Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Google vs. Cuil? Really?

Cuil, the new search engine apparently launched by some very brilliant and highly accomplished ex Googlers is now making the headlines!

However, I don't think it is a case of Google vs. Cuil, as the title of this blog says. First, for me, as a user, it gives me an additional choice as far as search engines are concerned. Two, Cuil has recently started. Therefore, it would be incorrect to rank it alongside either Google or even Yahoo, as far as search results are concerned. I am sure Cuil will grow and evolve over time, so let's keep it that way.

What I like about Google is the plain looking home page with the search box! Cuil is along similar lines. The search page is a plain (black page) with a nice box in the center! The letters are grey, with the i of cuil in blue, apparently indicating Internet search... maybe! This is just my guess!

Nevertheless, the search results are not so detailed as yet, as in Google, or maybe, the safe search does not throw up so many results. Or, maybe, my choice of search words are not that interesting. Having said that, I do like the look of Cuil!

What I did find out a little while back is that if I searched for my name within quotes, Cuil shows some results. However, when I remove the quotes, during the same search session, I kept getting a message that no results were available. Strange!

Then, I went back to the Cuil home page, and retyped. This time it throws up lot of results! Maybe, Cuil can take note of this point and enhance the search better.

I also typed semicon blogs as a search. Hey, Cuil threw up more results! I will try some more searches later. What's key for every search engine is the relevance of the results that they throw up.

Another thing with Cuil is that it gives you options like getting search results in two or three columns. This one, personally, I didn't quite like. Maybe, it will take some time for me to get used to it. I am especially so used to Yahoo and Google, and the long lists of results they display on one page. So, maybe, I am biased.

Besides, I am waiting for Cuil to offer similar services like Google, or even Yahoo, including email. Till then, I don't think it is wise to say this is now going to be Google vs. Cuil! Cuil has just started and needs time to grow!

As a user, I am particularly thrilled with an additional search option. Hope to get better results from Cuil (pronounced COOL, i think), and I am looking forward to an email service, or a page like My Yahoo or iGoogle on Cuil as well.

Also, both Yahoo and Google have so many other options and sites like Yahoo 360, Orkut, etc. Or even Blogger, a platform used by so many folks like me for putting down their thoughts -- like this post! Maybe, Cuil will have some or more of these things too, in future, including a chat agent like Google Talk or Yahoo Messenger.

Till then, enjoy Cuil! Cuil needs time to settle down and start functioning on similar or better lines before there are such talks of Google vs. Cuil or Cuil vs. Yahoo and the likes.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Karnataka semicon policy very soon!

The government of Karnataka will be announcing a semiconductor policy very soon, according to Katta Subramanya Naidu, the minister for Excise, Information, BWWB, IT and BT, government of Karnataka, while delivering the opening address at the ISA Excite organized by the India Semiconductor Association.

Over the last several years, India has been a destination favored by almost all leading global semiconductor companies for setting up their development centers for semiconductors and embedded designs.

The size of the Indian semicon design industry is currently $6 billion across VLSI and board design, and embedded software, with the potential to be around $9 billion by 2009. There are nearly 200 companies and it employs over 130,000 professionals, all over India, with the potential to employ over 180,000 by 2009. The Indian semicon design industry has a CAGR of nearly 22 percent versus the global average of 7-8 percent.

Nearly 90 percent of the VLSI design work is done out of Bangalore alone. Appropriately, the ISA is headquartered in Bangalore, the heart of India's chip industry. The minister said: "The conducive work environment policies and high-quality talent are the important attractions for both MNCs and Indian companies to set up shop here. We value the contribution of our technology leaders and engineers to build the economy of the state and make it a global leader. Bangalore is next only to Silicon Valley, California, in terms of the work done here."

New centers likely
In future, the government of Karnataka wants to look at Mysore, Mangalore and Hubli as important centers to be developed. "These are centers of education with high quality and quantity of engineering talent. Our government is working on improving the connectivity to these cities to help attract investment there, as well as the expansion of companies from Bangalore to other towns within Karnataka," he added.

Welcome the ISA initiative to launch Excite, a program for the semiconductor and ecosystem companies, he noted that it was a good platform to understand the technology trends and to collaborate with the right partner.

He said: "Karnataka today is at the crossroads. We have the direction and leadership of Hon'ble chief minister Yeddyruppa. He is extremely committed to the cause of making Karnataka as the most preferred destination for the semiconductor industry and electronics hardware manufacturing. My (BJP) government would be glad to extend any support for your business plans in the state."

Semicon policy soon
The state government plans to announce a semiconductor policy in the very near future, actually. It has also earmarked land for a hardware technology park near the new airport (in Devanahalli).

The government is also thinking in the lines of finishing schools in PPP mode as the semiconductor industry is technology driven, and demands continuous training and re-skilling of the workforce.

Initiatives in Karnataka
The minister pointed out that his government has been taking several pro-active steps for further accelerating the growth of these sectors, as well as for their expansion in tier II and III cities. For these two sectors, the government proposes to identify and set apart exclusive IT/BT zones in Mysore, Mangalore, Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum, Shimoga and Gulbarga.

Yeddyruppa, the state chief minister, has made an announcement of a number of initiatives to boost the growth and development of IT/BT. A bio-IT park on a 100-acre plot is proposed to be developed with private participation near Bangalore. IT parks, with private participation, would be set up in tier II and III cities. A massive IT city on the lines of the Electronics City near Bangalore is under consideration. Similarly, BT parks are proposed to be set up in Mangalore, Dharwad and Bidar. KEONICS, a government of Karnataka undertaking, will play a major role in development of the IT city, IT parks and computer literacy campaigns.

He added that the state government believes in formulating initiatives and policies in consultation with the industry. The existing Mahithi IT policy is also being revised with inputs from the Vision Group on IT headed by N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys.

"The state government would be happy to see IT and BT developments happening in tier II and III cities. We are taking steps to improve and upgrade the infrastructure in these cities. The CM is personally reviewing the construction and upgradation of airports in Mysore, Shimoga and Gulbarga, which will provide vital air connectivity, essential for the growth of industry and business," he noted.

The NASSCOM-Kearney report has identified 43 potential locations in the country for IT development. The report also suggests measures to be taken to make these locations attractive for IT investments. Recommendations, such as improving the quality of education, imparting employable skills to the uneducated youth, improving infrastructure, particularly, air connectivity, etc., would be taken into consideration.

