major manufacturers and utilities should explore partnerships with, and consider acquisitions of smart energy companies, advises Deloitte. SmartGrid technologies have the potential to reduce up to 30 percent of electricity consumption and dramatically reduce the need to construct new power plants or operate environmentally harmful sources of generation. They also bring computer intelligence and networking to the electrical network. SmartGrid also allows for more efficient use of the existing infrastructure. Is there room for nuclear power? Possibly, yes!

2. Gadgets for free* (*subject to contract)
According to Deloitte, bundling products and services together may prove essential in 2009 to stimulate an otherwise nervous, stalled market. This approach may well become pervasive in 2009, and likely be extended to a wide range of devices, including TV (bundled with subscriptions), music equipment (bundled with music), and high-end computers (bundled with everything -- from technical support to remote back-up services).

3. Disrupting the PC: the rise of the netbook.
Even since the introduction of the Intel Atom processos, netbooks and mobile Internet devices have gained momentum -- at least, in print and web. Sony's pocket device only adds to the glamour. According to Deloitte, the appeal of netbooks has been categorized as making 'great second computers for normal people, third computers for techies, and the first computer for children.' Even carriers should consider adding netbook subsidies into their current cash-flow estimates. They should also analyze the impact of wireless data usage on their networks -- driven by netbooks.

4. Moore's Law and risk.
A corollary to the famous law is applied to the falling prices for digital storage and the rise in the types and speeds of communication networks. However, these have combined to add to the corresponding risk associated with information leakage and data theft. Even a small memory stick can hold volumes of data! Companies could probably never realize that their data has gone missing or that intruders were regularly accessing their networks. Loss of analog data and need to secure analog copies should not be overlooked as well.

5. The common sense of green and lean IT.
Green IT, perhaps, the most misused IT term of this year and the past! Nevertheless, the Deloitte study, in 2009, the aggregate volume of the world's data centers is likely to continue to grow, albeit possibly at a slower pace than in previous years. The efficiency of data centers is, however, likely to vary considerably. The latest, purpose-built data-centers should attain a power-unit effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.2 or better. A typical enterprise data-center is likely to achieve a PUE of 2.0 or worse. Energy consumption for IT should be linked to the overall approach to energy for a company. All departments can have a role to play in making technology more efficient, by applying some common sense.

6. Downsizing the digital attic.
The ever growing danger of digital storage is the fact that users continue to assume that storage space is infinite (just as we do with our possessions). Companies should assess whether their total cost of storage is growing faster than revenues, and if so, whether this is beneficial to them and enterprises should review all aspects of digital data use and management, advises Deloitte. An option could be off-site storage. However, companies would also need to monitor both costs and regulatory implications.

7. Generic becomes the 'IT' brand.
In 2009, we could well find companies and consumers actively seeking out unbranded or relatively unknown technology brands on the basis that they are good enough and, more importantly, significantly cheaper! For the established brands, dropping prices may increase sales in the short-term, but might cheapen a brand's image in the long term. How good would these alternative suppliers be? Deloitte feels that using alternative suppliers is likely to require users to become familiar with a new interface, perhaps causing a drag on productivity. Enterprises should look at approaches of minimizing this disruption, for example through the use of digital skins that mimic interfaces and appearances that users are more familiar with.

8. The digital ambulance chaser gets supercharged.
According to Deloitte, digital litigation may prove recession proof, or even counter-cyclical, in 2009. All companies involved with digital products and services should be wary of unwittingly being caught out by the legislation related to digital infractions -- whether committed against a consumer, an employee, an acquisition, a partner or another business. Even technology companies should constantly monitor how consumers actually use their digital products and services and whether this may create legal issues, advises Deloitte.

9. Social networks in the enterprise: Facebook for the Fortune 500.
Again, on social networks and the enterprise. According to Deloitte, it seems as though 2009 could be the breakout year for social networks in the enterprise. Internal and external spending on social networking solutions from IT providers and carriers may approach $500 million. Social networks are likely to be considered an inexpensive solution in what is likely to be a financially constrained IT spending environment. Perhaps, telcos and IT solutions providers also need to invest in ESN and develop the expertise and credibility to deploy these solutions if or when they become more broadly adopted, and start becoming a more significant source of revenues.

10. Sinners become saints.
This is an interesting observation, where Deloitte looks at genetically modified (GM) foods. The need to feed people, coupled with the need to conserve water, is likely to prompt a re-evaluation of GM foods. Nevertheless, it advises that governments should take a lead on investigating, understanding and communicating the various solutions available for addressing the world's key sustainability challenges. "In 2009 it may even be considered virtuous to create dishes comprising GM ingredients, packaged in plastic, in kitchens powered by nuclear fuel," adds Deloitte.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AMD's response on cross-license deal with Intel!

Folks, as promised, here's the response from AMD on the ongoing cross-license affair with Intel.

I posed the same set of questions I had for Intel, and AMD's spokesperson, Michael Silverman, very kindly sent me the replies.

Is this affair helping anyone?
So, if AMD and Intel were stick to their lines, will it help anyone?

Silverman said that AMD would be happy to make the entire agreement public if Intel drops its insistence on secrecy concerning its exclusionary business practices under the guise of confidentiality it has imposed on evidence in the US civil antitrust case. There is no commercial reason to have those documents under seal; it is simply a means for Intel to try to conceal its illegal behavior.

Now, AMD wants Intel to lift a demand that evidence submitted in its US antitrust suit against the chip maker be kept confidential. If it is a demand, why is it being raised?

According to the AMD spokesperson: "It is clear that global antitrust regulators are zeroing in on their illegal monopoly, with rulings against the company in Japan and Korea, and a Statement of Objections issued in Europe. Intel has so far failed to convince any regulatory body that has studied evidence obtained from Intel and its own customers that its business practices are lawful."

In exactly what specific manner, according to AMD, has Intel's actions violated the cross-license agreement?

AMD's response on this count is that the AMD-Intel cross-license agreement is a two-way agreement, the benefits of which go to both companies. "Intel leverages innovative AMD IP critical for its product designs under the cross license. This includes AMD patents related to 64-bit architecture extensions, integrated memory controller, multi-core architecture, etc.). The cross-license is very much a two-way street. In fact, we informed Intel that their attempt to terminate AMD’s license itself constitutes a breach of the cross-license agreement, which, if uncured, gives AMD the right to terminate Intel’s license."

Again, an Intel spokesman had said it was willing to make the agreement made public, but said AMD prevented this from happening. What's the mystery?

