Monday, December 24, 2007

Semicon outlook 2008: Global market likely to grow 6-11 percent amid recession fears

While a majority of analysts at a recent panel discussion on global semiconductor outlook predicted semiconductor growth in the range of 6-11 percent during 2008, some other panelists predicted 2008 to be flat year or a year of negative growth.

There were fears of a possible recession in 2008, along with concerns surrounding consumer spend that could be hit by higher oil prices and the US mortgage crisis.

This panel discussion was organized last week by Semiconductor International, USA. Here is the full report.

Semi forecasts mixed for 2008

Amid concerns of a possible recession in the US economy in 2008, analysts at a recent Webcast hosted by Semiconductor International, were divided in their forecasts for the coming year. A majority predicted semiconductor growth to be in the range of 6-11 percent during 2008, while some others predicted 2008 to be flat year or a year of negative growth.

Anne Craib, director of Market Research, International Affairs and Finance, Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), said the global economic situation needed to be factored in, as well as its impact on consumer demand.

She said: "Semiconductor demand is driven over 50 percent by consumer demand currently. That is something we should increasingly be aware of. Areas like gas prices and the home mortgage market are things that we previously would not have paid much attention to that we have had to take into account in our forecasting this cycle.” She was confident of the semiconductor industry reaching 7-8 percent CAGR during 2008.

Steve Szirom, President,, added that many economists were predicting recession in 2008. He said: "The demand-supply balance should be somehwat better than this year. We may have a demand driven recession." He adopted a pessimistic view for 2008, predicting -8 percent growth.

DRAM weak, NAND bright

Gary Grandbois, principal analyst for iSuppli Corp., noted: “We have reduced our forecast to 7.5 percent for 2008 and think it might go lower than that. We think it’s going to be a negative first half. Certainly in the DRAM area, it’s looking very poor. We think it will improve in the second half, almost mirroring 2007, but giving us a far weaker year in 2008 than we’ve expected.”

Richard Gordon, Managing Vice President, Semiconductors, Gartner Dataquest Research, agreed with Grandbois, adding that DRAM would see a negative side in 2008. "Our forecast is 6 percent for 2008, and it doesn't factor in the US recession," he said.

While the DRAM market has been predicted to be negative next year, analysts see a positive market for NAND in 2008. New applications, such as WUSB (wireless USB), increase in cell phones, higher content in portable media players, etc., are likely to drive growth.

Commenting further on the outlook for 2008, Moshe Handelsman, President, Advanced Forecasting Inc., noted that 2007 would be the peak of current IC cycle. "From that point on, the underlying demand for semiconductors will decline and decline in 2008. We are negative about 2008," he added.

Carl Johnson, Executive Director, Research Infrastructure, concurred that the industry had become much more global. "We now have to look at the mortgage debacle, etc. Consumers will be very tight in first half of this year." He added, "I would say, next year's going to be flat."

Mike Cowan, an independent semiconductor industry analyst, said the growth would be about 8.15 percent during 2008. "The dynamics of the market and the industry will change month-to-month as well," he quipped.

Capex likely to dip in 2008

Regarding capex in 2008, Carl Johnson of Research Infrastructure, expects the next year to be bumpy as far as capital spending is concerned. "We're in a downturn right now. Foundries, who are investing lot more money in older process generations, and that is a function of some of the other older IDMs and fabs, are actually shutting down and saying, 'we can go over to the foundries and process wafers for less than what we can do it on our own'. We are seeing lot of consolidation within the fab space. Mid-level players are consolidating. The customer base is clearly narrowing."

The cost of designing some of these leading-edge devices, and getting them to market, and then following it up with another product, if you don't want to be a one-product guy, is a real challenge. That is limiting the number of players that are going into the mega fabs. So, the field is narrowing in 65nm, and 45nm, and as we get to below 45nm, the field is going to get much, much narrower.

According to him, capital spending is likely to be down in 2008. "I am predicting 10 percent down next year. There's also going to be a great consolidation in the devices manufacturing community, and also in the capital equipment community. We are seeing a number of M&A activities in the capital equipment business. It will also go into the supply chain business."

Gartner's Richard Gordon said the research firm was forecasting capex to be down by -15 percent in capex in 2008, and that includes -30 percent in the DRAM sector. He added: "Looking at the individual companies in the DRAM space, I won't be surprised to see that go even lower. So, -15 percent in capex can get even worse as 2008 unfolds. We will see it coming back. But, it will take a while for demand to catch up with supply."

EDA industry in catch-up mode

The EDA industry is said to be lagging behind the semiconductor industry at the moment, and is in the catch-up mode, according to Gary Smith, President, Gary Smith EDA.

Commenting on the outlook for the EDA market, Smith said the EDA industry is in a lttile unusual position. He said: "The market's been flat for the past four years. Tools for 65nm, 45nm silicon design have also been delayed." The R&D was not put in because of the recession. "Right now, we are in a position of lag in the market," he added.

EDA tools cover two process generations. The industry is just starting to introduce 65nm and 45nm tools. That generation is being called the DFM generation tool. Smith said: "It is even more important to the semiconductor industry as we run into manufacturing problems that they are relying on design tools to solve, rather than on semiconductor equipment." That's a major shift in the market!

EDA to grow 7.8 percent in 2008

According to him, the industry is now now into a pretty good growth area. "We were 11 percent last year, 10.2 percent to come in this year. We will be a bit down next year at 7.8 percent," he forecast. This has been attributed mainly to the EDA industry's lag in the market. "Some are moving to 32nm. And certainly, a lot of work is being done in 45nm," he added.

Smith noted: "The EDA industry is in the catch-up mode. We will lag them. We are expecting the downturn to really hit us in 2009. However, we are not an industry that goes negative often. No matter what you guys do, you still have to design something. So, when you go into recession, typically, the way you get out of recession is you generally design your way out!"

DFM, ESL growth drivers

Among the growth drivers is the DFM (design for manufacturing) issue, which is increasingly getting more complex. There is said to be a move to restrict the design rules that is in place now for 45nm. "We are going to see major changes in 32nm; that'll have impact on tools," he added.

The other issue is parallel computing that has become a major task for the EDA industry. "With signal threading, we can no longer handle designs over 100 million gates. Of course, at 45nm, you can do a 100mn gates. That rewriting process is another issue that is also slowing out down. That's a full three-year re-write," Smith said.

Further, EDA is also starting to move up into the ESL. The electronic-system level (ESL) is going to shift the EDA market more into the systems market, and serve less on its dependency on the semiconductor world.

New fabs in India, China

There have been a lot of announcements made regarding new fabs, especially in places such as India, China and Brazil.

Gary Grandbois at iSuppli said: "Brazil is a better example. India just announced that they are building new fabs. What we saw at the turn of the century is that the industry split into two areas -- one traditional components manufacturer and second is the SoC manufacturer. Those are the companies that need leading edge fabs."

According to him, the cost of R&D was going out of sight for process development. "We're also seeing consolidation of research groups. We expect that come down to five consortiums or less. All companies can afford do their own process development once the basic process has been developed."

There are going to be different types of fabs. With globalization, lot of countries may decide they want to have a fab. Brazil announced one. "You're going to see them all over the world. The market's going to change," he added.

Anne Craib from the Semiconductor Industry Association said: "If you look at the cost structure, it costs over $1bn to build and operate a fab in the US. The question is where is the fab going to be located? The US companies will continue to be major players. Again, the question is: where is it going to be economically feasible? The interest is outside of the US."

New elements likely in 32nm

On the subject of integration of MEMS, 3D, etc., Carl Johnson from Research Infrastructure said, "A very large topic with the design community is big change in computer architecture -- the big change is the multicore -- that's the biggest driver now."

Jim Feldhan, President, Semico Research Corp., noted that the industry is going to hit limits with silicon processing at some point of time. "We have to bring in new elements. In 32nm, there'll be only a handful of companies who can push real hard there and can afford it."

Push to 450mm fabs unlikely?

Finally, is there be going to be a push to 450mm fabs and how's the impact going to be like?

iSuppli's Gary Grandbois, said that curently the industry was expecting that it would need to abandon silicon in 2020. "If we don't have any silver bullets by then, we are going to use nano stuff to augment CMOS. We don't know what that's going to be."

He added: The issue is: are we going to use silicon at all in 2020? If we start developing equipment for 450mm, we're not going to have that very soon. What they have to consider, what is the payback for that move?"

We would love to hear from you on how you see the semiconductor industry going in 2008.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Top 5 semiconductor trends in India during 2008

And what's in store for the Indian semiconductor industry during 2008? Well, expect the Indian semiconductor to grow at 25-35 percent in the coming year!

S. Janakiraman, president and CEO –- R&D Services, Mindtree Consulting, and chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA), said at a recent meeting that those questioning India's need for fabs would feel terrible on missing out on the opportunities currently being provided by India, by 2015.

Here are the top five trends you can get to see happening in India in the semiconductor space in 2008.

1. More growth for India

The Indian semiconductor industry has been forecasted to grow by 25-35 percent during 2008 by the ISA.

2. Increase in design activities

On the design side, we are seeing an increase in various activities. More complex analog and digital designs are happening. More of physical designs are happening, including taking those designs up to the foundries – those are also increasing.