The minister said: "Our government would take all the necessary steps to ensure that there is no flight of investment to other states, and to make Karnataka the most attractive region for IT/BT investments. We want the semiconductor industry to grow and flourish in the state."

Participative semicon policy likely
Elaborating on the proposed semiconductor policy for Karnataka, Ashok Kumar C. Manoli, principal secretary to the government, said: "When you look at India, it is software, and when you look at China, it is hardware. We should make a beginning and try and become the global capital for both hardware and software. We need to design such a policy that design activities continue and also facilitate manufacturing."

He added: "We will come up with a very participative semiconductor policy. It will also look at addressing infrastructure requirements for manufacturing setups." According to him, the hardware industry is the foundation for the entire revolution, which the government is looking at. He requested all companies present at the ISA Excite to participate at the forthcoming event, and added that the state government was committed and fully geared up to deliver.

Announcing the ISA Excite initiative, Sanjeev Keskar, country sales manager, Freescale Semiconductor India Pvt Ltd, said: "We need to collaborate with the right partner. The ISA felt the need to arrange an ecosystem meet. Telecom and healthcare are the two drivers of importance." The ISA has plans to take Excite to other cities too, possibly, New Delhi, focusing on industrial and consumer.

The one-day ISA Excite event had an exhibition running simultaneously, featuring about 40 companies. These included ARM, Farnell, Ittiam Systems, Broadcom, Cosmic Circuits, Windriver, Wipro, HCL, AMDL, LSI Logic, TI, NXP, Cisco, Synopsys, SemIndia, Freescale, Open Silicon, MindTree, AMD, Analog Devices, RFMD, Cir-Q-Tech, NewEra, STPI, etc.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bangalore not cowed down by serial blasts, ISA Excite a success

Friends, I am really pained to report that Bangalore has been rocked by eight-nine serial blasts of low intensity today! As per the TV channels, there have been two deaths and several people injured. This is extremely unfortunate!

Countrymen and women, please join me in condemning this dastardly act of the serial blasts in Bangalore today.

I would also like to add a message sent to me by a good friend, Xavier, which says: Bangalore, don't be cowed down!

This is a small gesture that goes out to send the right signal to those who are keen to take away our freedom, our right to live peacefully for whatever their ideology is!

"Let our thoughts and prayers be with the near and dear ones of those killed and injured in these blasts."

Those who indulge in such activities are cowards. While such acts are meant to create panic, Bangalore has stood firm! Yes, people across the city, in various offices and other establishments, left home early, more so as a precautionary measure, telephone lines were jammed for some time, and there were the usual traffic jams -- largely due to the rains. However, there has been little panic. Yes, there may have been panic in the affected areas for some hours post the blasts.

In fact, I wasn't even aware of the blasts as I was attending a wonderful event on semiconductors -- the ISA Excite -- with a colleague, Ravinder, at Leela Palace. We only learned of the blasts on reaching office! Interestingly, there were little signs of panic on the roads as we were driving back to the office! Well, I've had quite a few phone calls and messages, thereafter! Am sure, it's been the same for nearly everyone in the city.

The country has gone on high alert since the blasts, as these can actually happen anywhere! However, India is a strong country, made up of very strong-minded people. Such acts of cowardice will not stop the normal pace of life. At best, normal life could be disrupted for a few hours.

Of course, a lot needs to be done to secure the IT capital of India, and possibly the world. It is hoped that the security agencies in India would do everything within their capability to ensure that such acts are not repeated. The damage could have been far greater, and some even wonder, whether there is some sort of a hidden message behind today's serial blasts.

Going back to the ISA Excite event, organized by the India Semiconductor Association, it was really heartening to learn that the Karnataka state will soon have its own semiconductor policy. I will be blogging more on this later tonight or tomorrow.

I'd also like to mention that the ISA Excite event was a very strong indication that the Indian semiconductor industry is very healthy and doing well, although, we may not yet have a wafer IC fab, and there are infrastructure challenges to mount.

Nearly everyone from the Indian semiconductor fraternity was present at the show. I am sure, several people heard about the blasts, and expressed their disgust at the happenings. However, the show went on! When the going gets tough, the tough get going. It was a message from the Indian semiconductor industry that even in tough times, it will move forward.

The show must always go on! And successfully!

Semicon to grow 10pc during 2008: Future Horizons

Hold on to your horses, folks. The year 2008 may not be so bad after all for the global semiconductor industry, according to Malcolm Penn, CEO, Future Horizons.

While presenting the mid-term semiconductor industry outlook in London this week, he said that the overall semiconductor outlook for 2008 was somewhere between 7-10 perfect. This includes 5-8 percent unit growth plus 2 percent ASP growth.

In his presentation, he ruled out any changes in forecast, saying that the industry could grow at about 10 percent this year, though 12 percent growth was still possible.

Will unit sales will hold up then? This is one of the great unknown answers! Unit visibility is bad, very bad, he adds. The inventory excesses/adjustments can always catch you out, but the underlying 10 percent pa annual unit growth will continue.

When put together with increasing ASPs, will it start to deliver strong overall chip market growth? Penn assumes that this may happen either second half of this year at best, or second half of next year at worst.

How has the memory market been doing among all of this? Well, it has really been lousy, and it is this that is holding back the overall market numbers!

There have been concerns over the lack of investment in the overall semiconductor manufacturing capacity. This trend will likely continue. Penn says: "Yes, this was the whole theme for the capacity section. It's been going on for a year and will continue that way for most of this year. That earliest correction will come in Q4-08, i.e., capacity in Q4-09."

In the midst of all of this, it seems that the Asian giants such as China and India, as well as the other emerging markets have been compensating adequately for the recessionary tendencies elsewhere.

Finally, are the Intels, Samsungs and the foundries of this world spending the required billions of dollars to bring on production at the leading-edge? Penn says: "Intel yes, but Samsung is slowing, but the foundries, no! The reason? To put up their prices; the industry is fed up with four successive years of decreasing revenues per wafer start, despite all of the billions spent on new investment."

So what's Future Horizon's overall outlook for 2008? One, no change to IFS2008-09 analysis. If anything, the fundamentals are stronger! Also, the global economic outlook has strengthened. However, fab capacity expansion rate has slowed. The inventory is as controlled as it gets. PC and mobile phone markets remain robust.

However, there is weakening consumer demand in the US and the UK/Eurozone. The memory markets are continuing to be plagued with price wars. As a result, the YoY maths has been slightly impacted (down). The balance still leans to the upside, depending on the ASPs.