Silverman said: "It was actually AMD that made the redacted version of the cross-license agreement public to begin with -– not Intel, so we reject this notion out-of-hand. AMD would be happy to make the entire agreement public if Intel drops its insistence on secrecy concerning its exclusionary business practices under the guise of confidentiality it has imposed on evidence in the US civil antitrust case. There is no commercial reason to have those documents under seal; it is simply a means for Intel to try to conceal its illegal behavior."

How is all this helping the industry?
Finally, how is this dueling over the license helping the global semiconductor industry? I don't see it helping anything at all!

Silverman added that Intel has manufactured this diversion as an attempt to distract attention from the increasing number of antitrust rulings against it around the world. "With a ruling from the European Commission and a US trial date looming, and investigations by the US FTC and NY Attorney General, the clock is ticking on Intel’s illegal practices -- and yet with its dominant monopoly position it still tries to stifle competitors.

"We believe that, ultimately, Intel will either decide on its own or be forced to cease abusing its monopoly power and allow natural market forces to occur. This would speed the pace of innovation, lower prices, and improve the lives of consumers everywhere."

Shake hands, guys
Right, this blog post is an attempt from my side to help Intel and AMD settle their differences, instead of consistently pointing fingers at each other. I personally have nothing to gain out of this, except a few readers who may wish to read this. It would really be great if these two very admirable companies could bury the hatchet and work out some sort of an agreement.

Intel has already expressed a desire to sit down and negotiate with GlobalFoundries about a license. I hope this happens, soon!

Following this, I hope I am, at some stage, able to conduct an event, where I can discuss global trends, with both AMD and Intel on the dias, along with many others from the global semiconductor industry.

My request to both AMD and Intel: please take off those gloves and shake hands! :)

FPGA Seek -- an exclusive search site for FPGAs

Nearly 17 months ago, I'd discovered FPGA Central! This discovery has gone one better -- introducing the FPGA Seek (!

According to the site, the FPGA Seek is a search engine optimized for field programmable gate array (FPGA) and CPLD's related topics. FPGA Seek brings together the search engine technology from Google but with a laser focus on results related to FPGA/CPLD.

This search engine only goes on to show the importance FPGAs have been gaining. Even the open source world hasn't been far behind. Recently, Altera's Nios II processor received Wind River Linux support. And just before that, both Xilinx and Altera chose to release products the same day!

FPGA related jobs
Of course, there's a whole lot of information on this site. Users can also suggest a site they'd like to be added. There's also a link to FPGA and CPLD related jobs. Of course, it opens on to the FPGA Job Central page. In fact, a lot of jobs have been posted in the recent days. So, those looking for openings, do check it out.

I've been also conducting several searches on the site and am delighted to find several references to my articles/blog posts. :)

Enough said... perhaps, you should all check out and bookmark FPGA Seek! Lastly, thanks to FPGA Central for letting me know!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Strong impact of recession on top 30 MEMS makers

Presenting: The top 30 MEMS (microelectromechanical Systems) suppliers of 2008, thanks to Yole Développement (, in Lyon, France.

"For the first time, STM is the third MEMS manufacturer worldwide. Overall sales of the top 30 MEMS manufacturers decreased by 2 percent compared to previous year, reaching $5.5 billion," says Jean-Christophe Eloy, CEO of Yole Développement. The current economic crisis strongly impacts the 2009 edition of the top 30 MEMS manufacturers.

The preliminary top 30 MEMS manufacturers is based on Yole’s market research and expertise covering the MEMS field with more than 2,500 contacts per year. Yole Développement continues to analyze in detail the MEMS market and to follow the Top 30 MEMS manufacturers to deliver the most accurate information available, specifically in these times of big changes.

Major facts in 2008
In 2008, the MEMS market has seen significant changes in the ranking of the top 30 MEMS companies:

* STM has become, for the first time, the 3rd MEMS manufacturer by $ revenue in 2008.
* Delphi and Sanyo are moving out of the TOP 30 MEMS ranking.
* Kionix and IMT are entering the Top 30 MEMS ranking for the first time.
* IMT is again the world leader in the independent MEMS foundry business.
* HP and Texas Instruments, despite decreases in sales, are still numbers 1 and 2 of the top 30 MEMS ranking.

2008 has been a year of unusual movement in the industry:

* The winners: Eighteen (18) companies have shown growth ($ revenue) in 2008 compared to 2007, with Kionix leading the way with 70 percent, and also Measurement Specialties, STM, Panasonic and Murata, to name a few.

* The loosers: Twelve (12) companies have shown a decrease in sales ($ revenue) in 2008 compared to 2007 (in addition to Sanyo and Delphi exiting the top 30 ranking), with FormFactor, Silicon Sensing Systems and Lexmark showing the largest decrease in sales.

Note: The top 30 MEMS Manufacturers graph only considers companies designing and/or processing Si MEMS chips. So, for example, although Sensata is an important sensor manufacturer, its ceramic technology excludes it from the Top 30 ranking.

Economic crisis, specific impact on each MEMS sector
The economic crisis has definitively had an impact on MEMS companies’ financial results, specifically during Q4 2008. However, this impact is very different according to the various MEMS players’ markets. The automotive business is probably the most dramatically impacted by the downturn. In terms of units, it is in the range of -10 percent to -20 percent less compared to previous years.

However, some companies suffer less than others (as is the case for Robert Bosch for example) but all of them are impacted. The impact is also different according to the maturity of MEMS products. Established devices such as airbag accelerometers are suffering more than emerging devices (e.g. TPMS).

The consequences in consumer markets are also different, depending on the MEMS products. Manufacturers of inkjet heads are suffering a lot, with a decrease of about 15 percent IJH production for 2008. On the other hand, inertial MEMS products for the consumer market are still growing (in the range of a several percent) with some players (e.g., STMicroelectronics and ADI) showing pretty good results.

Major MEMS facts to be highlighted in 2008 are:
* Systron Donner Automotive had a very strong decrease because of its automotive business (- 14 percent in US$). This moves it from 10th position in 2007 to 13th in 2008.
* IJH players are dramatically impacted with a decrease in both sales and units (this is the case for HP and Lexmark, the latter undergoing the strongest decrease for IJH). However, HP is still the number one MEMS company for 2008.
* Texas Instruments has seen decrease in its DLP chip sales by about 13 percent (in US$).
* Thanks to its growth of the consumer market, STMicroelectronics’ MEMS business had a profitable 2008 with US$200M for its accelerometer business (twice 2007 sales). This is + 42 percent in euros. STMicroelectronics moves from 4th position in 2007 to 3rd in 2008.