3. More of ATMP initially

In 2008, we will be seeing more of the assembly, testing, marking and assembly (ATMP) happening in the country.

4. Fabs some time away

The fundamental fabs are still a little far away. Most companies likely to start off by initially testing waters by making some level of investments in ATMP before moving on to fabs. One cannot rule out prospect of some leading Indian company investing in fabs.

5. Product companies will emerge eventually

Product companies are likely to emerge, although, they may start off by first manufacturing electronics products, and later move on to the emergence of semiconductor product companies.

Top 10 global semiconductor trends for 2008

It is really difficult to stick your neck out and predict. That's what makes the analyst's jobs so difficult. Things happen and pass you by so quickly. For instance, as an example, who would have thought that Samsung would face a substantial blackout that would halt six chip production lines in a complex operated by the world's largest flash memory producer?

Plans for the fab in India are now well under way. There have been questions like, do we need fabs? The year 2008 is the year of presidential elections and the Summer Olympics. Will we really see a recession in 2008? Here are some of the trends that are visible for 2008. Would love to hear from you.

1. Semiconductor firms may have to face a recession year in an election year

Yes, strange as it may sound, this just might happen! Concerns about consumer spending, caused by higher oil prices, mortgage crisis in the US and fears of a possible recession have made analysts more cautious, albeit optimistic. Analysts are wary of an impending recession in semiconductors during 2008. That, it should fall in the year of the US presidential elections makes it all the more intriguing. The nervousness is already showing in the slowing down of some markets.

2. DRAM market looks weak in 2008

Will DRAM prices rebound? Remains to be seen, although DRAMeXchange says that Taiwanese suppliers are likely to have their output to trim by 10-25 percent during February (Chinese New Year) as they usually plan for an average of 3-7 days of annual facility maintenance during this period. DRAMeXchange regards this as a possible catalyst for a price rebound in near term. Analysts haven't helped either, with some saying DRAM will be on the slow side or even negative in H1-08.

3. NAND market will remain hot

You can bet, it will! Analysts remain upbeat for a positive NAND market in 2008. The reason being – new applications such as wireless USB, increase in cell phones memory capacities, higher content in portable media players, etc. We hope it is not a flash in the pan. There are rumors of another iPhone along the way!

4. Power will remain major issue

This isn't going to change anytime soon! Power awareness is crucial for portable applications. It determines battery lifetime, and there's an increased amount of computation involved as well. Power awareness is extremely crucial for high-performance applications. It determines cooling and energy costs. Many chip designs today are power limited and still require maximum performance.

5. EDA has to catch up

And fast! Analysts at a recent webcast hosted by Semiconductor International elaborated how the EDA industry was in a position of lag in the market. The DFM issue is increasingly becoming more complex. There is said to be a move to restrict the design rules that is in place now for 45nm. We are likely to see major changes in 32nm. That will have an impact on the EDA tools.

6. Need to solve the embedded dilemma

It is said that in 2007, the cost of designing or developing the embedded software for an SoC actually passed the cost of designing the SoC itself! We seem to be in the middle of a software crisis that is going to hit the entire electronics industry in the next five to six years.

Analysts are wary of an impending recession in semiconductors during 2008

7. Consolidation in the fab space

Some of the other older IDMs and fabs are said to be actually shutting down and going over to the foundries and process wafers for less than what they can do on their own. In this respect, we are seeing a lot of consolidation within the fab space. The mid-level players are consolidating. The customer base is clearly narrowing. The field is narrowing in 65nm and 45nm, and as we get to below 45nm, the field is going to get much, much narrower.

8. Capital equipment guys will continue to move to other markets

The best example, you can think of, is Applied Materials, which is into innovative equipment, service and software products for fabrication of chips, flat panel displays, solar photovoltaic cells, flexible electronics and energy efficient glass. Even the smaller guys are moving into LEDs or MEMS markets. That tells us what these companies are thinking about the semiconductors market.

9. Spend on capital equipment to drop

Gartner is expecting the long overdue capital spending correction in DRAM market to push the capital equipment market into contraction. Another slow year from foundry, along with concerns of US economic recession, adding to the downside. However, NAND spend should ramp up.

10. Mini fabs in developing countries

India has announced fab plans. There have also been talks of mega fabs and mini fabs elsewhere. There are going to be different types of fabs! With globalization, lot of countries may decide they want to have a fab. The market's going to change.

However, bear in mind that the outlook on new fab starts appears weaker, as many companies have cut back on spending to wait for the market to improve. After a forecasted 8 percent YoY increase in fab construction spending in 2007, levels are likely to be flat in 2008.

Top 10 tech trends likely to make waves in 2008

It is quite a task to predict what the New Year has in store for us. My friend Radhika Nallayam at CIOL and I, present you a list of technology trends likely to make waves in 2008.

1. Greening of IT
Data centers of today are witnessing very high power consumption and cooling requirements. Skyrocketing energy consumption surely poses a challenge to the environment. Besides this, the hazardous effect of e-waste is also a major environmental concern in today’s IT sector. (It is estimated that more than 800 million PCs will be replaced during 2007 and 2012)

As a result, the IT world has started realizing the need for ‘greening of IT’ to minimize the harmful effects of energy expulsion from IT operations and data centers. (Green Data Center report from Symantec Corp. states that nearly three-fourths of respondents of the survey stated they have interest in adopting a strategic green data center initiative).

The ‘green IT’ movement has already succeeded in creating environmental responsibility among major IT vendors across the globe.

2. Is 2008 going to be the year of Linux?
It’s been years since we started talking about the ‘year of Linux’. Finally, good news for open source buffs? Well, we really can’t predict that. But, there is a hope that the coming time could be a real turning point in the history of open source, making 2008 the year of Linux on desktop. Though Linux will not be a direct replacement for Windows, we are definitely going to see a major increase in the number of end-users adopting Linux.

PC giant Dell, at the beginning of this year, gave us a positive sign by introducing Linux computers. A number of other vendors are also betting high on Linux. Ubuntu has already received recognition among mobile users and server market. Linux Desktop, though gradually, is gaining momentum. At this point in time, we can only wait and watch the game!

3. Will Vista be the OS to own?
When Microsoft launched Vista, Gartner’s analysts suggested ignoring the new operating system until 2008 and not to rush into upgrading. So, it’s time for us to rethink. Lots of users are still waiting for the first service pack to arrive before upgrading from Windows XP. And, hopefully, SP1 is likely to arrive in the beginning of 2008.

Vista definitely offers some advanced security feature and more polished interface. But due to some concerns related to application compatibility and more hardware requirements, consumers, till now, were reluctant to switch to Vista.

However, some recent surveys show that a lot of companies are now willing to upgrade to Vista. Microsoft expects Vista to be accountable for 85 percent of operating system sales in fiscal 2008 compared with 15 percent for Windows XP. Majority of the consumers will, sooner or later, have to migrate to Vista. Well, that could be in 2008.

4. IPTV sees big surge in popularity
IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is already in spotlight. It has opened up new possibilities for consumers, service providers and content providers. From a mere technology concept, IPTV has completed the first stage and has become a real service. In some countries, it is almost in the mass-market stage. IPTV is considered to be one of the most highly visible services to emerge as part of the development of next-generation networks (NGN).

There are many more questions to be answered pertaining to the business model, pricing, packaging and the technology itself. But, the coming year is definitely going to see more developments in the IPTV space.

One thing worth mentioning, which may prove to be crucial for IPTV to reach its market potential, is the devlopments of standards for IPTV. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently announced the first set of global standards for IPTV. So, there are definitely some good news for us. And, no doubt , as long as the demand for high-quality personalized content exists among the consumers, IPTV will not struggle to reach new horizons.

5. Will 802.11n arrive?
The 802.11n, the latest in the set of WLAN standards, comes with truly high speeds i.e. 4-5 times faster than 802.11g and fifty times faster than .11b! It also offers better operating distance comparing to the current wireless networks. Wow! This is really something the enterprises would love to invest in.

There is no doubt that 802.11n is well positioned to redefine wireless networking. But, would the new standard finally arrive in 2008? Ratification of the new standards is been delayed for quite a long time now and the users are really keen to see the faster version of Wi-Fi, without any more delay.

However, experts predict that ratification won’t happen overnight and it’s going to take some more time. Though some Wi-Fi vendors( Cisco, Aruba, Trapeze) have already launched 802.11n products, technology installations may happen only in the middle of 2008.

6. Short-range wireless technologies that will create a buzz
Short-range wireless technology is not just about Bluetooth anymore. New entrants like High-speed Bluetooth, Wireless USB and ZigBee are getting traction too. Demand for high data transfer rates has increased over the years with the increase in video and audio content on portable devices like mobile phones, laptops as well as on multimedia projectors and television sets.

Though high-speed Bluetooth is in its primary stage of development, it is expected to be 100 times faster than the current technology. This next-generation Bluetooth will hopefully hit the market in 2008.

Wireless USB is targeting 1Gbps throughput. Vendors have already introduced wireless USB hubs, adapters and laptops in the market. However, wide adoption of the technology depends on how soon it is going to be embedded into digital cameras, camcoders, MP3 players etc.

ZigBee is the wireless connection used by sensors and control devices. It is expected to find traction in commercial building automation in 2008.