Danger signs to watch?
Multiple, he says! Capacity: It’s hard to see how this can spoil 2008-09, provided unit growth holds up (need to watch capex). Next, demand -- the current IC unit demand is sustainable provided the economy holds up (need to watch inventory). On the economy itself, the current outlook continues good, but risks still on the downside (if it does tank, run for the life boats).

And finally, ASPs, which are always the industry’s first line of defence (ASPs can still derail Q3/Q4, but they are improving, memories aside).

Chip industry in perspective
Technology marches on, new markets open, old ones expand, enhancing our lives. The fall out at the macro level affects the entire world economy. Next, the electronic market was traditionally Japan, North America and Western Europe. It now encompasses the whole Asian Rim, China, Eastern Europe and India. There has been a middle class market growth from 500 million to 3 billion people.

Large chip markets have become larger, niches have become commodities, and new niches have arisen. Far from maturing, the industry is still in its volatile high growth phase, says Penn, with at least a further 20 years of strong growth in prospect.

Third digital wave leaders will be different from today. The shakeout has started. The underlying growth drivers for chips continues good. The market’s not maturing nor slowing, and neither have the industry dynamics / psyche (globally competitive / intensely competitive).

As Penn says, he who dares may not necessarily win, but the feint-hearted will definitely lose! Aptly sums up the state of the global semiconductor industry.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Get ready for building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV)

Building integrated photovoltaics or BIPV! Hey folks, prepare yourself to hear more about this term and the technology for quite some time to come! Solar/PV will be the next big story in India, and BIPV should be right up there at the top!

While BIPV is not yet talked about a lot in India, though, it may surprise many that there has been a deployment in India, I am sure that BIPV will be doing the rounds very soon.

There's another interesting angle to the BIPV, rather, solar story. Can EDA play a role here? I will examine this angle some time later.

First, what is BIPV? According to PV Resources, BIPV is merely photovoltaic systems integrated with an object's building phase. They are built/constructed along with an object, or planned together with the object. Yet, they could be built later on.

The following BIPV systems are said to be recognized:

* Facade or roof systems added after the building was built.
* Facade integrated photovoltaic systems built along with an object.
* Roof-integrated photovoltaic systems built along with an object.
* "Shadow-Voltaic" - PV systems also used as shadowing systems, built along with an object or added later.

If there are more, kindly share the information with me!

Now, to India. Just recently, Dr. Madhu Atre, president, Applied Materials India, referred to the use of BIPV during a discussion. He said that for energy-efficient glass, you could save on AC costs, etc., by using building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). I hope we take serious note of what Dr. Atre said!

Didn't they say green IT was the most used and abused term? We really love talking so much about green IT. Well, here's an outstanding example, and actually, an example very few have really bothered to look at, so far, at least.

Staying with India, very few know that SunTechnics India, a brand of Conergy Group, a leading supplier of solar system integration, completed the design and installation of India's first green housing project facilitated with building-integrated solar power.

The 58 kilowatt project was developed in partnership with the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA) as an initiative in solar architecture for the Rabi Rashmi Abasan eco-friendly housing complex at New Town Kolkata, of all places! Power will be fed into the public grid and facilitate electricity needs for 25 residential buildings and a community center.

If anyone has any doubts about the scope and power of solar or BIPV, take a look at Nanomarkets' report, which predicts that the market for BIPV will reach over $4.0 billion in revenues by 2013 and surpass $8 billion in 2015.

Late last month, I had written about certain steps Karnataka and the other states could adopt as part of a semicon policy.

Do include BIPV in your plans!

Actually, BIPV is very much part of the Indian semicon policy as well. West Bengal is probably the first state to have successfully implemented BIPV in a project. Congratulations are due!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cadence C-to-Silicon Compiler eliminates barriers to HLS adoption

Cadence Design Systems Inc. recently announced its C-to-Silicon Compiler, said to be the next-generation of HLS (high-level synthesis) technology.

The C-to-Silicon Compiler is said to eliminate historical barriers to HLS adoption to deliver the quality of results and net productivity gains engineers need. It also produces RTL (register transfer level) with quality at or above the 90th percentile of manual RTL design, while increasing the engineering productivity up to 10X. HLS incidentally, reduces the manual effort required to produce RTL, thereby enabling designers to avoid syntax errors common in traditional methodologies.

I was very fortunate enough to be able to speak directly with Steve Svoboda, marketing director for system level design products, Cadence, in the US, last evening, on the C-to-Silicon Compiler.

According to Svoboda, this tool can accurately predict timing estimates. Logic synthesis ability is embedded into the tool. Cadence logic sysnthesis has been embedded inside HLS. HLS transforms C and C++ into RTL.

What can this product actually do for the EDA industry? He says it can actually take EDA up to a new level in terms of delivering additional productivity to designers.

"When design compiler and logic synthesis came, it was during the golden era of the semiconductor industry. Productivity was increasing rapidly. But the problem is, since the early 1990s, there has been no real change in the RTL design methodology. The only productivity increase has come out in form of design re-use," he says.

"This (C-to-Silicon Compiler) could re-energize semiconductor and EDA industries by at least 10X times. About 20 years ago, there was 10X productivity increase. By having HLS, we can now close the gap and tackle the chips more effectively now."

So, first up, will C-to-Silicon Compiler compete with custom design projects? Svoboda it won't! Custom design projects typically utilize transistor-level design. C-to-Silicon is made to work within a standard ASIC design-flow.

Accelerate and improve verification
The C-to-Silicon Compiler will both accelerate and improve verification as well. The timing-approximate fast hardware models (FHMs) run 80-90 percent the speed of untimed C-models (or two-three orders of magnitude faster than RTL). This enables the hardware-software co-verification with greater timing accuracy.

The next question is: can people use third-party synthesis tools, along with the proprietary Cadence systhesis tool? Svoboda says that the C-to-Silicon Compiler outputs IEEE-standard Verilog RTL. Therefore, the output can go to any third-party synthesis tool. However, as the RTL output is generated using timing estimates from Cadence RTL Compiler, designers will get the best quality of results when using RTL Compiler for logic synthesis.

Will C-to-Silicon Compiler better predict performance and power? And if yes, has this cracked the low-power design issue? Svoboda adds that because of embedded logic synthesis, the C-to-Silicon Compiler can predict performance and (in principle) power better than other high-level synthesis tools.

He says: "Power estimation/optimization are key feature sets planned for upcoming releases of C-to-Silicon Compiler. We believe that those capabilities will enable the designers to create designs that are much better optimized for power, since design decisions with greatest power impact are made at the system-level."