Although it is probably the automotive MEMS player performing the best in 2008, Robert Bosch underwent a -10 percent decrease in euros compared to 2007. Its 8’’ fab is now ready, but production will start only when the economic conditions improve. So, Bosch is moving from 3rd position in 2007 to 4th in 2008.

* Avago has bought the BAW activity of Infineon in Q4 2008, however this sales volume (Yole Développement estimates to be $38 million) has been consolidated into Infineon's 2008 financial results.
* VTI is suffering because of the automotive market slowdown (- 10 percent in euro).
* Boeringher Ingelheim microParts showed good performance (+ 9 percent in euro), showing that the biomedical market was not impacted by the crisis.
* Panasonic had a very good 2008 with a 10 percent increase in yen compared to 2007.
* Yole believes Panasonic has taken market shares in gyroscopes from Murata and SSS, which show - 4 percent and - 12 percent decreases in yen respectively. Panasonic is now in 16th position (19th in 2007).
* MEAS’s good performance (+ 57 percent in US $) is explained by the integration of Intersema's sales results. MEAS is now in 19th position (24th in 2007).
* FormFactor underwent the strongest decrease (- 51 percent in US$). This moves it to 27th position (20th in 2007).
* IMT did quite well (+ 15 percent in US $), while Colibrys was affected (-19 percent in US $ and closing of its US activity).

This year, Sanyo and Delphi have disappeared from the 2008 ranking; Sanyo has stopped its foundry activity and Delphi has dramatically reduced its MEMS staff. We believe that only development/assembly will be kept.

How will the future be? Such a crisis will come to an end only when device stock levels fall. Some information from Taiwanese players seems to indicate a restart of semiconductor production. Although it could also be the case for MEMS, Yole believes that 2009 will be a flat year for the MEMS market.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Intel keen on discussing license with GlobalFoundries!

Friends, I am very pleased to report that Intel has expressed a desire to sit down and negotiate with GlobalFoundries about a license! Now, it is up to AMD to take up Intel's offer and sort this out, once and for all!

This is possibly the best news coming out as far as the Intel-AMD cross-license affair is concerned. Isn't it?

I did promise that I'll bring you the responses from Intel and AMD. Intel's spokesperson very kindly replied to all of my queries!

Right, I had asked both that if AMD and Intel stick to their lines, Let's Make the Cross-license Deal Public... Will this help anyone?

According to Intel, it will help the public, the press and investors have a clearer understanding of the terms of the cross-license and in particular, why Intel believes AMD is in breach of that agreement.

I also asked them, rather bluntly, how their fracas was really helping the global semiconductor industry! To this point, Intel replied: "Our view is that AMD has a license agreement with Intel. Cross-licensing has long been a cornerstone of this industry. However, given the value of the IP assets at stake, we must continue to protect our IP and we do not believe that AMD can transfer those assets to a third party without the consent of Intel. We would be happy to sit down and negotiate with GlobalFoundries about a license. However, we cannot do so until AMD and GlobalFoundries acknowledge our rights under the agreement."

Protective order
Now, AMD wants Intel to lift a demand that the evidence submitted in its US antitrust suit against the chip maker be kept confidential. What is this all about? If it is a demand, why is it being raised?

According to Intel, this is a red herring! "That case has nothing to do with this contract. AMD knows very well that the information in the US antitrust case is confidential under a protective order signed by the Court. AMD was part of the process of drafting that protective order and knows very well that Intel cannot change it nor can AMD."

Why is it also being said that Intel's actions have violated the cross-license agreement? The Intel spokesperson said that AMD's theory is that Intel has breached the agreement by implementing the dispute resolution process outlined in the cross-license agreement. That is not what the agreement says. If AMD is right, then there is no dispute resolution process, which is not the case.

An Intel spokesman had earlier said that the company was willing to make the agreement made public, but said AMD prevented this from happening. I asked Intel to clear its side.

Bound by agreement
Here's Intel’s response: "In 2001 or 2002, AMD published a redacted (partial) agreement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Portions of the agreement are related directly to this dispute, and Intel has suggested multiple times that the entire agreement be published to provide the clarity outlined above. AMD has refused. Intel is bound by that agreement and can’t unilaterally make the rest of the agreement public."

Quite interesting responses from Intel! Now, I await AMD's replies.

At the end of the day, all differences should be kept aside, especially during this recession. I am sure, both of these wonderful companies can come to some sort of an agreement and find a way forward for the overall good of the global semiconductor industry.

I know this is not an easy matter, rather, it is quite complicated. However, I feel there's a way out of each and every problem!

Intel has now extended its request to GlobalFoundries, and AMD, to sit across the table and negotiate with GlobalFoundries about a license. It is sincerely hoped that the two companies can come to some sort of arrangement. There's no point in making claims and counter-claims through the media, or any other way!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MCUs are now shaping the embedded world!

As promised, here's a discussion I had with STMicroelectronics (ST) on its new 8-bit microcontroller, the STM8S -- the STM8S105 and STM8S207 MCUs for industrial and consumer applications. The discussion focused on how MCUs are now beginning to shape the embedded world.

Addressing this specific query, Patrice Hamard,8-bit Product Line Marketing Manager, STMicroelectronics, said that ST is reshaping the microcontroller with a solid offer on 8bit that has a strong overlap with STM32 in terms of feature and price. "Therefore, we are going to cover the need for embedded functions with only two architectures. Compared to the previous segmentations (8-, 16- and 32-bit), we are changing it to become 8- and 32-bit only," he clarified.

On the STM8S, Hamard said that the key application areas addressed by the MCU are industrial and appliances in consistent with the robustness and the reliability. He said: "The STM8S family is supporting 5V as well as 3V, thereby making it ideal for the platform evolution as well as a good offer for the consumer and mass market. The cost advantage given with the fine lithography also allows us to propose this family to key customers in PC peripherals and consumer applications."

Rich feature set an imperative in MCUs
Rich feature set is an imperative in the MCU market. How is the STM8S meeting this requirement?

According to him, the feature set is driven by the need to reduce the bill of materials (BoM). The robustness allows simple design and board layout with less filtering. The clock controller gives low noise emission figure, thereby reducing the need for shielding. The precise clock allows the suppression of the external resonator. The embedded true E²Data suppresses the need for additional E²PROM. Safe reset (no grey area) makes the reset system safer suppressing the need for external reset circuit.