7. No end in sight for high-definition (HD) war
Is the war between Blu-ray and HD DVD high-definition video formats never ending? Well, there, definitely, is an end. But that may not be in 2008 Analysts in the industry predict that the high-definition war may last for another year and a few months. There is a strong market position for both the standards currently and this makes it difficult to predict the winner.

Meanwhile, there has been no improvement in the sales of both the technologies this year as consumers still feel both Blu-ray and HD DVD are expensive.

On the other hand, Toshiba recently introduced comparatively low priced HD DVD players. This initiative definitely poses a challenge for Blu-Ray companies. To cope with this, they will have to cut down the hardware prices of Blu-ray. If that happens, the war will continue for some more time.

8. Shift from magnetic to solid-state hard drives
At present, the market is dominated by magnetic hard drives. But the future seems to be of solid-state hard drives as magnetic hard drives have limited data transfer speed. Solid-state hard drives are based on flash memory and is much faster memory solution. They also have advantages such as low noise and low power consumption. High pricing is the primary hindering factor for solid-state hard drives to become mainstream.

Major players like Seagate are betting high on solid-state technology and have plans to offer it next year. Solid-state hard discs are likely to be more popular in the laptop market. If prices fall down, we can see a slow shift happening from magnetic to solid-state hard drives in 2008.

9. Is 2008 going to be a banner year for wireless?
We no more worry about the clutter of wires. Offices have gone wireless. Cities are going wireless. All portable devices have embedded wireless technologies. We are moving fast towards a ‘wire-free’ world. So, 2008, beyond doubt, is going to see much more technology developments.

Though the ‘wireless’ world won’t be a true reality so soon, the need for seamless mobility and freedom is surely going to drive more wireless technology advancements.

The upcoming 802.11n will redefine enterprise networking in the coming year. Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) will tie fixed and mobile networks to deliver enhanced user experience. 2008 is expected to be the year of Mobile WiMax as well. Above all these, 2008 will probably witness open access to all networks, which in turn will open up more opportunities.

10. The ‘iPhone mania’ to continue
iPhone rates as the most memorable new product for 2007. Yes, it literally shook the mobile phone world in 2007. Now, doubtlessly, companies would love to follow Apple’s path by introducing similar products. So, 2008 is certainly going to see mobile phones with more and more web services and multimedia functionalities integrated into it. So, 2008 could very well be a year of ‘iPhone-like’ products from Apple’s rivals.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Semiconductor outlook 2008: EDA to grow 7.8pc; semicon 6-11pc

Forecasters at the panel discussion the 2008 Semiconductor Industry Forecast webcast presented by Semiconductor International were guarded in their predictions -- which were a mixed bag -- with the majority predicting semiconductor growth in the range of 6-11 percent during 2008.

However, some other panelists predicted 2008 to be flat year or a year of negative growth. There are fears of a possible recession in 2008, along with concerns surrounding consumer spend that could be hit by higher oil prices and the US mortgage crisis. Hence, the need for forecasters to be watchful with their predictions.

EDA playing catch-up; to grow 7.8pc
The EDA industry is said to be lagging behind the semiconductor industry at the moment, and is in the catch-up mode, according to Gary Smith, President, Gary Smith EDA, while commenting on the forecast for the EDA industry.

On the outlook for the EDA market, Smith said the EDA industry is in a lttile unusual position. He said: "The market's been flat for the past four years. Tools for 65nm, 45nm silicon dsign have also been delayed." The R&D was not put in because of the recession. "Right now, we are in a position of lag in the market," he added.

EDA tools cover two process generations. The industry is just starting to introduce 65nm and 45nm tools. That generation is being called the DFM generation tool. Smith said: "It is even more important to the semiconductor industry as we run into manufacturing problems that they are relying on design tools to solve, rather than on semiconductor equipment." That's a major shift in the market!

According to him, the industry is now now into a pretty good growth area. "We were 11 percent last year, 10.2 percent to come in this year. We will be a bit down next year at 7.8 percent," he forecast. This has been attributed mainly to the EDA industry's lag in the market. "Some are moving to 32nm. And certainly, a lot of work is being done in 45nm," he added.

Smith noted: "The EDA industry is in the catch-up mode. We will lag them. We're expecting the downturn to really hit us in 2009. However, we're not an industry that goes negative often. No matter what you guys do, you still have to design something. So, when you go into recession, typically, the way you get out of recession is you generally design yr way out!"

DFM, ESL, parallel computing EDA growth drivers
He said that DFM, parallel computing and ESL were the growth drivers. Among the drivers is the DFM issue, which is increasingly getting more complex. There is said to be a move to restrict the design rules that is in place now for 45nm. "We're going to see major changes in 32nm; that'll have impact on tools," he added.

The other issue is parallel computing that has become a major task for the EDA industry. "With signal threading, we can no longer handle designs over 100 million gates. Of course, at 45nm, you can do a 100mn gates. That rewriting process is another issue that is also slowing out down. That's a full three-year re-write," Smith said.

Further, EDA is also starting to move up into the ESL. The ESL is going to shift the EDA market more into the systems market, and serve less on its dependency on the semiconductor world.

As for the inhibitors, an issue hitting the EDA industry right now is that, in 2007, the cost of designing or developing the embededded software for an SoC actually passed the cost of desgining the SoC itself. "So, we're in the middle of a software crisis that's going to hit the entire electronics ind in the next five or six years," he added.

Next, the industry has been also going to muticore, multiprocessor architecture. That demands a completely new programming model. According to Smith, what was unthinkable six months ago, is now a major topic of discussion -- that is abandoning C as a programming language! That's going to be a major shift in the industry.

Tariff concerns in Europe
Earlier, in a discussion regarding concerns about tariffs in Europe, and how will it impact the industry, Anne Craib, Director of Market Research, International Affairs and Finance, Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), said: "We are working on a number of policy initiatives that we see as potential challenges in consumer sector." In Europe, there is an effort to re-classify goods that have business and consumer funtionalities, as consumer products not covered by tariff-free agreement.

As we see continued convergence, for example, the cell phone will be covered, so, there are questions as to whethe a cell phone has a cam or an MP3 player, and will that be considered as a consumer device or a business device. The result could be the imposition of fairly steep tariffs in the mid to high teens. "When you start to increasing your pricing to that level, it could potentially affect consumer demand. We havent seen that happen yet, but it's an issue that we are quite concerned," she added.

SIA is also concerned about some efforts in other parts of the world to put in place proprietary standards that could drive up the cost for manufacturers for accessing those markets -- by requiring to make devices that are specific to certain markets -- that wouldnt be interoperable. Most of them could affect the downstream products, but not semicon specifically. However, there are areas that the industry also needs to be aware of.

Stay tuned for full report later!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kodiak brings PTT conferencing, group SMS to India

US-based Kodiak Networks is in the business of voice-based VAS for mobile networks. It has a large presence in Bangalore ~200 full-time employees, with a total global workforce of 260. All R&D, testing and customer support are handled out of India.

Kodiak's worldwide growth and application adoption puts a spotlight on this region for innovation and business success. The demand for wireless voice services continues to grow globally, but especially in this region.

According to Dr. Giridhar Boray, Country Manager - India, Kodiak Networks, three major operators have deployed the Kodiak Connected Portfolio [Idea, Airtel and Tata], and that Kodiak will continue to announce new applications geared toward business users and consumers.

He said that operators faced a common trend worldwide -- increasing subscriber growth and declining revenues. Hence, the operators are now looking at VAS. Push-to-talk (PTT), as a solution, is becoming popular in the USA. An example is Nextel, which grew out of Fleetcall, has evolved into cellular.

Dr. Boray said: "Initially, all operators were waiting for 3G, but they could not wait. They wanted PTT in 2G, with migration into 3G." Delving into history, he pointed out that AllTell, a CDMA operator and Kodiak's first customer, agreed to trial PTT product in 2002. Kodiak's customer base has swelled to 16 globally, since!

Dr Boray said: "In PTT, you need to have a dedicated button and a speaker. Our solution goes into the voice channel." He explained that for 2G PTT, the industry adopted two approaches -- PTT on the voice channel or PTT on the data channel.

Some of Kodiak's competitors reportedly introduced PTT on data channel. India's Tata Teleservices was the first to use PTT, but the service was discontinued after some time. Dr. Boray also added that for using PTT, the US government mandates that any service that is put on to the network can be legally intercepted or tapped as a matter of national security.

Kodiak's next big customer was AT&T Wireless, which tested its PTT solutions. A lot of its customers in the US are regional operators, who have roaming agreements with the bigger operators, which also helped Kodiak.

AT&T Wireless was also able to drive handset vendors to use PTT via Kodiak's solutions. "Right now, 45+ handset models carry our solutions," added Dr. Boray. "These include Blackberry, LG, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, ZTE, etc."

Conferencing, group SMS trials in India
India hosts Kodiak's development center. He mentioned TRAI's statement on PTT that, PTT is legal as operators are able to meet the ADC requirements, plus all regulatory requirements related to voice, such as lawful interception. "They did not say that PTT on data channel was incorrect. To do that, you would need to first build the infrastructure," he added. Kodiak's solutions work on both GSM and CDMA standards.