Finally, how does C-to-Silicon compiler handle hardware allocation and scheduling operations? The answer is, C-to-Silicon Compiler handles hardware allocation and scheduling using various proprietary algorithms and heuristics. Many of these are based on previous research at Cadence Berkeley Labs.

Svoboda notes: "One should note that the better quality of results/performance of C-to-Silicon is due primarily to its inherent ability to generate more accurate timing-estimates than other HLS tools. The higher accuracy timing estimates result from the embedding of logic synthesis within the HLS tool/process, which enables gathering of full-context gate-level information to derive the timing estimates.

"Other HLS approaches rely on pre-characterization of technology libraries, which is not accurate enough, because those gate level estimates are only nominal values, and do not take into account the full-context of the design (fan-in, fan-out, buffers, etc.)"

Lastly, what happens to ESL (electronic system-level) tools? He believes that this tool will help the ESL market.

Svoboda says: "We now have a methodology to do design creation in C++ and SystemC. For example, they do virtual prototyping, hardware-software co-design, etc. In the past, when engineers created designs, they had to re-design in C++, etc. Our tool creates the RTL automatically for them. So, this could re-energize the ESL market very well."

It will be interesting to see what the other EDA firms such as Synopsys and Magma have in store!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Internet is going mobile!

This title of this blog has actually been borrowed from a statement made by Gadi Singer, vice president of Intel's Mobility Group and general manager of the company's SOC Enabling Group, which I came across on SEMI's site.

Is this a recent phenomena, or has the Apple iPhone led to a strong belief in this statement that the Internet is truly going mobile? And what was that craze for 'WAP bashing' some nine to ten years ago all about? Perhaps, it is a bit of both!

I was fortunate enough to use a WAP-enabled mobile phone back in Hong Kong, in 1999-2000, a Siemens model. I tried checking my Yahoo Mail on the phone with some success. Also, I found it very convenient to search for Indian restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui. All of this, when the 'WAP bashing' was at its peak!

In 2001, at an event organized by Frost & Sullivan in Singapore, I was probably among the three people in a large audience found to be using the mobile phone for Internet access. This is so long back, that even I can't recall for sure how many folks were really found to be using mobile Internet! Anyhow! Those were also the days when mobile Internet, as a theme, was quite popular at global telecom events, largely driven by the craze for NTT DoCoMo's i-mode phones.

Well, no one really wanted to accept back then that the Internet was going mobile! Also, the flak that some of the European carriers had to take due to their obtaining various 'quite expensive' 3G licenses dimmed the concept of the mobile Internet.

We have come a long way since! While GPRS and 3G did bring some or quite large extent of the Internet to the mobile, possibly, the push really happened when this phenomena called social networking gathered steam.

The Apple iPhone, and now, the iPhone 3G, with its cool wireless social networking applications have truly ported the Internet to the mobile. The iPhone 3G is all the rage right now. Sales crossed the 1-million mark within three days, as per various reports on the Internet. That's some speed! That's also an outstanding indication of how people are making a dash for the phenomena called wireless social networking.

In the midst of all of this, 3G, and specifically, HSDPA (and W-CDMA), has come really come to stay. The telecom-media convergence has also happened very seamlessly in the background.

While the world's leading semiconductor firms continue to churn out one excellent chip after another, especially for mobile phones/telecom, it is time to acknowledge the fact that the Internet has truly gone mobile!

One last word. Do find time to stand up and applaud the hard work put in by the semiconductor and software industry, who make all of this happen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Practical to take solar/PV route: Dr. Atre, Applied

Solar/PV is perhaps, a practical route for India to enter manufacturing, contends Dr. Madhusudan V. Atre, president, Applied Materials India. Alternatively, another way to enter this field could be by having solar farms.

According to Dr. Atre, India has a strong potential for manufacturing. The Indian scenario has the talent pool and an emerging middle class, along with the presence of system design and chip design companies. Only a fab seems to be the missing piece from this ecosystem!

Benefits of a fab include: fuels economic productivity, contributes to GDP and adds to national growth, creates jobs, helps set up the other expertise necessary for an ecosystem, and closes the loop between market, design, manufacture, test, customer.

Indian fab scenario
Commenting on the Indian scenario, Dr. Atre, says: "For PV, about $200-500mn is needed for a fab. If we can enter into manufacturing via the solar/PV route, the scale of investment required would be much less [than the investment needed for a wafer IC fab]. This can be practical route to enter manufacturing in India, and less complexity is involved, as compared to an IC fab." Another way of entering manufacturing is by having solar farms.

Applied's external face in India involves: Take leadership role in industry bodies; work with the government on various semiconductor and manufacturing policies; look for potential investments in start-ups; work with the academia on collaborative research in nanomanufacturing; be sponsors in key conferences; drive corporate social responsibility programs; and help enable semiconductor and solar manufacturing in India.

Touching on some emerging areas of interest, Dr. Atre highlights that packaging is very important in semiconductors. "We may look at some company in packaging R&D. We have invested a bit in Tessolve," he says. "We would also like to see the success of the nanotech lab in IIT-Mumbai, and see how it can help India." On a global scale, he notes that Applied would be setting up two-three SunFab lines with Masdar in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Applied Materials in India
Headquartered in Bangalore, Applied has been present in the country for over five years. It has approximately 1,500 employees and associates. A liaison office was originally set up in May 2002. Applied Materials India Pvt Ltd (AMIPL) was set up in July 2003, and operations started in November 2003 with cost + model. It consolidated all Applied operations in Bangalore into ITPL (~92,000sqft). It also merged Brooks Chennai (~100RFTs) into Applied India operations. Applied currently has R&D centers in Bangalore and Chennai.

Next, Applied established site operations in Delhi (~5000 sqft) to support Moser Baer. Its key partners are Satyam, Wipro and TCS, on various aspects of engineering and software services. In Delhi, Applied has 25-30 people to support Moser Baer, where it has the first SunFab line up and running.

In Mumbai, it has set up a nanomanufacturing lab with IIT-Mumbai. "We have put in equipment worth $7-8 million there, and do R&D projects," adds Dr. Atre. The nano lab at IIT-Mumbai was inaugurated in November 2007 by Mike Splinter, president and CEO, Applied Materials.

Applied is also involved in the potential upgrade of SCL. "We are working with some other companies on how we can upgrade SCL. We are more at the backend to set up some capabilities," he says.

Applied Ventures makes investment in emerging technologies and companies. It has funded a couple of companies in the semi start-up stage. Applied Ventures looks at global investments.