The clock system, as well as the two independent watchdogs will contribute to pass safety regulations together with ST's class B libraries. All communications peripherals are available as well -- (U(S)ART, I²C, SPI, CAN, LIN), advanced 16-bit timers and timebase, fast and precise 10-bit ADC.

Finally, the 8-bit core is one of the most efficient with 20MIPS at 24MHz. Built around the 8-bit data path, the micro has 16bit registers and 32bit memory memory width.

So, how does the STM8 deliver high performance with excellent code compactness?

Hamard said that thanks to the new CISC instruction set designed in collaboration with ST's C compiler partners, the compactness has been significantly improved. The Harvard architecture with its three-stage pipeline allows to reach up to 20MIPs @ 24MHz.

ST is offering family demonstration boards and instrument cluster reference designs as well. In fact, there are currently solutions available in ST with the STM8S/128-EVAL, as well as with third parties like raisonance with the REVA KIT. Many reference designs are complete or in progress demonstrating motor control (sensorless brushless DC motors), power management, smart card protocol, capacitive sensing, etc.

Demand for low-power MCUs
According to Hamard, the trend of low power is coming from the increase of the application base on battery in consumer and personal care, combined with a strong demand for power meters (electricity, water and gas). Energy saving is important and electronics can contribute a great deal to reduce the overall energy consumption.

"The STM8S is not specifically aiming low power applications even though the features of the family are good for many low power devices. It is in our plan to introduce later this year a dedicated family to address low voltage/low power arena," he added.

Why 8-bit?
Considering that there are 8- vs. 16- vs. 32- bit MCUs, and also that affordable prices are perhaps the reason that the Asian region is witnessing a migration to 16-bit architectures. In this scenario, why 8-bit?

Hamard said: "Everything depends on what we consider to be "affordable" and who we are talking to. For large quantity and simple functions, affordability is between $0.20 cents to $0.50 cents. By construction, a 16-bit device cannot be as effective as an 8-bit product. We even believe that the microcontroller prices will decrease and address applications served with few discrete devices. The main reason is the consistency of architecture.

"The construction of the 32- and 16- are very similar, especially with the new generation of ARM-based products. The only reason to go from 8- to 16-bit is for performance improvement. We say that our 32-bit portfolio is already overlapping the 8-bit segment in performance and in price, leaving no room for the third core structure.

"Taking a closer look at our portfolio, you will realize that our 32-bit is also providing 16-bit instruction set, and our 8-bit is built with 16-bit register, 24-bit memory address bus, etc."

Rebounding IC ASPs and Intel-AMD dispute! Two contrasting sides of semicon!!

Friends, I'd like to draw your attention to two completely contrasting sides of the the global semiconductor industry!

First, there was a significant piece of information last week, where IC Insights highlighted that the IC ASP prices were across several product segments. In fact, IC Insights further goes on to say that while it is unsure whether IC ASPs had reached their low points, IC Insights firmly believes that the IC ASPs will rebound throughout 2009 and well into 2010.

I am reminded of another IC Insights study of late December 2008 where it advised adopting a quarterly outlook! It also forecast a significant rebound in the IC market beginning in the third quarter of the year! Is it already upon us? Too early to say.

Consider this: are these two projections bringing some good tidings for the global semiconductor industry? Perhaps, yes!

Now, a change of scene! Time -- early this week!

Intel notified Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) that it believes AMD has breached a 2001 patent cross-license agreement with Intel. According to its release, Intel believes that Global Foundries is not a subsidiary under terms of the agreement and is therefore not licensed under the 2001 patent cross-license agreement. Intel also said the structure of the deal between AMD and ATIC breaches a confidential portion of that agreement.

Intel has asked AMD to make the relevant portion of the agreement public, but so far AMD has declined to do so. AMD's breach could result in the loss of licenses and rights granted to AMD by Intel under the agreement.

Knowing my soft corner for semiconductors, I received a mail carrying AMD's comment on Intel's claim. And, it was a counter claim of sorts!

According to Ramkumar Subramanian, VP Sales & Marketing India, AMD: "Intel's action is an attempt to distract the world from the global anti-trust scrutiny it faces. Should this matter proceed to litigation, we will prove that Intel fabricated this claim to interfere with our commercial relationships and thus, has violated the cross-license."

I really don't know what's happening! Who's right and who's wrong? All I understand is that this Intel vs. AMD dispute is simply NOT good news for the global industry.

Both Intel and AMD are companies admired globally. I've interacted with executives from both companies, and they are all really exceptionally talented people.

It is important for Intel and AMD to not get drawn into controversies of this stature, especially at a time when the industry is going through a rough patch. I have asked this question of both companies and expect their replies sometime next week, hopefully. And I wish they don't send me standard replies.

Both of you are sticking to you lines and stands! Can you please take your gloves off and clear this up folks? The industry does not need such things right now!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 could help you find semicon and embedded jobs!

I came across, thanks to a press release sent by a friend.

According to the release, TwitterJobSearch is said to be the first ‘smart’ search engine that extracts meaning from Twitter content to create a real-time, global online resource of all jobs posted onto the platform.

It "uses relevancy algorithms developed by Workhound, the UK's largest job search engine, and the technology will build out into further social media channels and topics, providing semantic intelligence capabilities for social media platforms, business and consumers."

Curious, I did try out a couple of searches. The results were simply mind-boggling!

The first search I tried out was "Jobs in Semiconductors." Well, TwitterJobSearch threw up a whopping 14,221 results found in 0.047 seconds!

Next, I tried searching "Jobs in Embedded"! Well, no surprises!! The response? It threw up 14,224 results found in 0.062 seconds! has to be the MOST efficient job search engine! A Twitter job search engine, it is said to be the first ‘smart’ search engine that extracts meaning from Twitter content to create a real-time, global online resource of all jobs posted onto the platform.

I mentioned elsewhere that while I am not sure about the quality of the search results being thrown up, the results themselves are likely to thrill the job seeker -- simply because of the variety of options it is throwing up!

A lot of you have asked me to help out with jobs. Friends, in case you are looking for a job, or have friends who need help, maybe, it would be worth trying out TwitterJobSearch! Power to micro-blogging, to all the micro-bloggers, and well, all the bloggers. Power to TwitterJobSearch too, for making available such an unique job search engine in these times of recession.