Kodiak has now evolved PTT into two-way conferencing. As an example, on the Airtel Blackberry, users can select up to six people and do conferencing. Dr. Boray said: "We also have the application on the SIM card as AVS (advanced voice services). From our side, you can conference with up to 30 users, but operators generally allow the selection of up to five to six users from your contacts list."

Kodiak will be offering conferencing as well as group SMS with Airtel. "Only one SMS goes to the server, which distributes it," he said. "Group SMS, conferencing, etc., should be helpful during emergencies."

Touching on Kodiak's partnership with Airtel, Dr. Boray said: "Airtel started over six months back as a market trial. It is offering the services to some corporates, but only on postpaid. We will be extending it over prepaid as well over the next few months." As for the charges, he said that the customers would probably get deducted as per the existing and applicable NLD and ILD call charges.

Kodiak is also trialing the service with Idea in New Delhi. The next trial is with Tata Teleservices over BREW-enabled handsets. Kodiak offers applications for BREW.

Dr. Boray added: "We also want to enter into the prepaid coverage. Prepaid is widely used in enterprises as well." Besides these three -- Airtel, Idea and Tata -- Kodiak is in discussions with some other operators as well. Kodiak also offers voice SMS, which it is not pushing hard enough for the moment. Kodiak's India chief said that the enterprises may find value in this application.

PTT rollout with JMCC in China in Q1-08
Kodiak has also announced the first commercial PTT deployment in China for China Mobile's Jiangsu Mobile Communications Co. (JMCC). Its target are corporate users with an emphasis on transportation, municipalities, and retail segments. The PTT subscribers will be billed a monthly service charge (bundled service offering).

The initial launch will include Nokia Symbian GSM handsets. According to Dr. Boray, the roll-out is scheduled for Q1-2008. "JMCC is a big operator. This win will also help us get into the other provinces of China as well," he added.

The Kodiak PTT voice-based solution provides superior mobile coverage compared to previously trialed data/GPRS solutions. It is the only solution with QoS resulting in best-in-class reliability and speed for JMCC customers. Also, Kodiak PTT provides users with a convenient alternative to trunked radio (one handset provides function of both a radio and a mobile phone).

Some of Kodiak PTT's unique features include: real-time presence and availability indicators; quick group calling up to 10 group members; convert to cellular (upgrade a one-way PTT call to a two-way cellular call); PTT/GSM call waiting; permission-based contact management; and contact alerts.

Dr. Boray added: "Lot of IM features are also making their way into PTT. Our focus is on group communications."

Continued growth in 2008
To add to Kodiak's PTT success in 2008, eight new PTT handsets are likely to be announced in the first half of the year. Significant PTT customers in three regions are likely to be announced as well. Finally, 2008 will also see two Open OS, downloadable PTT client versions announcements with commercial customers.

Research firm In-Stat believes that the number of PTT global subscribers will grow to 67.8 million by the end of 2009. PTT/PoC has an opportunity to reach non-traditional business and consumer (especially youth) markets. One-third of In-Stat respondents would consider switching carriers in order to be able to use PTT/PoC.

According to a Wintergreen Research report from September 2007, there were 45.6mn PTT subscribers in 2006 and 64mn in mid 2007. This is likely to reach 340mn by 2013. The PTT subscriber revenue of $1.2bn in 2006 is also likely to reach $16.7 billion in 2013.

Multi-generation platform support
Kodiak's solutions are built on the Kodiak RTX platform, which will support the converged IMS network architecture with a software upgrade.

Kodiak RTX is a multi-generation platform that spans 2G and 3G network technologies, and extends services to social networks and IM communities. Kodiak IMS applications also leverage the Kodiak IMS Client framework.

10GbE Blade architectures suitable for next-gen data centers

What are some of the critical customer challenges today? For starters, server and storage sprawl increases operational complexity and reduces business predictability. Next, uncontrolled growth has resulted in lack of: space, power and CRAC capacity.

However, it seems that Blade server architectures can alleviate most of data center resource issues. In this context, if customers consolidate, can the network infrastructure optimally sustain the increased workload? And more importantly, what network technology would make sense for the environment?

I recently managed to speak with Adam Mendoza, Senior Manager, OS Alliances, NetApp, and Joel Reich, GM & Sr. Director, SAN/iSAN Business Unit, NetApp.

They attempted to answer these tricky customer pain points, and also touched upon how end-to-end 10GbE Blade architectures could lower IT infrastructure costs, prevent data center equipment sprawl, and help implement consolidation and virtualization.

For the record, recently, members of -- BLADE Network Technologies Inc. (BLADE), a leading provider of network switching infrastructure for blade servers; Chelsio Communications (Chelsio), a leading provider of 10GbE network interface cards for servers and storage; and Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp), a leading provider of storage and data management solutions -- completed a collaborative study through!

The study demonstrated that blade servers equipped with embedded 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) networking can support large-scale business applications at near wire-speeds in consolidated blade server architectures using NetApp Ethernet and IP networked storage.

The study, conducted on the IBM BladeCenter platform, found that by supporting multiple protocols, workloads and integrated data management across a 10GbE network, customers can protect their investment, lower IT infrastructure costs, prevent data center equipment sprawl, and implement consolidation and virtualization without sacrificing flexibility. Here's an image that shows this!

Virtualization a powerful trend
Even though virtualization has been doing the rounds for a couple of years now, it has not exactly reached where it should. On the uptake of virtualization by enterprises, Reich said: "What we've seen is probably for virtualization that VMWare is dominant. There's lot of hype around it.

"In reality, virtualization the most important and powerful trend. It is the real big wave of open system computing replacing maniframe applications. People have become smart and got very good at separating hype from real benefit of technology. Virtualization is not quite there as people are using it to consolidate servers, etc., that are running tier 1 applications."

Reich added that people were having big success in consolidating on virtualization in diverse tier 3 applications hosted on Wintel servers. Also, some tier 2 applications were getting consolidated as well. According to him, applications that don't drive critical revenue or manufacturing process would be the tier 3 applications. Tier 2 applications would include small data warehouses, etc.

He explained: "What's going on now is, lot of the introduction of virtualization was in tier 3 applications. It was opportunistic! Customers didn't have to put in lot of architechture thought into tier 3 and tier 2 apps, but they need to do in tier 1 apps. People also need to see what their data centers need to look like, especially when they move to virtualized environment. Silos are purpose-built spaces dedicated to an application in a data center. You need to have specific skill sets to manage those silos."'s work
Commenting on's work, Mendoza, said: "Effectively, when we first became involved with Blade, the intent was to collectively provide solutions end-to-end. NetApp's one of the few storage companies involved. We came up with a concept of characterizing what business critical applications form across multiple protocols. We need to have all different companies and groups collaborate and get the right experts involved. gave us the environment and advantage."

As for the survey itself, they said: "We interviewed over 25 companies -- end users from Fortune 500 and channel partners, VARs, etc. We asked -- if we do this project, what are the things they would want to gain out of it?"

The findings were clear. First, this infrastructure could provide very good performance in this kind of consolidated environment. Second -- there has to be a comparison. "We are comparing networking components of 10GigE agianst fiber channel and utilizing different communications protocols," added Mendoza.

Scoring big with 10GbE
Over the last two yrs, 10GbE, customers have been saying that it is an interesting technology, but they didnt see applicability yet. There's also virtualization. So, if customers bring all this together, where will their bottlenecks be?

Adding the next layer of data management perspective, one of the main concerns of consolidation of this hype would be -- what about data protection, DR implementation, etc.? In this respect, NetApp brings the best kind of software that can handle all of those.

Reich added: "We have over 1,500 blade servers at our North Carolina facility. We learned how to manage that many servers. We take applications, data sets, etc., of blade servers, and save them on to the storage network. When concept customers or development teams say that they need something, we can provide that. We have already had the experience of large-scale dynamic environments. At the end of day, this is all applying to what customers want to see. We are collaborating to provide that to customers."

Another important result of the 10GbE has been an increase in the throughput. Mendoza said they provided the results of running these tests. "We did studies across iSCSI, fiber channel, etc. We are better than 2X in our implementation across 10GE."

So, what can be done to get servers consolidated? How can the data center equipment sprawl be reduced? Reich added: "In virtualization implementations, now, we are talking about a single housing that contains 14 servers. If you start virtualizaing over these 14 servers, you get one footprint. Space wise -- 14 servers come into a 3x2 space. In this manner, we reduced server sprawl, network sprawl and storage sprawl." This also has implications as far as power, cooling, etc., are concerned.

As for the 10GbE aspect, Reich said: "In many cases of a virtualized environment, its important to ask -- what's the new data center that I build will look like? People are also looking for information about how the network infrastructure should look like. Their reason: Ethernet is important as a storage interconnect, and that's because most data centers have two networks -- fiber channel or Ethernet."

So, if you can build something that's going to be ready in two years, can a data center be built that only has one type of network? Both, Reich and Mendoza accept that there's much more work to be do as users really need this kind of information.

"This is just the first step. It is such an important topic that there's a very great need for information," Reich said.

Mendoza added: "Our solution can simplify fabric topology in today's datacenters without compromising reliability? The big question that customers have is: why do we need multiple networks? Fabric refers to the network."

He said: "Part of the reason is simplicity and also economic. The way blade centers are built, you can add different connections to a blade center. The standard configuration of a blade center is the Ethernet. The economic considerations are: you can spend lot less money on blade center infrastructure. The Ethernet is the basic offering. That's part of the reason why, we focused on the 10GbE (Ethernet) from a cost standpoint."