Moser Baer is Applied's first customer in India. It has a 35-40MW assembly line. This is the first time that 5+m2 solar panels will be coming out. The panel will now have to be taken up to the production ramp. Dr. Atre adds that Europe was much advanced in solar/PV. Germany, especially, was far advanced in the implementation aspect, as well as Italy and Spain.

Nanomanufacturing simplified
Nannomanufacturing, as per Wikipedia, is "the near-term industrial-scale manufacture of nanotechnology-based objects, with emphasis on low cost and reliability." To manufacture at this level requires a lot of expertise, skills, etc., says Dr. Atre. Cost is definitely an important driver, and so is reliability, he adds. According to him, nanomanufacturing technology combines the two core strengths of Applied: nano + manufacturing.

Applied's vision has been to apply nanomanufacturing technology to improve the way people live. Its mission: To lead the Nanomanufacturing technology revolution with innovations that transform markets, create opportunities, and offer a cleaner, brighter future to people around the world.

Applied Materials is a global leader in nanomanufacturing technology solutions with a broad portfolio of innovative equipment, service and software products for fabrication of: semiconductor chips, flat panel displays (using TFTs), solar photovoltaic cells and modules (in crystalline and thin film vectors), flexible electronics, and energy efficient glass (BIPV). The last three categories fall under EE or the Environment and Energy Division.

Dr. Atre says: "We have the SunFab line for solar/PV. In flexible electronics, as an example, you can have solar cells wrapped around an object." As for energy-efficient glass, you can save on AC costs, etc., by using building integrated photovoltaics.

Core capabilities
Applied's core capabilities include: commercialize sophisticated systems and thin-film engineering, besides a global culture. "Our technological strengths include semiconductors, solar/PV cells and FPDs. We have nanomanufacturing technology as the common theme." Touching on the loss per watt, he says it is currently around $14, which needs to come down to at least $2 or one-fourth.

Applied makes systems used to produce virtually every new microchip in the world, taking care of thermal, etching, inspection, PVD, CVD and CMP. For LCD flat panel display systems, Applied offers a variety of systems, such as PECVD systems, e-beam array testers, PVD systems and color filter sputtering systems.

The processing panels can be up to 2.2x2.5 meters. For solar manufacturing, Applied offers crystalline silicon, flexible PV and thin-film line, or the Applied SunFab lines. For architectural glass and flexible electronics, it offers both glass and Web coating systems.

"We have three key businesses, silicon systems, displays and energy and environmental solutions," said Dr. Atre. These are supported by Applied Global Services.

Applied's goals for 2010 include: Expanded revenue streams, to become a $13-15 billion company; increased operating efficiency, with margins >25 percent, and increased cash flow, about >20 percent of revenue.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why 3G operators can't ignore TD-SCDMA

Come Beijing Olympics, and China will be showcasing the TD-SCDMA (Time Division-Synchronous Code-Division Multiple Access) technology. Largely unheralded, and spoken about by relatively few, TD-SCDMA may well surprise the telecom industry and pundits.

In fact, it is not even well known that the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) in China had allocated a total frequency of 155MHz for TD-SCDMA way back in Q3 of 2002. Back then, Lothar Pauly, then member of the Group Executive Management of Siemens Information and Communication Mobile had said that the allocation of frequencies for TD-SCDMA in China marked "a milestone in the standard's development." Siemens mobile has been developing 3G technology jointly with the China Academy of Telecommunications Technology (CATT/Datang) since 1998.

As per the TD-SCDMA Forum, China Mobile has announced its TD-SCDMA terminal timetable. Apparently, in China Mobile‘s second round of TD-SCDMA terminal bidding, ZTE has won orders for 61,000 handsets and Samsung for 20,000 handsets.

Also, the MIIT has established a 3G inter-ministerial co-ordination group. Li Yizhong, minister of the new Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in China, says that the ministry has established a 3G inter-ministerial co-ordination group to promote the commercial test and ensure the success of TD-SCDMA.

He says that the ministry should actively promote the commercial test of TD-SCDMA, further reform the system, and carry out the major scientific and technological projects. Relative officials are required to supervise the construction of TD-SCDMA base stations in Beijing to ensure the call quality of TD-SCDMA and ensure the trial operation of TD-SCDMA mobile phone TVs during the upcoming Olympic Games.

The minister has also issued orders to give full support to the implementation of measures and policies beneficial for the development of TD-SCDMA. The ministry should organize Chinese telecommunication units to realize better network optimization, supply special Olympic services, co-ordinate the interoperability between 2G and 3G, solve the problems in the commercial tests, and to ensure the initial success of TD-SCDMA.

All of these developments reminds and takes me back to 2000, when TD-SCDMA was just starting to make the rounds. A good friend, Shih-ying Tan from Siemens Hong Kong, called me up to discuss this technology! Subsequently, it led to visit to Munich, to see the technology first hand!

Here are excerpts from a discussion I had, back in August 2001, with Klaus Maler, who was general manager, TD-SCDMA, for Siemens Information and Mobile Communications in Munich, Germany, at that point of time (in pic). I was serving Wireless Week, US, as its Asia-Pacific editor. Some or most of this may read a bit outdated, but it is still worth a read for those keen on TD-SCDMA.

TD-SCDMA, a 3G technology co-developed by Siemens AG and the China Academy of Telecommunications Technology, is said to be the only technology suitable for TDD (time division duplex) bands. In addition to being more spectrally efficient for both symmetrical and asymmetrical data services, it is capable of dealing with hot spot scenarios. Some TDMA operators reportedly are considering it as an option for migrating to 3G, and once deployed on the mainland of China, it is likely to reach the economies of scale that would make it attractive to mobile operators worldwide.

Acceptance by carriers
What are the chances that TD-SCDMA will be accepted by carriers, given that it is a TDD technology while wideband-CDMA and CDMA2000 are FDD (frequency division duplex) technologies? Isn't TDD in a minority here?

Maler had replied that TD-SCDMA, as well as W-CDMA, uses GSM MAP [manufacturing automation protocol]. This means that it is very likely to have affordable GSM/W-CDMA or GSM/TD-SCDMA dual-mode or GSM/TD-SCDMA/W-CDMA triple-mode handsets. On the other hand, an exotic GSM/CDMA2000 handset should support two different MAPs–GSM and IS-833. Dealing with such complicated and expensive handsets does not encourage GSM operators to adopt a CDMA standard.

