Thursday, March 29, 2007

India's semicon policy takes off

Close on the heels of the historic Indian semicon policy announced earlier this year comes the news that Hindustan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (HSMC) would be setting up a semicon foundry in India partnering with Infineon Technologies for CMOS licences. It's no surprise to see Infineon among the early movers as Infineon has been present in India for quite a while now.

This is excellent news as far as the Indian semiconductor industry is concerned. I remember the day the India Semiconductor Association (ISA) was formed in Bangalore in early November 2004. The ISA is a very young industry body and all kudos to it for having taken forward the Indian industry so very well.

Congratulations are also due to Honourable minister, Dayanidhi Maran for having the foresight and for believing in the semiconductor industry.

Not only would the semicon industry boost India's GDP in the coming years, the policy should also see India emerging as a destination of choice for manufacturing of high-tech products in the future.

This January, while attending the VLSI conference in Bangalore, I had the pleasure of learning about the various incentives some of the state governments, such as those of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have to offer to investors.

Other state governments should come forward as well and make India's dream of becoming a semicon giant a success and help the semicon policy really take off.

Following HSMC's announcement, we have now come to expect more such announcements in the near future. All of this really augurs well for India. It will also change the global perception that India is the destination for software and outsourcing.

We can do it. Time to show the world. Well done ISA. Well done Minister. And well done HSMC and Infineon

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

RFID, biometrics convergence -- II

Continuing from the previois blog, it's a pleasure to introduce RCG, who I met with my ex-colleague Darius in Hong Kong, late 2006. We were very impressed with RCG's capabilities. I'd like to put down here what I saw that day (and wish my friend to update me later).

Based in Hong Kong's Cyberport, RC Group (Holdings) Ltd is developing, producing and distributing state-of-the-art biometrics and RFID software through hardware and system integration. A leader in Asia Pacific region, RCG has plans for aggressive global expansion with its all-in-one biometrics and RFID applications.

RCG is offering the i4+ time and attendance system with biometric access control. It uses an ARM processor, and features high-precision fingerprint sensor and high-speed authentication processing engine. RCG developed the hardware and software for the product. It uses 13.56GHz Mi-Fare card, and supports fingerprint access and password. Current memory is 256MB, which is flexible as more RAM can be added. It supports up to 10,000 users.

RCG is offering the M29 biometric fingerprint door lock that supports 100 fingerprint enrollments. It incorporates the latest fingerprint recognition technology into the zinc-alloy doorlock. The M29 combines advanced algorithm and advanced, precise semiconductor sensor to guarantee a fast, reliable performance and good image-capturing capability.

The S903 from RCG is a biometric fingerprint access control device featuring a state-of-the-art semiconductor fingerprint sensor. It features 64MB flash memory that is expandable. It can store up to 3,000 fingerprints. RCG was scheduled to add card support by Q4-2006.

RCG's FX Guard Pro biometric access control with face-recognition technology. It has a built-in IR sensor and RFID reader is optional. It is the first facial recognition application that runs primarily on TCP/IP. It adopts RCG's ultra-fast, highly accurate facial verification engine. RCG works with a partner in Germany for facial recognition. It also offers a Mi-Fare RFID card reader or EM card. Symbol is providing RCG the RFID tags, readers and antennae.

On the RFID side, RCG is offering mobility solutions, asset management and security control, and middleware. On the mobility side, it offers inventory database control and access device, and field service solution (using Symbol’s mobile PDA with GPRS).

RCG is also offering the asset monitoring system and control solution. It uses Symbol RFID tag and program readers, uses its own middleware and provides the solution, which is essentially aimed at the SMEs. It is a partner with EPCGlobal.

RCG has been included in the list of Hong Kong’s pilot projects. It also offers middleware and does the entire RFID software for the middleware in Hong Kong. It also adopts some SOA concepts.

Commenting on the outlook for 2007, Dr. Kam Hong Shum, CTO, said that one trend would be the convergence of RFID and biometrics. Next, there would be integration of devices into ERP, HR and payroll, etc. According to him, biometrics had huge potential. For RFID, there could be more of check-and-trace solutions, ported on devices such as Wi-Fi, GPS/GPRS terminals, besides using ZigBee for location tracking.

RFID, biometrics convergence - I

This was written a little while back, when I was in Hong Kong. I am reproducing it for the benefit of readers and friends, with hopes of receiving updates regarding access control, along with biometrics and RFID.

Hong Kong's 303 Technology offers a range of products including fingerprint access control system, fingerprint attendance system, fingerprint recognition device and WebHR. These customized products find applications in offices, factories, academic and financial institutions, hospitals, and other industries.