As they say -- you help someome during a recession, you will be revered for the rest of your life. Hopefully, this is such a tool!

Friends, do share your job search experiences with me, please. Best of luck!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ST's 8-bit MCUs make efficient use of technology

STMicroelectronics (ST) recently introduced the new 8-bit microcontroller, the STM8S. This new MCU is said to be robust and reliable, and price competitive with system cost integration. Some other features include
• Performance up to 20MIPs @ 24Mhz;
• Excellent code density;
• Leading edge embedded Flash technology with true embedded E²Data; and
• Embedded debug function with low-cost development tools.

In fact, the company announced the general availability of the STM8S105 and STM8S207 MCUs for industrial and consumer applications. Key features of the new devices include high-performance 8-bit architecture, modular peripherals and pin-compatible packages to raise performance, scalability and value for current 8-bit and 16-bit applications.

The STM8S platform enables new generations of 8-bit MCUs, offering up to 20 MIPS CPU capability and 2.95-5.5V operation to help legacy 8-bit systems transition to lower supply voltages. Its 130nm embedded non-volatile memory is among the most advanced technologies currently in use with 8-bit MCUs, and provides true EEPROM data-write with 300,000-cycle durability.

So, what would be typical applications addressed by ST's STM8S? These would be -- home appliances, HVAC, user interfaces, factory automation, motor control, sensors, lighting, e-bikes, circuit breakers, personal care, rechargeable battery operated devices, toys and game accessories, power supplies and power management, and power tools.

The microcontroller boasts advanced architecture for performance. These include:
• High performance core:
– Advanced Harvard and CISC architecture.
– New arithmetic instructions (yXx,y/x).
– 20MIPs peak @ 24Mhz Fcpu.

• Innovative architecture:
– 128 kB linear address space, no paging.
– 16-bit index registers.
– Internal 32-bit memory interface and three-stage pipeline.
– Advanced clock controller for better power consumption and noise control.

The STM8 is said to deliver high performance with excellent code compactness. ST has efficiently made use of technology to break price barriers. According to the company, technology is driving 8-bit evolution, and breakthrough has been achieved with 130nm lithography. The MCU also makes use of E² non-volatile memory, analog and digital peripherals.

STM8S – software requirements for safety
• Immune against EMS, strong against Latchup or ESD.
• Low noise emission.
• Embedded system supporting IEC 60335 class B compliance
– Self test
– Build-in checks (check-sum, ECC..)
– Illegal op. codes
– Interrupt handling
– Clock failure detection, recovery
– Watchdogs (Time monitoring, program flow)

In summary, the STM8 MCU is a high performance 20 MIPs core. Features include lower system cost, and friendly IDE with free software suite.

As for the touch sensing software suite, ST is offering complete NRE/royalty-free source code solution to enable 8-bit STM8 MCU platforms for capacitive touch sensing capability. You can detect the capacitive human touch by controlling the charge/discharge timing cycle of an RC network formed by a single resistor and the electrode capacitance Cx.

The suite has multi-function capability to combine capacitive sensing function to the traditional MCU features (communication, LED control, beeper, LCD control). It delivers with hardware development platform and diagnostic tools to ease the design process.

I will be speaking with ST even further on how MCUs are shaping the embedded world. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

SemiconWorld -- social networking site for semicon professionals

Friends, I have recently started a small social networking site -- SemiconWorld ( -- on Ning. SemiconWorld will aim to connect semiconductor and electronics professionals, and facilitate discussions on key business and other industry issues.

Ever since I started this blog, I have made several friends from all over the world! Most of them have gone on to have long discussions with me on semiconductors and electronics. So, when I looked around on the Internet, I found that there weren't many social networking sites for semiconductor and electronics professionals. Hence, I thought of developing one.

Even as I have been developing this site, some good friends, such as Uma Mahesh Sir, Jo Kuo, Ms Poornima Shenoy of ISA, Sandip Dhawan, Alfred Cheng, Rahul Prabhakar, Ian Shelley, Priyanka Kalia, Kiran Kumar and Tiffany Yeh, have already joined the SemiconWorld network. A very warm thanks to all of you, folks!

It is always good to hear the perspectives and perceptions of others. That's how I have tried to learn about the various technologies we read about all the time! And, I am still learning! It is my sincere hope and wish that my friends join me and we can have great and very useful discussions on various topics and issues related to these high-tech industries.

Why did I choose Ning for such a site? Well, I happen to be a member of the TelecomYou ( network on Ning -- a social networking site for telecom professionals. There, I found members participating in discussions and friendly chats, post blogs about various things, and even look for jobs! I don't know how to add jobs to this site, but if someone can lead me to a site, which can allow me to post a job widget, I'd be glad to do so.

For those interested in events, Future Horizon's International Electronics Forum (IEF) 2009, will be held from May 6 to May 8, 2009, in Geneva, Switzerland. I've added a link to event, in case you wish to look that up.

I have also provided several key industry links for those keen on looking up information related to semiconductors, electronics and technologies. I can add a whole lot of stuff on to this page. Maybe, all that will happen over a period of time. Till then, enjoy networking, dear friends! Hope you like SemiconWorld!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Time for Indian semicon to step up! Yes or No?

I was really happy to see a comment on my blog post: "What India now offers to the global semicon industry," left by Tom Morrow, author of the SEMISpice blog, and Vice President of Global Expositions and Marketing, SEMI. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Tom.

You said: Your description of India's Special Incentives Package Schemes for setting up and operating semiconductor fabrication as a "debacle" is off the mark. Is it really wise for the country to join an already crowded semiconductor manufacturing ecosystem when it can apply its scarce resources to join 30-50 year boom in solar, something the country desperately needs for both domestic and export development?"

"The move to solar is the right one. India had nine manufacturers of solar cells and about twice as many module makers. Most of these proposals have been in response to the Government’s announcement of a Special Incentives Package Scheme under the 2007 Semiconductor Policy.

"About 70 percent of India’s solar cell and PV module production has been exported. This is likely to change in the near future as government policy provides the push for PV deployment and following the recent release of guidelines for grid connected solar generation. Several states in India, including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal have also announced their own solar policies, plans and incentive packages in recent months.

"ISA and SEMI has recognized the great opportunities in solar and have taken supportive leadership positions. While both organizations would love to see a domestic semi fab industry emerge in India, given the overcapcity in the industry today, the transition to solar has been swift, thoughtful, and right on the mark."