As TD-SCDMA is TDD based, it offers optimum spectral efficiency for both symmetric and asymmetric data services. Certainly, carriers won't ignore this aspect. On an international scale, TD-SCDMA is the only technology suitable for the TDD bands, assigned by regulators worldwide and already have been auctioned in Europe. So TD-SCDMA, being an accepted standard worldwide, approved by the ITU and standardized in the 3GPP (Third-Generation Partnership Project), is definitely not in a minority.

Were there any chances that TD-SCDMA won't get locked in like another TDD standard, PHS, has in Japan? In response, Maler said TD-SCDMA is an accepted technology, while PHS is more of a local standard in Japan. Also, TDD frequencies have been allocated in most of the European countries. These are the two major reasons why TD-SCDMA has more potential.

Mainland China is already the largest mobile market now. TD-SCDMA will be deployed in China as a global standard, addressing all sizes of cells, [so] the necessary effects of scale will be available for operators worldwide.

"We had discussed with mainland Chinese manufacturers a few years ago the advantages of combining TDD technologies with smart antennas. We studied this issue and this evolved into continuous improvement and actual development. This happened at a time when we were looking at the mainland Chinese market as a major focus. Last year, when we realized that TD-SCDMA had good potential, we started to introduce it into the 3GPP. Now it has been accepted as a global standard," he said.

According to him, TD-SCDMA has a very bright future, [although] operators may go for a combination of technologies. TD-SCDMA allows operators to add spectrum for voice services using their core GSM networks. The version we are talking about for the launch in mainland China is based on a GSM core network. This will later evolve into a UMTS core network. We started developing the technology three years late, [so you could] say that TD-SCDMA is three years more modern than the other technologies. Now, we are all having trials simultaneously.

Is there a compelling case for TDMA operators to go the TD-SCDMA route? At the moment [this is 2001 end, remember], most TDMA operators in United States, for example, Cingular Wireless, AT&T Wireless and VoiceStream Wireless, are embracing GSM, thereby, acknowledging it as a worldwide standard. They are also committed to adopting the following migration path–TDMA-GSM-GPRS-EDGE-UMTS– following the footsteps of European operators.

Both of the UMTS alternatives –- W-CDMA and TD-SCDMA -– are being taken into consideration by TDMA operators, either as a complementary or an alternative solution. In particular, American TDMA operators believe that TD-SCDMA, thanks to its higher data transmission rate and its capability to deal with asymmetrical traffic and hot spot scenarios, is an interesting technology. The 1.6MHz bandwidth [it uses] will certainly ease the spectrum allocation in the already crowded spectrum currently available in the United States.

Most of the TDMA operators are moving to the GSM-GPRS-EDGE-W-CDMA route. It's not easy to get FDD spectrum in the United States and it will become even more difficult in the future. This is a very good opportunity for a TDD technology like TD-SCDMA.

TD-SCDMA in Europe
Were there any plans to implement TD-SCDMA in Europe, and especially Germany, given that Siemens has been playing an active role in developing this technology?

In Europe, TD-SCDMA will be deployed with capacity-enlargement purposes in W-CDMA networks in hot spot scenarios. By that time, TD-SCDMA will already be a mature technology and will have derived benefits from the mainland Chinese experience.

Most of the operators are now focusing on W-CDMA. They can consider TD-SCDMA to enhance services later on. We are speaking with several operators in Europe. They have been surprised and have actively responded [because] they can see that the chances for TD-SCDMA to succeed have improved considerably. Operators that had not chosen Siemens for some reason now have decided to take another look at us.

And why aren't GSM operators elsewhere showing interest in this technology? Instead, they have been opting for W-CDMA? In the very beginning in Europe, around 1998, TDD was conceived as a technology only for micro and picocell coverage. Consequently, it was considered interesting only in a second phase of the UMTS deployment as a capacity enlargement. Spectrum was assigned and licenses were bought bearing this in mind.

As TD-SCDMA is also able to cover large cells, the momentum behind it is increasing considerably and we are getting quite a lot of interest from European operators of merging TDD activities into this technology.

TD-SCDMA is quite a good alternative. Also, if an operator already has W-CDMA and adds TD-SCDMA, or it's the other way around, it's quite a good combination. Very soon, carriers will notice capacity shortages, especially for the more powerful applications. Facing the fact that they are wasting bandwidth, in terms of asymmetrical traffic, TDD is the technology of choice. The combination of both technologies -- W-CDMA and TD-SCDMA -- may apply in most countries, even here in Europe.

By the way, there used to be LinkAir's LAS-CDMA (Large Area Synchronized Code-Division Multiple Access). LAS-CDMA was also said to offer a higher spectral efficiency and moving speed, thus providing better support for mobile applications. Its asymmetric traffic, higher throughput, and smaller delay provide also improved IP support. A LAS-CDMA TDD variant is compatible with systems such as TD-SCDMA.

I had written about LAS-CDMA back in 2000, but have been unable to find the link. Even there's no update on this technology. Would be great if folks could update me on LAS-CDMA.

Lastly, I need to thank Chi-Foon Chan, president and COO of Synopsys, who I recently met on the sidelines of the Synopsys SNUG event. Chan discussed TD-SCDMA and LAS-CDMA briefly, while touching upon the semicon/EDA industry. But, more of that later!

Friday, July 11, 2008

iPhone 3G launched! What users say

Right then! The D-day is today... the much awaited Apple iPhone 3G has been launched!

Buyers in New Zealand and Japan were among the earliest to get their hands on the new iPhone. Evidently, the Apple lovers are over the moon and can't stop gushing about the great features that the new phone has!

All that's fine!

How can the Apple iPhone 3G help boost data usage? How can it help operators raise the ARPUs? Or, will a high-end phone still be used for voice and data? Will it change the fortunes of the memory market? What impact will it have on the semiconductor market as a whole? We will have the answers to most of these questions by the end of this year, and in some cases, over the next year or two.

Will there be a shift in brand loyalty -- for example, from say, Nokia to Apple -- even that remains to be seen. Surely, the likes of Nokia, Samsung, SonyEricsson and LG would not be sitting quietly and see the thunder being stolen from them!

Will there be a surge of touchscreen phones all over the world? Probably yes. I've had a touchscreen MP4 player with camera since late 2005, but I never really liked that touchscreen, as it always dirties the nice little LCD. Anyhow!

Coming back to the iPhone 3G, I've had some interesting conversations with several of my friends across the globe, specifically, Asia.