Customers are said to be gaining confidence from the results of the solution development collaboration through! Virtualization is the next killer application. It would allow a mixed nature of I/O and CPU utilization, add in standard data protection functions, top it off with application and guest OS management, etc. Customers have also indicated that they have deployed upward of 40 guest OS instances on a single server.

It must be noted that Blade server architectures require the same administrative processes: install, configure, customize, manage, optimize, etc. However, consolidation requires whole new approaches to where the data resides and the speed of access -- both in bandwidth and best practices. The 10GbE Blade architectures are the next-generation data center and are ready for business critical implementations.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Importance of power awareness in chip designing

Power awareness is said to be crucial for portable applications. It determines the battery lifetime, and there's an increased amount of computation involved as well.

The other factor is that power awareness is extremely crucial for high-performance applications. This determines cooling and energy costs as well. Many chip designs today are power limited and still require maximum performance.

Battery storage has been a limiting factor as well. The reasons are manifold. For one, battery energy doubles in a decade! It does not follow Moore’s law! Next, there has been little change in the basic battery technology. A battery stores energy using a chemical reaction. Hence, the energy density/size safe handling are limiting factors as well for batteries.

Low power challenges in VLSI domain
There are low power challenges in the VLSI domain. The challenge is four-fold in nature. The devices are leaky. Further, more integration means more W/cm2, while the EDA tools used are not that good in the low-power domain and also doesn’t co-relate sometimes with the silicon. Finally, the variability of the device parameters simply make things worse.

Power dissipation is of two types -- static and dynamic. Static power dissipation can be minimized by reducing the operating voltage and using fewer leaking transistors. Dynamic power dissipation can be minimized by reducing the operating voltage, and by less switching capacity, and less switching activity.

Several leakage mitigation techniques are currently in use, such as lower operating voltage, cell sizing, dual Vt, power gating, non-minimum size gate lengths, VTCMOS and stack effect.

According to Jayanta Lahiri, director, PIPD, ARM, the company uses two methods -- IEM and PMK.

ARM Artisan power management kit uses power gate components, which can switch between 'global' and local rail. It makes use of VDD Header and VSS Footer switches, and high-Vt switch for low off-current leakage. It also uses coarse-grain power gates for multiple cells, which are available in different sizes.

Another ARM Artisan power management kit uses state retention components. The 'global' power rails to retention latch. It has power-switched primary master/slave latches, and high-Vt switch for low off-current leakage. It also makes use of the single-pin retention control (RETN), which can save the state on falling-edge of RETN and also restore state on rising-edge of RETN.

Power gated memory facilitates the standby mode, the retention mode and the shutdown mode. In the standby mode (HALT), the CEN disables the memory and leakage only standby current.

In the retention mode (SRPG), power is supplied to the core array to retain state. Power is off for periphery for reduced leakage and the outputs are clamped to zero.

In the shutdown mode (OFF), power is off for the core and periphery for reduced leakage, and the outputs are clamped to zero.

This is possible through both integrated MTCMOS power-gates as well as separated power sources for the core and periphery.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Top 10 semicon firms of 2007 by revenue

According to Gartner, the top 10 semiconductor firms for 2007 by revenue are: Intel, Samsung Electronics, Toshiba, Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronics, Infineon Technologies (including Qimonda), Hynix Semiconductor, Renesas Technology, NXP Semiconductors, and NEC Electronics.

Worldwide semiconductor revenue totaled $270.3 billion in 2007, a 2.9 percent increase from 2006, according to preliminary results from Gartner Inc.

Vendor performances were mixed with two vendors in the top 10 that experienced double-digit growth and two vendors that showed declines in revenue.

"Semiconductor vendors need to watch the performance of their end customers even closer as a major part of the industry becomes increasingly tied to consumer spending patterns," said Andrew Norwood, research vice president at Gartner. "Loss of market share in an end-user application, such as a mobile phone, by a customer (a mobile phone manufacturer) can have a dramatic effect on a vendor's business."

Intel grew revenue more than twice as fast as the semiconductor market average, and it is likely to edge up its market share to 12.2 percent in 2007 from 11.6 percent in 2006.

Intel’s growth came primarily from strong shipments of mobile PCs. Armed with a strong product lineup for enthusiast desktops and servers, Intel regained lost share in those markets from AMD.

While the global market for dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) is expected to decline in 2007 due to a severe drop in prices caused by oversupply, Samsung Electronics is likely to increase its revenue by slightly higher than the overall global semiconductor market growth rate (DRAM is one the firm's main products).

Samsung's growth is driven by steady revenue growth in NAND flash memory and strong revenue growth in nonmemory areas such as application processors, media integrated circuits (IC), complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor, smart card ICs and LCD driver ICs.

Toshiba’s revenue increased 27.8 percent in 2007 to $12,504 million, gaining three places in the rankings and moving into third place. The rapid gains mainly came from NAND flash memory.

Toshiba also increased production of CMOS image sensors for mobile phones and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs)/application-specific standard products (ASSPs) revenue for digital consumer electronics, including LCD TVs, next-generation DVDs (HD DVDs) and video game consoles.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Outlook for Indian semiconductor industry in 2008

S. Janakiraman, president and CEO –- R&D Services, Mindtree Consulting, and chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA), is quite bullish on the advantages of India and the opportunities provided in the Indian semiconductor industry. Here are some notes on the outlook for the Indian semiconductor industry in 2008.

Indian semiconductor industry to grow 25-35 percent in 2008
There has been an increasing trend of an increasing brand value for semiconductors within India. MNCs, especially are looking at semiconductor related outsourcing from India. We are also seeing lot of traction, from third-party service providers, like us -- Mindtree, Wipro, Sasken, etc., as well as captive centers of MNCs like STMicroelectronics, NXP, etc.

In terms of growth plans, all leading MNCs, like NXP, Freescale, STMicroelectronics, etc., are planning to grow significantly from their India centers. They are strongly building partnerships with Indian designers.

From the design side, India is also seeing an increase in various activities, such as more complex analog designs and more complex digital designs. We are seeing more of physical designs happening, and even taking those designs up to the foundries are increasing as well. "We foresee 25-35 percent likely growth in the Indian semiconductor industry during 2008," said Janakiraman.

Software is very critical to succeed. Various Indian providers, including Mindtree, are developing software for semiconductor-related products that are being designed by the overseas semiconductor companies.

Fab policy -- More of ATMP
The fab policy announced by the government of India is really attractive and mostly on par with other countries. A semiconductor fab requires very high capital-intensive investment. In 2008, we will be probably seeing more of the assembly, testing, marking and assembly (ATMP) happening in India.

The fundamental fabs are still a little far away. Most companies are likely to start off by initially testing waters by making some level of investments in ATMP before moving on to fabs. One cannot also rule out the prospect of some leading Indian company investing in fabs.

Lot of the big MNCs have been moving to Fab-Lite, having already announced Fab-Lite strategies. They are moving to manufacturing to with people like TSMC, Chartered, etc. If manufacturing happens in the fabs, it would not be from any of the integrated device manufacturers (IDMs). It may also happen from Indian companies who are into manufacturing.

Electronics manufacturing has already moved on to the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) vendors. Similarly, chip vendors are also moving on to third-party providers. MNCs like TI, LSI Logic, etc., are moving away from manufacturing and moving that to Charter, TSMC, etc.

Fab companies will also look at India as the fab policy will look attractive to them. "Those questioning India's need for fabs would feel terribly missing out on the opportunities currently being provided by India, by 2015," said Janakiraman.

Product companies in India
Over the next one to two years, we are likely to see more product companies emerging from India. Companies like Tejas are already present in India. Down the line, this will percolate into semiconductors. Opportunities are bound to emerge. It means, first, there will be companies manufacturing electronics products, which will later move on to the emergence of semiconductor product companies.

As for Indian companies into manufacturing electronics products, the ISA chairman feels that there would be more of high-complexity, medium volume products. These would probably be manufacturing networking, automotive, navigation products, etc., which are more rich in software, but are medium volume in production.

Impact of semiconductor policy
According to Janakiraman, the interest in India has only increased since the announcement of the semiconductor policy. As per the announcement, the government of India will bear 20 percent of the capital expenditure during the first 10 years for units located inside SEZs and 25 percent for those located outside.

For semiconductor manufacturing (wafer fabs) plants, the policy proposes a minimum investment of US $625 million. The minimum investment for for ancillary plants is US $250 million. The government's participation in the projects would be limited to 26 percent of the equity portion. The key benefit is the grant of the SEZ status.

The Indian semiconductor policy is applicable for manufacturers of all semiconductors, displays – including LCDs, organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), plasma display panels (PDPs), and any other emerging displays, storage devices, solar cells; photovoltaics; other advanced micro- and nanotechnology products; assembly and test.

Advantage India
India is now presenting a great opportunity to the world, in fact, offering triple advantages. India has a very rapidly growing domestic market, growing at a CAGR of 30+ percent. India has achieved global recognition for back-end services -– having become a proven case for IP, embedded systems and IC designs.