Its VFinp is an intelligent biometric access control product that uses optical and CMOS sensors, the last one being optional. It supports multi-verification mode and allows high-speed fingerprint matching. One finger can be used to trigger off an alarm.

Suitable for time and attendance management, it has built-in 8MB memory or 2,000 fingerprint images capacity. The maximum number of event logs is 60,000. The FAR is 0.0001 percent when FRR is 1 percent. It has the TAS proprietary software built in, which has been developed and designed in Hong Kong. All coding is finished in the Shenzhen factory on the Mainland.

The company was focusing on a fingerprint scanner when I met them late 2006. It uses a multilayer PCB. 303 Technology plans to develop face-recognition technology in one to two years time. Options include proximity card module, ID card module and Mi-Fare card module, respectively. Fingerprint access will remain mainstream over the next six to 12 months.

In the non-biometric area, 303 Technology will develop a lock system for hotels. It will integrate with the hotel system for use during emergencies. The product would be launched by Q2-07. Key applications include time/attendance and access control.

It can be used in schools and libraries as well. VFinp can also be used for this application. The supplier only needs to modify software. 303 Technology is also offering the InstantPass LTP-II fingerprint and password access device. It has a bilingual LCD, and can store up to 750 fingerprint and 16,000 attendance records. It has 16 key buttons for password entry of administrator and other users.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Time for solid polymer capacitors!

Well, aluminum electrolytic capacitors may sound boring to many... but the level of expertise that goes into producing one, rather, developing a new technology, is fascinating. However, components as a subject is quite tough, and not many are willing to write on it, or even keen on doing interviews. Even I struggle at times, to be honest.

Some of the leading makers in Hong Kong, which is also home to Man Yue, the seventh largest maker in the world, are actually quite good at aluminum electrolytic capacitors, and now, the solid polymer capacitors.

Man Yue has been working jointly with one of Mainland China’s most prestigious universities, the Tsinghua University, Beijing, to set up a research institute in Shenzhen focusing on chemical technology and material science.

Man Yue is offering conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors under X-Con brand name. These are suitable for computer motherboards and other high-end circuit boards. X-Con conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors are suitable for all LCD/PDP control panel, high-end video card, sound card, peripherals, electronic devices in cars, etc. Man Yue launched the X-Con series in 2006, in partnership with Tsinghua University.

The X-Con comes in three series – general-type, low ESR and surface-mount. Man Yue expects demand to pick up, mainly for motherboards, graphic cards, high-end circuit boards, etc.

The best thing about conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors is that the electrolyte would not leak out as it is solid and there will be no explosions. The characteristics of the conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors include very low ESR and very high ripple current.

I remember Stanley Wong, business development director, Man Yue, mentioning that plasma TV makers were thinking of switching from electrolytic to solid capacitors. Prices of conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors are said to be about five to 10 times higher than electrolytic type aluminum capacitors.

Man Yue is also working on the R&D for high-end capacitors, which are useful for alternate energy applications, called super capacitors. Some friends of mine from Taiwan and Korea would be more than willing to add their observations on super capacitors, I'm sure.

Man Yue has ISO9001:2000 and ISO14001 certifications. It would be certified ISO/TS16949 by Q2-07. It has been RoHS compliant since Q2-2004. Wong said it had placed orders for ICPE-9000 machine, which was scheduled for delivery by end of 2006.

"This machine grinds the capacitor into powder and checks for banned substances," he added. "We have the RoHS lab as well." Man Yue has four XRF machines. It is planning to purchase the GCMS-QP2010 Plus, another high-end testing machine, which checks for banned substances. It will purchase the UVmini-1240 machine as well. Goodness me! So much of sophistication is required, which makes me believe that not all folks would be able to offer such products. Would be interesting to see.

According to Raymond Lee, sales manager, Fujicon, another leading maker from Hong Kong, most customers request for RoHS products. Fujicon produces PET (6P) aluminum electrolytic capacitors. Some specific Japanese customers request these products.

Lee said: "For the RoHS requirements, we call it 3P. PET meets the 6P standard. This is currently applicable in Japan. Soon, it would become the requested standard globally."

According to him, PVC was not environment friendly. Lee added that soon, all toy products would also require 6P products. Fujicon can offer both 3P and 6P aluminum electrolytic capacitors. It assigns testing of product samples to companies such as SGS in Hong Kong.

Fujicon has developed a new series of V-chip capacitors for high voltage. Regarding the use of electrolyte, Lee said, there had been several developments to improve the electrolyte that would make capacitors safer, with lower ESR.

Fujicon is collaborating with some other aluminum electrolytic capacitors to produce solid polymer capacitors. Lee said these capacitors can function better, having characteristics such as very low ESR and impedance, at high frequency.

Ok, over to my friends for more on this subject.