From Hong Kong, a friend told me that the demand there can be reflected by the fact that there are over 60,000 registrations for buying the iPhone, with today being the official launch day!

However, another friend's response, who's actually not an admirer of Apple, simply said that he doesn't even feel the slightest inclination to even check it out!

From Taipei, Taiwan, a good friend shared the thought that compared to the previous model, the 3G iPhone seems to be cheaper. However, people have been saying that the case is made of plastic and does not feel that good than the previous metal material.

Another friend is thinking of buying the iPhone HTC Diamond or 3G, as the iPhone will not be available in Taiwan till 3Q-08. However, this friend added that some Apple fans plan to buy it via bid Web sites.

A friend from the Philippines, who's now relocated to Hong Kong, sent me a list of URLs where there are long discussions about the Apple iPhone. The comment -- People are going nuts though… the demand is of 60,000 and only 500 units are available!

Yet another, who moved to Hong Kong from China, adds that iPhone 3G has been launched in Hong Kong bundled with 'expensive' mobile phone packages. Maybe, the fever is a bit lesser, for Apple fans.

Next, from Auckland, New Zealand, Romy Udanga, my friend and an ex-colleague from Global Sources, very kindly sent me a link titled: Who bought the World's first iPhone 3G! Apparently, that honor goes to 24-year old Jonny Gladwell, who, at exactly one minute past midnight, walked into the Vodafone store on Queen Street in Auckland and bought the world’s first iPhone 3G, after spending over 50 hours on the street!

Wow! Talk about building up some demand!! It's really good to see this global craze regarding a consumer electronics product! The buzz is surely back, for now!

IC shipments likely to grow 3.8pc in 2008

The latest wireless/DSP bulletin from Forward Concepts has highlighted an improved shipments of DSP and RISC chips for cell phones as well as DSP shipments for wireless infrastructure.

I had the privilege of interacting directly with Will Strauss, President & Principal Analyst, Forward Concepts, author of this particular bulletin.

On being quizzed about the improvement in shipments of DSP and RISC chips for cell phones, Strauss indicated that new cellular subscribers in China and India are continuing to grow, even as Europe and the US are reaching saturation.

"Since most people here have cell phones, the market is mostly driven by the replacement devices. In the US, handsets are also subsidized by the carriers under a subscription plan that ties the subscriber to a handset for two years," he says.

An interesting point in the wireless/DSP bulletin is the fact that although DSP shipments for wireless infrastructure were down 14 percent in May compared to April, it was still 30 percent higher than May of 2007. What are the reasons for this peculiar trend?

Citing that the reasons were not yet clear, Strauss adds that in infrastructure, more so than for cellphones, the quarterly shipments are all that really matter. Forward Concepts hopes to have better calibration when June shipments are reported at the end of July.

Going forward, how are DSPs likely to perform? Well, it is to be noted that DSP chips, as devices with that specific nomenclature, are now becoming a decreasing percentage of the DSP silicon market. That's because DSPs as cores are becoming just part of SoCs in everything multimedia, in VoIP, in cell phones, etc., adds Strauss.

Similarly, RISCs, like DSPs, are simply part of the SoCs, and often in lock step with DSP. That's because every cell phone chip has at least one DSP core and one RISC core inside.

Another point noticeable in the bulletin is that automotive, wired communications and storage (disk drive controllers) sectors have seen a slowdown.

On this, Strauss clarifies that the automotive market has seen a drastic slowdown because of high fuel prices. Telecom companies have been slow to invest in infrastructure as wireless is taking over their traditional wireline market.

As for the disk drive controllers, their prices are akin to those of DRAM memory, subject to big swings in selling prices, lowering revenue even when production is strong.

Mobile Internet devices or MIDs are devices people are looking forward to. It is hoped they would bring some cheer to the IC market. This remains to be seen as the MID market doesn't begin until late in Q3 2008.

Finally, the key question: what's the industry outlook likely to be for the rest of the year? Strauss says: "The semiconductor industry is also subject to world economic changes. The outlook is for minimal world economic growth in 2008, mostly because of high oil prices and the weak US dollar. We are forecasting only 3.8 percent revenue growth in worldwide IC shipments for 2008, down from its traditional annual growth rate of about 7 percent."

Collision course ahead?
On another note, the IC Insights reported that current spending plans by IC manufacturers worldwide will lower total semiconductor capital expenditures by 18 percent to $49.7 billion in 2008 from $60.3 billion in 2007, according to new data collected by IC Insights.

A growing number of large IC firms are now outsourcing more products to foundries. Also, major pure-play wafer foundries are aiming to increase their profitability by controlling capital spending. As such, IC Insights believes that the IC industry continues on a "collision course" with respect to supply, demand, and average selling prices or ASPs!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Memories of ITU Telecom Asia

My love affair with telecom began way back in the late 1980s, when C-DoT was just getting in prominence, and there were some talks about introducing mobile phones in the country. Telecom has come a long way since.

Not many large telecom shows were held at that time, and I certainly did not get a chance to attend a real 'telecom' show till I managed to participate at the ITU's Telecom Asia in Hong Kong, only in 2000. Since then, it's been fun attending the ITU Telecom shows, be it Hong Kong or Geneva. Of course, there was CommunicAsia in neighboring Singapore, but it was always my desire to be part of an ITU show.

This year's ITU Telecom Asia will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, a really great place to visit. Here's a picture with my colleagues from Global Sources -- Alfred Cheng, John Ng and Maggie Luo -- during ITU Telecom 2006, (on my birthday, actually) at Hong Kong's sprawling AsiaWorld Expo -- the last ITU Asia show that I had the privilege of attending that chilly December.

I will always remember my first ITU show simply for the WAP (wireless access protocol) phenomena. WAP was just coming into its own during those days, and had to take a lot of flak. There used to be headlines those days, reading, "WAP IS CRAP!" Well, how wrong this turned out to be!

It was also the first show, if I remember correctly, which highlighted mobile Internet for the first time. Satellite communications was still in vogue back in those days. Well, optical networking was also quite strong, with DWDM making the rounds. I remember interviewing Corning during the show!

The Hong Kong ITU show in 2000 was the first time I had a glimpse of Huawei and ZTE close-up, although I did visit the Huawei factory in the middle of 2000, and for the first time saw what 3G base stations looked like. In fact, W-CDMA was just starting to come up. NTT DoCoMo was the hotshot back in late 2000. Its FOMA (freedom of mobile 'multimedia' access) service was just starting to roll in. Of course, those were also the days of the i-mode phones and Takeshi Natsuno!