India is also an attractive destination for manufacturing investments. It further boasts of a highly skilled employee base, and a fast and upcoming modern infrastructure –- SEZs. India also enjoys proximity to the EU and the MEA markets. It also boasts of freight cost, said to be 20 percent cheaper than China, leading to faster delivery and lesser pipeline inventory.

Indian ecosystem maturing
India is aligning itself with the global semiconductor market by creating high value work in VLSI, and board design and embedded software. Companies with domain expertise are driving Indian businesses. India has become the world’s destination for semiconductor design and embedded software, and is increasingly becoming the source as well.

In terms of consumption, the India semiconductor total available market (TAM) revenues are likely to grow by 2.5 times, while the total market (TM) is estimated to double in revenues by 2009. India's semiconductor market share is likely to be 1.6 percent of the global market by 2009 in comparison to 1.1 percent in 2006.

Regarding the growth drivers for electronics manufacturing in India, telecom and IT & OA (office automation) segments will account for almost two-thirds of the semiconductor TAM by 2009. Telecom's share has been estimated to grow from 21.2 percent in 2006 to 41.1pc by 2009.

According to ISA estimates, TAM revenues are likely to grow by 2.5 times and TM revenues are likely to double their revenues by 2009 as against 2006. Growth of TAM revenues is 35.8 percent compared with just 26.7 percent for TM revenues, thereby signifying an increasing manufacturing index for different electronics products in India.

The decline in ASP (average selling price) of semiconductors and hence, of electronic products, is largely offset by the higher unit sales of different electronics end use products.

Indian electronics industry -- 2010 scenario
India will have a very strong electronics scenario by 2010. The installed base of mobile phones will go up to 500 million. The installed base of PCs will move up to 65 million. The IT enabled services (ITeS) and software exports has been estimated at US $60 billion.

There will likely be about 40 million new Internet connections, with at least 50 percent of those being broadband connections. The nationwide TV broadcast is likely to become digital by 2015, beginning 2010. In that scenario, there would be significant opportunity for set-top boxes (STBs) consumption and manufacturing. There will also be an estimated over US $10 billion investment in e-governance initiatives and the national ID card.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Is the timing right for having fabs in India?

Several majors have announced their Fab-lite strategies, and so, IDMs will become likely become fabless units of tomorrow. In this scenario, is the timing for setting up fabs in India right? What is the direction ahead for the Indian semiconductor industry?

Commenting on the upcoming fabs in India, Anil Gupta, MD, India Operations, ARM, said: "Yes, we do need the fabs to complete the ecosystem. The question is: Is the timing right? We have our own strengths. Why not capitalize on those?"

It is important to determine what India is doing as part of the global semiconductor industry. "What are we doing as an industry? Fabs are definitely a good idea. We also need to address things like -- can we make products and more importantly, should we make products!"

Gupta pointed out Infineon, NXP, etc., had announced Fab-Lite strategies. Even Texas Instruments was moving to a Fab-Lite strategy. "IDMs are going to be the fabless units of today and tomorrow," he added.

Coming back to the point of manufacturing products in India, he said: "We need to be able to conceptualize products for the mass market. Are we willing to take the risks? With services, the risks are significantly lesser. Companies are innovating on their service models. On the product side, India should do that as well. Maybe, we will do it too."

As for the industry growth drivers, consumer applications would become even more atractive. "There are mobile phones, gaming applications and others, which will drive growth," he said.

Yield management crucial
According to Gupta, yield management is crucial. While designers are well aware of yield management, the adequate tools are not yet there in place. The direct link
has yet to be established for implementing DFM/DFY technique.

Designers are always looking to prove how to improve yield. It is critical for designers to have access to the relevant information that would indicate that, say, some modification in design would lead to 10 percent increase in yield. Gupta said, "As much as we move to 45nm, to 32nm to 22nm and so on, the problems are going to become more complex and magnify."

SOI addresses power, performance scaling issues
There is the silicon-on-insulator technology or SOI. SOI is said to improve power consumption, reduces leakage and allows better performance. Implementation of SOI technology is one of several manufacturing strategies employed to allow continued miniaturization of microlectronic devices.

ARM acquired SOISIC, a leading company in physical IP based on SOI technology last year. The move has enabled ARM to strengthen its physical IP portfolio by adding SOI technology.

"SOISIC's niche is in developing SOI based IPs," Gupta added. SOI addresses the power and performance scaling issues associated with traditional bulk CMOS processes as they migrate to ever-smaller geometries. "It is very clear that design starts for 45nm - 32nm - 22nm etc. will be very low. Each process geometry has to give returns," Gupta added.

Role of IPs
So what's the role of IP in the gameplan? ARM is trying to enable that on technology side with SOI and bulk CMOS. He noted: "You need building blocks to make things happen faster. From an IP perspective, analog IP is very, very closely tied to the process. In that respect, IP has a huge role to play."

The semiconductor IP is said to be a $1.5 billion market. ARM currently has 30 percent share of that market.

From an Indian perspective, there are Indian companies who are building and also re-using IPs, as does ARM. However, ARM also has royalties for its IPs. On usage, Gupta said that physical IPs had greater challenges regarding re-use.

Mali55, Mali200 from India
Commenting on ARM's India operations, Gupta said ARM India develops physical IPs, processors, etc. "There's so much of verification and testing involved to make things work," he added. ARM India currently has a workforce of 300+.

ARM India has done work on 65nm as well as physical IPs for 45nm. "We are also doing studies on 32nm," added Gupta. ARM India released the Mali55 and Mali200 processors.

The ARM Mali200 graphics processor unit (GPU) delivers 3D graphics for next-generation mobile games on smartphones and other high-end portable devices. With a very small footprint, the ARM Mali55 processor brings rich 3D graphics capabilities to low-cost feature phones for the first time.

Besides these, a lot of software -- embedded, drivers, stacks, etc., are being developed in India. ARM India also provides lot of support for various design implementations. "We have over 2,000 ARM certified professionals in Bangalore alone and over 7,000 in India," he said.

ARM India has two other programs. Companies like HCL, Sasken, Mindtree, Wipro, etc., are ARM approved design centers (ADCs) or partners. "If we have any new product, we ensure that our partners become acquainted with those," said Gupta. The other program is the ATC (training). Cranes Software is ARM's approved ATC.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Convergence driving technology trends, says Sasken chief

Sasken Technolgies was earlier known as SAS and it was focusing on product development. Later, it moved on to services. Speaking about this shift, Rajiv C. Mody, chairman and CEO, said that Sasken has always been, from day one, working on both simultaneously.

Sasken initially started out in the EDA space and had one product in the simulation space. It was writing a simulator, addressing large complex designs and methods to simplify the designs. Simultaneously, Sasken was also doing a lot of services for large telecom companies in the areas of designing. This was continued and eventually, Sasken expanded in the area of telecommunications.

Subsequently, Sasken started building products in the telecom space. However, one significant difference is that anything that it does, it impacts Sasken's customers' top line as Sasken address the R&D side of the business.

Not so long back, Sasken were also a VLSI player. It decided to disband the design tool part of the business and focus completely on communications. Now, Sasken does a lot of business in chip design, which is part of VLSI. Today, it is among the leading providers of semiconductor design, working on all kinds of complex system-on-chip (SoC), as well as 65nm design.

Sasken has filed for 39 patents so far, of which 16 have been granted. Those remaining are in the process, and typically, once a patent has been applied for, it takes four years before being granted.

It has invested close to Rs 40 crore in R&D in 2007. In the first two quarters of this financial year, it has invested about Rs 15 corers in R&D. Sasken focuses on next-generation technologies, which would shape up the way things are to come in this new, converged world.

Mody said: "The fundamental thing driving this entire change is convergence -- essentially entertainment, media, news, information -- all of it being available at push medium as well as pull medium. Wireless is also playing a very significant role."

All of these combinations are creating newer opportunities - starting with, say, for example, in the service provider-side, new billing methods have to be put in place because it's going to be triple- and quad-play kinds of situations.

Simultaneously, on the handset side, with more and more computing power being made available, newer kinds of applications have started playing significant role. As a result, Sasken is now scanning the entire gamut to position itself and take advantage.

Sasken will continue to invest in products in the mobile handset space. It also has a significant role to play on the multimedia and the application frameworks. Mody added: "To give you an idea, for the mobile handset, direct broadcast is going to play a significant role. People are already talking about high definition (HD) on mobile. You will see all those kinds of interesting things coming about, and we will participate."

Sasken had also acquired a Finnish firm. This acquisition has worked extremely well and its full integration has been done. Mody said: "We have significant engagements because of our presence in Finland and the capabilities that they bring, not only with the existing, but also with the new costumer base. We are thriving and this has given us the capability to do full end-to-end handset design and testing."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pick video IP as close as to "plug-and-play" for SoC integration

While designing, it is critical to pick the appropriate codec or formats that can be handled by a video IP to support any given application. It is also very important to select the correct video IP with proper and standard interfaces so that it can be as close as possible to 'plug-and-play' in terms of System on a Chip (SoC) integration.

Ravishankar Ganesan, VP, SoC IP Business Unit, Ittiam Systems, commenting on the selection of the video IP for SoC designs, said that SoCs use the divide and conquer strategy very well.