First up, Tom, I did not formulate SIPS or the Indian semicon policy! I too thought India would soon build a wafer IC fab! Several delegations have visited India, in the past, with companies hoping to work with these so-called wafer IC fabs in India. I am merely a small time blogger, offering my opinions. And I love my country, no less than any other Indian!

Perhaps, you should see some of the press these 'so-called fabs' received! All the talk of a wafer IC fab only died down with SemIndia late last year!

If folks read my posts carefully, I've discussed how India has been doing fine before the semicon policy and post the policy, fab or no fab! Some knowledgeable experts have even said that fabless India shines brightly! It has shone before, and continues to do so!

Neither do I have anything against solar and the solar industry! It is a great way to trigger off manufacturing in India. Did I say otherwise?

I work closely with ISA, in fact, was present, when ISA was born, back in October 2004, and also know Sathya Prasad at SEMI India quite well. It's a great initiative that's going on in solar in this country. So, yes, the move to solar is a very correct one!

Still on wafer IC fabs, one expert even goes on to say that India could look at skipping the current node of technology and make an entry into the one that will be prevalent after few years.

However, my focus is essentially on semiconductor manufacturing! As many industry experts never fail to say at conferences, India needs to move up the semicon value chain! We need more semicon product start-ups!! And, that's not happening fast enough!

Perhaps, we can just discard all of these ideas and go on being a leading player in design services (which, we already are), a much easier option.

I would still go with what Malcolm Penn of Future Horizons' says, that India needs to re-think its semiconductor strategy! It cannot survive on chip design alone!

Even the recently held ISA Vision Summit had a session: "Indian design influence: Ideas to volume"! Speakers discussed how India should seize opportunities, especially in this downturn, and that, it is time for the Indian semiconductor industry to step up, put the right innovations in place and grow.

I am very interested in hosting an event in India on this topic -- Time for India to step up: Put right innovations in place and grow! However, as I said, I am merely a small time blogger, trying to make a living. I hope I can find some support to host such an event at least once in India.

I am simply delighted that my post has drawn the interest of such a senior person at SEMI. Thank you, sir!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

ISA Vision Summit 2009: Growing influence of embedded software on hardware world

This session on day 1 of the recently held ISA Vision Summit had a good mix of speakers. Moderated by Anil Gupta, managing director, ARM India, the speakers included V.R. Venkatesh, Senior Vice President, Product Engineering Services, Wipro Technologies, Kishor Patil, MD & CEO, KPIT Cummins, and Raju Pudota, MD, Denali Software. This is a slightly longer blog post, so bear with me, friends.

The pic here shows Wipro's Venkatesh making a point, watched by Raju Pudota, Amil Gupta and Kishor Patil.

Kicking off the panel discussion, ARM's Anil Gupta highlighted the strength of the Indian embedded software industry. As per IDC, embedded software accounts for 81 percent of the projected share of overall revenues in 2008, at $5.98 billion. This will go up to $7.29 billion, while still accounting for 81 percent of the projected share of overall revenues in 2009. The projected share of the overall workforce in this industry segment stands at 82 percent -- at 125,663 -- which will be maintained during 2009, even as this figure rises to 149,978! Quite impressive!!

Incidentally, a recruiter recently requested information on the workforce numbers in the Indian semiconductor industry. I hope this partly answers your question, friend.

Gupta further added that embedded design had now entered several sectors such as automotive, aerospace and defense, consumer and home products, household appliances, industrial controls, infrastructure and construction, medical electronics, transportation and traffic management, security and telecom. In short, a bright future for this segment ensured, especially in India.

Trends in embedded design include: more demand for features, embedded is driving complexity, and prices have been generally constant/going down. As a result, all of the innovation happening has been giving new experience to the consumers.

Wipro's V.R. Venkatesh cited the example of medical devices, which are adding functions via embedded software. He presented the case of an efficient infusion pump, which ensures that the five rights of medication safety -- right person, right dose, right medicine, right time, and right way -- are never violated!

Another example cited was of adding functions in mobile devices. Such mobile devices are making use more dual core chip solutions to run multimedia and MIPS intensive apps on a separate applications processor. They use open operating systems (OS) such as Symbian, Linux, etc., and also have built in sensors, such as motion sensors.

Consequently, usability is now becoming the focus, rather than pure user interface of the mobile. On the impact of software complexity, he said that OSs and middleware are now becoming more complex to enable quicker and easy to develop mobile applications, and also develop complex mobile application with the right API support. He also cited new advances in automotive telematics and navigation. These are implemented through complex software and demanding more hardware features.

Challenges in developing embedded software
However, increasing embedded software has also brought its own challenges. Today, the share of software is ~50 percent of the total cost of development.

Some of the challenges while developing embedded software include multiple regulations; split personality: display (local and remote), compute and communicate; UI; low-power design, application specific accelerators; wireless as de facto connectivity; integrated sensors and geospatiality for enhanced applications; built for untrusted environments (security, virtualization); and integration with service providers and enterprise systems.

Hardware and software in an embedded system are complimentary to each other. Software (middleware and applications) should be used as a 'Differentiator' to add more winning features to any new product, he added. There is a need for a platform approach for embedded software development to enable scaling of features and usage across applications. Finally, developers need to keep the cost vs. functions vs. efficiency tradeoff in mind.

Embedded systems landscape trends
KPIT Cummins' Kishor Patil touched upon the growing need of convergence for hardware and software. According to him, the key driving forces are:
* Low cost and high performance;
* Low power and green;
* Maximum storage and least area/cost;
* Development: Faster TAT (turnaround time);
* Mechanical centric => electronics centric; and
* High value and low cost.

Trends in hardware include silicon shrink at 0.7x, technology challenges at 45nm and below, and business challenges -- high volumes for amortizing high mask costs.

Commenting on the embedded systems landscape: market trends and implications, he cited these to be: electronics and applications emerging as distinctive factors; increased electronics in automobiles (~100 MCUs/ECUs per car); silicon shrinkage reaching its limit w.r.t. geometry and costs; and enhancing system performance with the same hardware.

Content growth has been quite notable in automotive electronics. According to Patil, in 2000, an average automobile had 1 million lines of code, 20 ECUs, electronics worth $400, and software constituted 2 percent of the cost of the car. By 2010, an average car will have 100 million lines of code, 50 ECUs, electronics worth $1,100 and software cost at 13 percent of the cost of a car. Of this, 50 percent will be infotainment and 30 percent will be power train.