Are EDA tools a commodity?

I had the pleasure of attending the 20th International Conference on VLSI Design and 6th International Conference on Embedded Systems in Bangalore, and had the good fortune of meeting a range of top experts from these fields.

One panel discussion: "Are EDA technology/products becoming a commodity?", particularly caught my attention. Speakers debated on whether commoditization of EDA tools was happening with little/no differentiation toward project success.

Dr. Anand Anandkumar, managing director, Magma India, also a good friend, elucidated that the semiconductor design industry cannot do a complex SoC without EDA. And if there’s no EDA, there’s no integration. "If you are a commodity, you cannot solve problems!”

Now EDA is a key driver for semiconductor design companies to achieve objectives of building more and more complex (SoCs). However, the overall market size of EDA industry [estimated at US $4 billion] remains a fraction of the overall semiconductor market size [estimated at US $240 billion].

Dr Anandkumar added there had been various paradigm shifts and problems. The EDA industry was in a way the IP partner with the semiconductor industry. However, he agreed that parts of the tools had been commoditized. The EDA industry had become a prisoner of its own business model.

Nevertheless, newer things have been racing forward. There are also a variety of conflicting problems. Understanding those problems could be a way of handling and solving complex designs. The part of taking over risks had been completely absent. There was little ownership in sharing risks, which needed to change.

From the perspective of consumer electronics eco-system, available EDA technology is often viewed as not being in sync with the expectations and requirements of various design teams. Claims of productivity and quality of results advantages from EDA teams can seem more like wishful thinking than reality to end users.

More so, related issues of quality, inter-operability of standard formats, usability and understanding of designer needs are other areas of ongoing concern. These are not necessarily new issues, so what were EDA companies and their customers doing to address them? Has the EDA industry been getting its proportional value out of the semiconductor industry? Would love to hear from you.

DAB to drive digital radio adoption

This piece on DAB radios was written late last year. Am publishing it here, and look forward to updates, comments, etc.

At present, over 40 countries support digital radio. Europe is digital radio's largest market at the moment, with greatest of deployments in the UK. As of last year (2006), there were an estimated 3 million digital radio users in the UK alone and about 4 million users globally. The success of digital radio will depend on how the world will embrace the new standard of DAB (digital audio broadcasting). Consumer adoption would also entail putting up new stations that would broadcast new content unique to digital radio.

London based RadioScape, a leader in end-to-end broadcast and receiver solutions for digital radio and mobile TV, has been expanding its operations in the Asia Pacific region over the past two years. It opened an R&D center at Hong Kong Science Park in July 2006, and introduced several new products. By setting up the R&D center, it hopes to tap China (Hong Kong and Mainland) based manufacturers of digital radio, most of whom export products to Europe.

In 2006, there were 3 million units for DAB, with about 2.4 million alone in the UK. In 2007, industry forecasts place the figure at 5 million units and 6 million units, with about 3.6 million from the UK. Scandinavian markets are growing, but largest potential markets within Europe include France and Germany. These countries have largely ignored DAB, partly due to regulatory issues. Radioscape believes that Germany would be supporting DRM.

Within 2007-08, both Germany and France would likely be switching on to digital radio. These events would see digital radio's focus shift away from the UK to the rest of Europe, and trigger the economic cycle for the digital radio market.

In the rest of the world, digital radio has been making headway in North America by satellite standards such as XM and Sirius, which have about 10 million subscribers between them.

Another standard, HD Radio, developed by Ubiquity Corp, is also there. There is no question that there will be a shakeout of standards in the future. This adds another pro to Radioscape's stance of maintaining software-based modules. It does not want a hardware design tied down to a particular standard.

I would like to see some updates regarding DAB in India, and love to meet up with companies offering DAB radios for the Indian market.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Home-grown EDA company provides innovative tools

Bangalore-based Softjin Technologies is an electronic design automation (EDA) company providing unique EDA solutions for the semiconductor industry. According to Kamal Aggarwal, VP-Marketing and Strategy, the company's core-capability lies in developing innovative EDA tools for specific requirements of customers, such as semiconductor companies and other EDA product companies.

Softjin's business model is a "hybrid" model, which is a mix of services and products. It also provides FPGA based system design services and design methodology services for customers.

Softjin's current products are licensable EDA building blocks that can be used as part of proving an EDA solution to customers in post-layout and logic synthesis technology area within EDA.

Post the announcement of India's historic semicon policy, Softjin expects to see more investments happening in the semiconductor manufacturing space. As the policy provides incentives for setting up semiconductor manufacturing units above a certain size, Aggarwal expects to see more big-ticket announcements emerging in near future.

Watch the Indian semicon space, guys, as the action heats up...