The SoC is today truly defining and integrating multiple specialized blocks or subsystems keeping the target application of the SoC in mind. Each one of these specialized subsystems needs to be the best in terms of its performance, area and power so that the SoC can be the best, competitive and well suited for the target market.

The video intellectual property (IP) is one of these specialized subsystems, and hence, critically important for SoCs, which are targeted for video based applications. Needless to mention, there is no one video IP that 'fits all' video SoCs.

So what should any SoC designer look for in terms of supporting video profiles and codecs? This really depends on the application(s) for which the SoC is likely to address. If you are targeting video IP for mobile TV application in a cellular phone, the profiles and codecs will get determined by the appropriate broadcasting system.

Similarly, if the SoC is targeting the high-definition ((HD) DVD player segment, the video codecs and their profiles/levels needs to be determined based on the video encoder configuration that was used to create the content on the DVD disc.

There has to be a way on going about selecting/understanding video codecs. In this context, it is very critical to pick the appropriate codec or formats that can be handled by the video IP to support the given application.

It is also very important to pick the video IP with the proper and standard interfaces so that it can be as close as to "plug-and-play" in terms of the SoC integration. The area and power dissipation are important as well, so that the SoC can be sold at a competitive price in the market.

At high pixel rates, what would be the situation with the video subsystem? Simply put, the higher resolutions result in the explosion of data. The video subsystem needs to be highly efficient in order to handle the high data movement. It also needs to have very efficient video processing engines to meet the real-time requirements.

As for the amount of off-chip video bandwidth that is actually needed by an IP block, Ganesan said that it depends a lot on the resolution that the video IP is likely to handle. The video resolution, profiles and levels will get determined by the application. Trade-offs between silicon real-estate and off-chip video bandwidth plays very critical role.

Improving video performance
Video performance is said to deteriorate as the off-chip memory latency increases. What can be done to improve this? Internal buffering will definitely help to reduce this impact. However, that can affect the silicon size of the device. Hence, care needs to be taken and trade-off needs to be done depending upon the Video system requirements.

Finally, let's examine how best can a designer integrate the video IP core into an SOC design. Depending upon the interfaces, the video IP can slide easily into the SoC. The IP could be just an engine, or processor core based soft IP or a combination of both.

So, the SoC designer needs to evaluate the application requirements, and determine the right interfaces and the appropriate processor core, along with the memory sub-system. There could be peripheral interface IPs [that are either part of the Video IP or separate], which also needs to be inserted as part of the SoC and the data flow on the device needs good management.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Google phone beckons as industry leaders announce open platform for mobile devices

Is the Google Phone finally going to see the light of the day? Well, the following release (below) has all the makings of a mega telecom happening. Read on!

A broad alliance of leading technology and wireless companies today joined forces to announce the development of Android, the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. Google Inc., T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm, Motorola and others have collaborated on the development of Android through the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance of technology and mobile industry leaders.

According to Engadget Mobile, Google will be holding a conference call at noon eastern (November 5) to unveil the details of its long-rumored Android mobile operating system. Joining CEO Eric Schmidt will be other members of the 34-member Open Handset Alliance, including the chief executives of Deutche Telekom, HTC, Qualcomm, and Motorola. So keep watching this space!

According to the release, this alliance shares a common goal of fostering innovation on mobile devices and giving consumers a far better user experience than much of what is available on today's mobile platforms. By providing developers a new level of openness that enables them to work more collaboratively, Android will accelerate the pace at which new and compelling mobile services are made available to consumers.

With nearly 3 billion users worldwide, the mobile phone has become the most personal and ubiquitous communications device. However, the lack of a collaborative effort has made it a challenge for developers, wireless operators and handset manufacturers to respond as quickly as possible to the ever-changing needs of savvy mobile consumers. Through Android, developers, wireless operators and handset manufacturers will be better positioned to bring to market innovative new products faster and at a much lower cost. The end result will be an unprecedented mobile platform that will enable wireless operators and manufacturers to give their customers better, more personal and more flexible mobile experiences.

Fully integrated Android platform
Thirty-four companies have formed the Open Handset Alliance, which aims to develop technologies that will significantly lower the cost of developing and distributing mobile devices and services. The Android platform is the first step in this direction -- a fully integrated mobile "software stack" that consists of an operating system, middleware, user-friendly interface and applications. Consumers should expect the first phones based on Android to be available in the second half of 2008.

The Android platform will be made available under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products. Next week the Alliance will release an early access software development kit to provide developers with the tools necessary to create innovative and compelling applications for the platform.

Android holds the promise of unprecedented benefits for consumers, developers and manufacturers of mobile services and devices. Handset manufacturers and wireless operators will be free to customize Android in order to bring to market innovative new products faster and at a much lower cost. Developers will have complete access to handset capabilities and tools that will enable them to build more compelling and user-friendly services, bringing the Internet developer model to the mobile space. And consumers worldwide will have access to less expensive mobile devices that feature more compelling services, rich Internet applications and easier-to-use interfaces -- ultimately creating a superior mobile experience.

Open Software, Open Device, Open Ecosystem
"This partnership will help unleash the potential of mobile technology for billions of users around the world. A fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future," said Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt. "Today's announcement is more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone' that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks. Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different phone models."

"As a founding member of the Open Handset Alliance, T-Mobile is committed to innovation and fostering an open platform for wireless services to meet the rapidly evolving and emerging needs of wireless customers," said René Obermann, Chief Executive Officer, Deutsche Telekom, parent company of T-Mobile. "Google has been an established partner for T-Mobile’s groundbreaking approach to bring the mobile open Internet to the mass market. We see the Android platform as an exciting opportunity to launch robust wireless Internet and Web 2.0 services for T-Mobile customers in the US and Europe in 2008."

"HTC's trademark on the mobile industry has been its ability to drive cutting-edge innovation into a wide variety of mobile devices to create the perfect match for individuals," said Peter Chou, Chief Executive Officer, HTC Corp. "Our participation in the Open Handset Alliance and integration of the Android platform in the second half of 2008 enables us to expand our device portfolio into a new category of connected mobile phones that will change the complexion of the mobile industry and re-create user expectations of the mobile phone experience."

"The convergence of the wireless and Internet industries is creating new partnerships, evolving business models and driving innovation," said Dr. Paul E. Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer of Qualcomm. "We are extremely pleased to be participating in the Open Handset Alliance, whose mission is to help build the leading open-source application platform for 3G networks. The proliferation of open-standards-based handsets will provide an exciting new opportunity to create compelling services and devices. As a result, we are committing research and development resources to enable the Android platform and to create the best always-connected consumer experience on our chipsets."

"Motorola has long been an advocate of open software for mobile platforms. Today, we're excited to continue this support by joining Google and others in the announcement of the Open Handset Alliance and Android platform. Motorola plans to leverage the Android platform to enable seamless, connected services and rich consumer experiences in future Motorola products," said Ed Zander, Chairman and CEO of Motorola, Inc.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

telisma launches teliSpeech in 10 Indian languages

Paris, France based telisma has released teliSpeech, its leading speech-recognition software in India in 10 languages. These languages are: Indian English, Indian Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Gujarati, Punjabi, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Marathi.

The teliSpeech, telisma's core proprietary software product, has been in the Indian market since June 2004. It offers superior robustness, scalability and performance -- especially in mobile environments -- and comes with a comprehensive set of administration and management tools.

Laurent Balaine, chairman and CEO, telisma, said: "This is an important time for telisma. telisma will open up the voice market and allow the Indian population to access services and information by using their voice. India is a major part of telisma's international development strategy, and as such, we will be continuing our solid investment."

He added that telisma's product portfolio had been conceived and developed with openness in mind, in order to allow its partners to create their speech-recognition solutions using Eclipse-based tools.

He added: "Until now, people could not use their own language. We intend covering 95 percent of the population. We do speech recognition and you don't need to train the PC as it is internetworked."

telsima works with a range of companies, including system integrators and with companies providing infrastructure for the call centers, such as Cisco, Genesys, Avaya and HP. Voice service providers can also become partners.

"Until now, the market for such products in India was small. Now, more people would want to access services," he added. "Our technology is good for social networking as well, as we believe, information is knowledge. Indian companies can take this product and build applications around it to serve banks, enterprises, etc."

Regarding Indian English as a language, Balaine said telisma made use of several native English speakers, similar to what it did for Hindi. This enabled the system to recognize with high accuracy.

Keen to attract Indian software developers
The teliSpeech software has been developed using tools from Eclipse, a major Open Source initiative, which also includes IBM. Balaine said,"Eclipse has now become a major standard."

telisma is also keen on developing a community of software developers in India. He said: "Our idea is to offer software developers the tools and an open environment to develop and products they can sell anywhere. The availability of an open envvironment will help them a lot."

telisma offers an evaluation software for free download on its site. It can be tested on a local PC for 30 days. If the software developers can build applications around teliSpeech during that period, they can buy the license from telisma.

Major India plans
telisma will be opening a liaison office in Bangalore before the end of this year. "We are also in touch with system integrators like Wipro," Balaine added. telisma also intends working with the mobile phone service providers in India through partners.

"Genesys has also sold our products in India," he added. "We will also leverage on our partnerships in India, for example, with Cisco, HP, etc. We will also go to local partners in value-added services and in the CRM space."