Impact on stakeholders
So what is the impact on the stakeholders? For OEMs, tier 1s, and semicon companies, it brings new business opportunities, and application specific solutions -- common/configurable hardware differentiated by software.

It allows R&D to migrate from proprietary interfaces to open and standard-based interfaces. The impact on software developers includes use of heterogeneous processors, managing parallelism, as well as dealing with scalability, compatibility and re-usability.

Embedded software's growing importance
Denali's Raju Pudota focused on current trends, such as growth in UMPC (ultra mobile PCs) designs; multimedia and automotive. For hardware, it means higher integration, multiple embedded processors in one SoC, and multiple microcontrollers (MCUs) with independent functions. Most importantly, embedded software is needed to make all of this work!

He said that more software is required to run all of the IPs integrated on the chip. These can be procured from hardware IP vendors, or developed in-house or contracted to third party providers. Also, different processors require different skills and capabilities. Finally, integration and embedded OS level capabilities. Incidentally, embedded software has become a requirement on the semicon provider. However, third-party IP has been evolving slowly.

Semicon providers' activities are manifold. These involve developing software for in-house hardware components, sourcing software from hardware IP providers, integrating various software components, and also test software offered to the system integrator.

These growing activities present its own challenges, typically: quality of software provided by hardware IP vendors, high integration time, software verification, and increased investment in software capabilities -- and emergence of a new area of core competence.

What can the ecosystem do?
Given this scenario, the ecosystem has a major role to play. These include:

Ease of generation of hardware-aware software -- define methods to abstract design to enable auto-generation of device drivers; define methods to auto-generate device drivers; few companies investing in this area.

Define framework/platform to integrate software -- similar to on-chip interconnect; leverage mature general software development processes; and customize to specific requirements of embedded area. Finally, make software offerings open-source; leverage large independent developer community.

Ease testing of embedded software
There is also a need to ease the testing of embedded software. Some points to note: Leading semicon providers have home grown software integration and testing platforms; making use of traditional methods -- hardware-software co-simulation, simulation acceleration, emulation, and FPGA testing. However, no standard methodology is said to be evolving.

Many industry solutions currently exist for hardware-software integrated testing, such as CoWare, SystemC, Mirabilis, etc. Then, there's also simulation accelerators (parallel processing), and emulators (FPGA based).

Challenges include: huge investment in model development, high cost of ownership, the ability of third party IP provider to enable integration, and large turnaround time per test. A proper framework for the integration and testing of IPs and embedded software is the need of the hour.

Pudota added that while this is a tough challenge, it would improve time-to-market for complex SOCs, develop a third-party IP ecosystem, and enable the semicon provider to focus on core competencies.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Altera Nios II processor gets Wind River Linux support

Wind River recently announced the Wind River Linux support for Altera’s Nios II embedded processor.

Commenting on the Nios II processor adoptiion, Mikeson Wang, Product Marketing Manager, Asia Pacific, Altera Corp., in Hong Kong, highlighted that it has over 20,000 licensees worldwide, and is used by each one of the top 20 OEMs. The Nios II processor happens to be the industry’s #1 soft core CPU, as per Gartner Dataquest. There exists a very vibrant Nios Forum community of over 10,000 users. It is also used by developers in all Altera markets.

Wind River delivers Linux support for the Nios II processor also means that the #1 FPGA processor is now supported by best-in-class embedded Linux. Also, Nios II plus embedded Linux = BOM cost reduction.

It is a compelling alternative to discrete off-the-shelf processors. Wind River customers have access to Altera’s full spectrum of FPGA and HardCopy ASIC solutions as well.

Wang added that the Nios II is popular because of providing design flexibility. Being a custom fit solution, it is also easy to modify hardware at any time.

Why Linux + Nios II
There are several reasons. First, it provides cost reduction through integration. Users can replace the existing CPU with an FPGA running Embedded Linux. Next, it provides protection from processor obsolescence. This in turn, protects the software legacy code, which happens to be a customer's biggest investment.

This combination also allows design flexibility. Besides providing access to open source software, the time to market gets reduced as well.

Highlighting the reasons for the Altera-Wind River partnership, he added that Wind River is the best-in-class Linux partner, with worldwide sales, support, training and service infrastructure. Wind River is also the no. 1 embedded OS supplier for the communications market.

Altera itself has a strong presence in the communications market. Also, the FPGA processor use is a growing trend in embedded applications; and Nios II is leading FPGA soft processor. There is also a significant overlap of Altera and Wind River's customer base, such as Huawei, ZTE, Motorola, Alcatel-Lucent, etc., to name a few.

Deliveables include:
* Cyclone III FPGA Development Kit (3C120)
- DK-DEV-3C120
* Linux Hardware Reference Design (Quartus II Project)
- Current design: 125 MHz in 3C120
- Nios II performance: 150 – 300 DMIPS *

Wind River
* Wind River Linux Distribution
* Wind River Workbench for Nios II
- Workbench IDE with Nios II Support
- GNU Tool Chain, Board Support Package
* Flash files (HW & SW for 3C120 board)

The Cyclone III FPGA development kit is a complete platform for prototyping embedded systems.

In summary, the Wind River-Altera partnership helps reduce system cost and TTM, and increases system flexibility. Altera and Wind River already share several customers, and hence, this is a win-win partnership. The strategic partnership with Wind River complements Altera's silicon, soft processor and FPGA development, besides, Wind River's industry-leading embedded Linux distribution.

How will this partnership boost FPGA sales? According to Wang: "The current weak demand is due to recession. We see weak demand in every segment. However, we are still outperforming the market."

Although leading-edge FPGAs are scaling to 40nm and beyond, have the tools caught up with these new and complex processes? Wang added that the process does not have any significant impact.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Definite need for rethink on India's fab strategy!

I am intrigued to see lots of great things happening in the Indian semiconductor industry, and equally frustrated to find certain things that I feel should happen, not really going the way they should!

Yes, India is very strong in the semiconductor related chip design services. However, do keep in mind folks that design services have been impacted a bit by the recession as well! There have been calls from several quarters for India to now start thinking beyond its chip design services. Therefore, are there any areas that India can look into within the semiconductor space?

Leverage strength in software
Certainly, value add in products are heavily influenced by the embedded software in addition to features of the chips, says S. Janakiraman, former chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA) and President and CEO-R&D Services, MindTree. "The Google Android is a great example of that. India should leverage its strength in software to enhance its value add to semiconductor companies," he adds.

Innovation is now shifting from the development of new technologies to the creation of unique applications.