As for voice interaction with wireless services, he said that it was more of accessing voice services, while on the move. Here, there is an opportunity for location-based services to be available in voice.

telisma has a fully indirect business model. It partners with leading computer telephony hardware and platforms, along with global and local brand name integrators. Some of its international partners include IVR platform vendors such as Genesys, HP, Avaya, Cisco and Envox. System integrators include Wipro, Cap Gemini, NextiraOne and Atos Origin. Voice service provider partners include Prosodie and Jet Multimedia, while solution partners include Voice Objects.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Applied Materials CEO on semicon sustainability and energy management

"The Indian semiconductor policy is really ground breaking. Hopefully, it will build great business." These comments from Michael R. Splinter, president and CEO, Applied Materials, were enough to indicate how much the Indian semiconductor policy, announced recently by the government of India, has caught the attention of global semicon majors.

Mike Splinter was delivering his lecture at the Thought Leader Series organized by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA), where he also highlighted the needs of sustainability and energy management from a global perspective.

According to him, some things never changed in the semiconductor industry, such as: technical innovation being the most viable lever for productivity, end of optical lithography being imminent, no imminent change in fab economics ($/die), growth in complexities of products and applications.

"Through all of these times, the Moore's Law has persisted. The complexity of products have increased," he added. Another thing that hadn't changed was the growing need for sustainable practices.

Citing statistics, he said that the semiconductor industry was growing 5 percent this year, while the semiconductor equipment industry was growing at 3-5 percent during 2007. "Memory continues to grow very rapidly. NAND flash is a killer app," Splinter noted.

India, according to him, has a major role to play in the semiconductor domain. India's strengths lie in world class IC design and R&D capability, growing market for consumer electronics (CE), and an increasing need to address both global and industry challenges -- in terms of sustainability and energy use.

Challenge of sustainability
Touching on the growing importance of sustainability, Splinter cited The Economist, which reported that $70bn had been spent globally in clean tech research and funding. Further, the IPCC reported that the evidence of human caused global warming was equivocal.

While economic growth was driving demand and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries were accelerating it, there was also an increasing use of chips in consumer electronics products. This translated into an increasing use of energy. "All of these factors, together, make sustainability even more challenging," added Splinter.

Splinter gave an example of LCD TVs, which are likely to grow 65 percent this year. Now, 90 percent of the power in LCD TVs goes into the backlight. If new technologies could be developed, those would certainly assist in saving more power. Another example was that of servers, laptops and TVs together accounting for 8 percent of global power consumption. That's a lot of power, if the global power is estimated at 5TW or so. It needs to be reduced as well.

So what is the waste and energy impact of consumer electronics? For starters, there are increasing energy consumption and recycling challenges. Next, manufacturing requires a lot of water, energy and materials. Another impact is the waste management within the manufacturing value chain. Splinter said, "The environmental impact can be reduced by clean tech products and sustainable manufacturing."

Need for energy efficient chips
Energy definitely needs to grow faster than the global economy. There is also a need to think about the environment and waste management. There is a need to increase the energy efficiency in chips, instead of solely focusing on performance.

Splinter said the time had come to take major steps, such as producing energy efficient chips. Applied Materials itself will be working on reducing the energy consumption in all of its practices. The semiconductor equipment maker will also be adopting clean energy in all of its facilities. The time has come for all to work together on energy use, Splinter added.

On solar, he noted that it had not yet managed to achieve scale. However, Germany had strongly pushed it, providing manufacturing incentives. "The scales are now starting to happen in Europe, especially, Germany," he added. "There is pretty good motivation and incentive to deploy solar here, in India, as well."

Indian hardware policy to address infrastructure issues

Following the success of India's semiconductor policy, the government of India is well on its way to announce a new hardware manufacturing policy, hopefully sometime this month.

According to M. Madhavan Nambiar, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, Department of Information Technology, the hardware policy should be coming shortly, where, the government is looking to address infrastructure related issues.

Speaking with him on the sidelines of the Thought Leader Series organized by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA), he said the hardware policy would still take some time. "As a part of it, we are looking at IT investment regions." These would be set up in 40km areas, and each region would be an entire ecosystem in itself.

Nambiar added: "We are also looking at very good public-private partnerships. We have to develop the manpower." The Department is working with the Labour Ministry and other organizations in order to set up skill development units. It is necessary for skiils to keep pace with technology.

The to-be-announced hardware policy will also be looking at taxes, etc. "It is a recommendation that we are making," he said. "For India to be able to attract investments, we nust ensure that we are the best in class."

Touching upon the semiconductor policy, he said it was important that this policy was pro-active and friendly. "We need to see how best to provide comfort levels to those investing," Nambiar said.

It was necessary to have a strong semiconductor industry in India, as all leading countries, such as the USA, China, Taiwan and Japan had equally strong semiconductor industries. There has since been lot of interest in fabs and ecosystem units, and some of those were in the process of being set up.

Major shakeups in top 10 semiconductor supplier rankings

According to the latest report from IC Insights, there have been major shakeups in the global top 10 rankings among suppliers of semiconductors.

Here's what IC Insights has to say regarding some of the changes that took place in 3Q07:

* Toshiba rode the coat-tails of a 46 percent 3Q07/2Q07 NAND flash memory market surge to post an amazing 40 percent 3Q07/2Q07 semiconductor sales increase. This increase helped propel Toshiba to a third place ranking, its highest since being ranked as the second largest semiconductor supplier in 2000.

* AMD continues to display a nice recovery this year with its 3Q07 sales increasing 18 percent over 2Q07, which follows a 12 percent sequential increase in 2Q07/1Q07. As part of its continuing MPU marketshare battle with Intel, AMD is expected to announce a major manufacturing/foundry deal in the second half of 2007.

* The largest pure-play foundry in the world, TSMC, jumped one spot in 3Q07 as compared to the full-year 2006 ranking as the company recorded a strong 3Q07/2Q07 sales increase of 21 percent. It should be noted that after operating at only 83 percent capacity utilization in 1Q07, TSMC surpassed its “company-defined” 100 percent capacity utilization level in 3Q07!

* If pure-play foundry TSMC were excluded from the ranking, NXP would have been in the tenth position.

* In spite of 3Q07 DRAM pricing weakness, Hynix took advantage of its strong NAND flash marketshare to move from seventh to sixth place in the ranking.

* Freescale continues to feel the pain of its biggest customer, Motorola, as the company went from being ranked as the ninth largest semiconductor supplier in the world in 2006 to sixteenth in 3Q07. Unfortunately for Freescale, Motorola has gone from holding a 22 percent share of cellular phone unit shipments in 3Q06 (53.7 million) to securing only a 13 percent share in 3Q07 (37.2 million).

* TI, ST, and Renesas were the only top 10 companies to register less than double-digit 3Q07/2Q07 sequential sales growth rates. Each one of these companies is a top-10 supplier to the currently slow-growing analog IC market.

* The top 10 listing consists of three U.S., three Japanese, two Korean, one European, and one Taiwanese company.

Through the end of 2007, IC Insights expects to see pricing stability return to the DRAM memory market, surging IC demand for PCs and high-end cellular phones, and a continuation of the seasonal rebound in overall semiconductor demand that began in August.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Speculating on Indian 3G spectrum specter

The ongoing saga regarding spectrum for 3G services, use of dual technologies, etc., reminds me of 2002, the MII, TD-SCDMA and 155MHz! Read on...

Anything on the spectrum spectacle in India makes very interesting reading! It’s as though two sides fighting over a valuable possession. Worth a click!!

We have been following how the two GSM and CDMA lobbies -– COAI and AUSPI -– have been in the news over the use of mixed bands. GSM operators have constantly warned that any move to allocate spectrum in the 1900MHz band to CDMA players would adversely impact their services in the 2100MHz band. We've been following what the TRAI, the DoT and others have to say on all of this.

Then AUSPI informed this week that field trials conducted in Hyderabad last week had proved successful. The trial conducted by AUSPI on behalf of the Department of Telecom (DoT) claims that the co-existence of 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz is possible.

Now, we are told that defence would be vacating spectrum by end of this year and India would have 3G services by next year. Hope all disputes are settled amicably and India finally gets to see what 3G services would have to offer.

I am reminded of two things – one, the 3G license auctions in Europe, which nearly brought the wireless house down in the early 2000s, and two, an interesting development in China. I’ll dwell on the second one.

Nearly seven years ago, I happened to break the news on TD-SCDMA (Time Division-Synchronous Code-Division Multiple Access), a 3G technology being developed at that point of time by Datang Telecom and Siemens. That story link no longer exists, so I'm providing a link to another story, mentioned below.

About two and a half years later, around October 2002, the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) in China allocated a total frequency of 155MHz for TD-SCDMA! This, for an untested, untried 3G technology, in a country much larger than India, was and is still unheard of!

Makes me wonder, why did the MII give away so much of spectrum so long back to an untested 3G technology, when in India, we keep hearing reports about spectrum issues, use of dual technologies, etc. Are there lessons to be learnt from the Chinese example?

On TD-SCDMA, much later, in 2002, I also discovered not many had even heard of it in India. However, around the time I reported this 155MHz spectrum story, STING’s Robin Grewal contacted me in Delhi to find out more about this 3G technology! That was the level of interest in 3G and TD-SCDMA, and spectrum in India, at least, at that time. Things have changed since! Hopefully!!