"Mobile browsers and management of remote appliances to save power at home/office are examples. We need to innovate new applications that can drive the need for more electronic gadgets, and in turn, the need for more semiconductors," notes Jani Sir.

Rethink on Indian fab strategy?
One of my earlier posts focused on whether an Indian investor could buy Qimonda's memory fab, and somehow kick-start the India fab story! I did find support from many quarters on this idea, but till date, I don't think anyone from India has made a move for Qimonda. At least, I haven't heard of any such move.

Nevertheless, some folks within the Indian semiconductor industry and elsewhere have called for India to rethink on its fab strategy.

What should it be now? Or, shall we just discard this and go on, as India has been doing fine without fabs so far? Perhaps, the last option is easier!

According to Janakiraman: "Perhaps, we should consider where semiconductor technology will be after five years from now, and prepare grounds for that through encouragement of fundamental research, as well as shuttle fabs to enable prototyping. We should skip the current node of technology and make an entry into the one that will be prevalent after few years." Now, that's sound advice! Will it be easy to achieve?

"That may not be as easy to achieve for the private enterprises considering the cost involved," adds Janakiraman. "It has to be a mission of the nation to create that infrastructure and later privatize."

According to him, it is not unique to India. "Every country, be it Taiwan or China, have done it. The only other way is to heavily subsidize and support fabs like those in Israel or Vietnam, but it will be tough to choose a partner in a democratic country like ours, wherein every investment and subsidy is seen with a colored vision," he says.

To sum up, a fab for our country will be fundamental to gain leadership and self reliance. It cannot be ignored totally, although we can take our own time to reach there. Janakiraman adds, "We don't have a choice other than paying a price to reach there, now or later!"

Sunday, March 1, 2009

ISA Vision Summit 2009: Indian design influence, ideas to volume

This post is slightly delayed given the fact that I've been travelling! Here it is: Session 2 of Day 1, ISA Vision Summit 2009!!

The still quite young, Indian semiconductor industry has come a long way! Making his opening remarks during the session: Indian Design Influence, Ideas to Volume, Jaswinder Ahuja, Corporate Vice President & MD, Cadence Design Systems India, and chairman, pointed out that earlier, it used to be 'made by the world, FOR India.' However, globalization of design has now put India on the world semiconductor map. Today, it is 'made by the world, IN India.'

The picture here shows Ahuja making a point, while Freescale's Ganesh Guruswamy, TI's Dr. Bobby Mitra and Intel's Praveen Vishakantaiah are all attention.

The electronics systems production is clearly moving eastward. Even though the chip fabs may not happen in India, systems manufacturing is certainly happening. The emerging markets today offer a $5 trillion opportunity. However, the transformative challenge is: how to marry low cost, good quality, sustainability and profitability simultaneously!

Fantastic opportunity for investing in technology
Praveen Vishakantaiah, President, Intel, added that India has a fantastic opportunity ahead for investing in technology. He cited Intel's examples, such as: products designed in India for global market -- Intel Xeon 7400 processor; designed in India for India and emerging markets -- Classmate PC, which was prototyped in India; and designed in India and customized for the local market -- PoS retail kiosk solution.

Internal factors related to volume development include: unique market needs, designing for reliability, enabling customers -- standard globally but varied in India. External factors include: access to customers -- which can be challenging in a varied market such as India, access to employable talent, predictable supply chain, robust infrastructure -- digital infrastructure should scale simultaneously with design and development, and proactive policies and regulations.

According to Vishakantaiah, there is a need for a call to action and seize opportunities. This means, capitalizing on opportunities for local and global product designs, increase the impact and build end-to-end competencies, and to continue to move up the value chain. There is a need to address the internal factors. This would enable increasing the quality of products and extend local products into global markets. There is also a need to focus on the enabling the local market for global product companies.

As far as the external factors are concerned, there is a need to be proactive to remove barriers. There is a need to also encourage research, faculty development and new curriculum. India also needs to build energy efficient power, logistics and manufacturing capabilities, and also reduce e-waste and think green for all product designs.

Downturn creates huge opportunities
Ganesh Guruswamy, Director and Country Manager, Freescale Semiconductor India, remarked that even the deepest downturns can create huge opportunities for companies and countries. "Continuing to innovate during the downturn is important," he added. It is therefore, time for India to step up, put the right innovations in place and grow.

He stressed upon several custom solutions for emerging markets, such as two-wheelers, which dominate, e-bikes, which are said to be the future, LED lamps, power inverters, irrigation pumpset powered by solar, smart energy meters, and solar/PV base station and carrier based equipment for telecom.

Medical tourism is an emerging focus area for India, as it is growing by 30 percent each year. Medical tourism is likely to bring $1-2 billion to India by 2012. In this context, Guruswamy highlighted Freescale's ECG-on-a-chip solution. According to him, the way forward would involve moving away from a design mindset to a product mindset!

Don't be dwarfed by glamorous industries!
Dr Bobby Mitra, MD, Texas Instruments India, said that India is witnessing a change in its semiconductors agenda -- from R&D to R&D + market growth. If followed properly, it can become a game changing agenda. "India has nearly 2,000 OEMs designing electronics products. That's the untapped potential," he said.

Most of the customers are smaller companies -- the proverbial long tail. They know semiconductors and electronics very well. Such companies need to be measured by the firebrand innovation going on at those places.

Dr. Mitra said: "The products have to be the right kind of products. If they are complex, it is incidental." He cited defense and aerospace as very strong spaces, while industrial is also an equally strong opportunity area. "We should not be dwarfed by glamorous industries," he cautioned.

In the near term, the Indian semiconductor industry needs to develop two new stripes. These are: a high degree of customer centricity so it can be brought into the R&D engineer's minds, and have an application mindset -- India is very good in design work; it now needs to develop applications in the current context.

Dr. Mitra also called upon having research as an agenda for the industry. This can be done in areas that would assume importance in future. "By working with customers, we can make products more intelligent, by adding electronics and semiconductors," he advised. "All of us have a key role to play in this transformation."

SMEs, in particular, have a major role to play. Intel's Vishakantaiah said that MNCs would need to mentor and coach such companies. Freescale's Guruswamy added that MNCs can either help them grow or buy them out.

Dr. Mitra advised that even if customers didn't provide business, it would pay to remain close to them. He also referred to TI's Beagle Board, an open and low-cost platform, which enables development of applications. However, he advised the industry to be realistic about mass customization.