The Japanese have been the pioneers in mobile phones and mobile Internet, followed closely by Korea. I believe, the same year, DoCoMo had started trials with SK Telecom in Korea for W-CDMA, for the upcoming World Cup Soccer in Korea and Japan in 2002. Another delight at ITU Telecom Asia 2000 were the range of 3G phones on display, mostly by Japanese companies. Oh yes, broadband was the 'rage'.

The previous ITU Telecom Asia in 2006, which I attended in Hong Kong, was vastly different. Alcatel-Lucent had a huge booth! CBoss was gaining ground as a leading billing solutions provider. Not to speak of the exquisite range of mobile phones from Japanese, Korean and Chinese vendors.

Huawei and ZTE had become really huge by the end of 2006, and had started to play a significantly major role in global telecom.

It was my pleasure to discuss the latest DECT standard with Infineon during ITU Telecom Asia 2006, I believe, it was CAT-iq (Cordless Advanced Technology - Internet and Quality). There were several GPS devices as well as booths with mobile payment solutions.

Yes, telecom has come along a very long way! This year's theme -- "New Generation, New Values," aptly sets the theme for ITU Telecom Asia. Let's see what this edition has in store!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Can Apple lead rebound in NAND fortunes?

There is an interesting piece of news on Digitimes, Taiwan, which says that Samsung has recently told its downstream customers that it will start reducing supply of NAND flash chips from July as Apple, Samsung's key customer, has placed a large batch of orders.

Will this move do anything to the NAND flash market? In the earlier blog, I had highlighted what Future Horizon's Malcolm Penn had mentioned -- that the impact of the Apple iPhone has been minimal so far on the chip market. "It's just one item in a very large and complex mix of products. The overall iPhone volume is miniscule," he says. I would probably go with that statement.

Even Semico, in its recent report, has said that the NAND market has not experienced the 'Apple effect' as has been seen in previous years, so far in 2008, despite the upcoming 3G iPhone (with up to 16GB of storage) and the SSD option for the MacBook Air.

With a majority of the analyst community yet to give the green signal about an industry revival of sorts, everything depends largely on how the new iPhone will do! However, even if it does do well, it just may not be enough!

The consumer confidence is still quite low, and rising oil prices are not really helping. Will these factors have any effect on the consumer electronics segment in the long run? Too early to say though, and do bear in mind that one product or one brand can find it a tough ask to turn around, rather, lead the memory market, and the consumer electronics industry to huge growths.

All of us in the semiconductor/chip industry keep hoping that a strong rebound does happen, and that the industry remains on course of a strong growth in 2008. However, it is not right to pin faith on one product or one brand to lead a revival.

We are probably either to hung up about numbers or about technologies. Especially, whenever a new product or technology comes around, we start banking on that product or technology to revive the industry's fortunes. Great technologies do not essentially lead to market revivals. We have seen that happen umpteen number of times.

Perhaps, it'd be wiser to let the industry have a 'free fall' or 'free growth', if you may, for some time, and let corrections happen over time, rather than bank on something or the other to carry the industry's fortunes forward.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

iPhone's impact minimal on chip market

Future Horizons recently released its Global Semiconductor Monthly Report June 2008.

The first question on everyone's minds is: Are there finally any signs of the global semiconductor/chip industry turning around. Malcolm Penn, CEO, Future Horizons says that most of the evidence is still anecdotal. The real, clear proof will show itself in Q3-08.

There are a set of market fundamentals that are in remarkably strong form. The global economy still strong, and even showing signs of 'not getting worse' in the US. However, there is also tight fab capacity. No matter, the unit demand has been holding firm and ASPs are holding no longer in free fall.

Even the memory market has been holding up much better for now. Penn says that memory ASPs have been 'flat' for six months now. So, there has been some upward movement in ASPs. According to Penn, memories have been flat, and are no longer falling. The logic has been increasing, but micro is still falling, and the overall total ICs is trending up.

The impact of Apple's iPhone 3G has been minimal so far on the chip market. Penn says: "It's just one item in a very large and complex mix of products. The overall i-phone volume is miniscule," adds Penn.

With several advancements and announcements happening in the solar/PV segment, it may seem that the solar/PV market is taking over from where the chip market slipped. Penn says that although it certainly is a growth market for the equipment suppliers, but with still very small numbers, it cannot make up for the semicon equipment/capex slowdown.

Future Horizons had earlier forecasted 12 percent growth for the global semiconductor in 2008. With some other analysts revising forecasts, let us examine whether Future Horizons consider a revision as well.

Penn says: "If I were doing the forecast now, I'd have probably settled on 10 percent rather than 12 percent, but this is fine-tuning the maths, and not the analysis. We will not be changing our forecast at the July seminar.

"Our overall message is clear. The growth this year will NOT be 4-5 percent. I really do not care, if 10 percent rather than 12 percent is the final real number. We are not in the business of 'guessing the right number', rather, just getting the trends and analysis right."

Penny yet to drop
Finally, there is a need to take into account the falling cap ex, tight capacity, focus on profits, continuing strong market demand, second half seasonal effects, etc. The forecast tea leaves all seem to be pointing in the same positive direction. Has the worm finally turned for the industry? Future Horizons thinks so! It also believes that the penny has yet to drop and that the impact on the market will be dramatic.

Penn explains that low capex means less new capacity (12 months later). And less new capacity means tighter supply. Tighter supply means price increases and rationing.

In parallel, falling ASPs means less profits. Less profits means an unwillingness to invest. Low ASPs means a reluctance to supply. Eventually, either someone exits the business or they increase the price.

"Positive unit growth (it is, IC units are up 9.2 percent YTD on 2007) and a positive ASP growth (so far 2008 YTD the trend is still negative 3.9, but this will reduce in 2H at least to zero, my guess is slightly positive. It is already only half last year's decline) means strong value growth hence our belief growth will end up in the '10 percent' range," he adds.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Semicon is no longer business as usual!

The Global Semiconductor Monthly Report June 2008 from Future Horizons, states: Let the market beware; it is no longer business as usual!

I would completely agree! For instance, the industry has since long moved to fabless, and now, fabless firms are ranking among the very best. Or, even from 130nm to 22nm process nodes, or from 180mm fabs to 450mm fabs!! Fair enough?

Coming back to the industry trends, Malcom Penn, CEO, Future Horizons, says that compared with March, the IC units were up and ASPs were down in April, even after adjusting for March being a five-week month. The net result was a 7.7 percent revenue decline! Does this spell more bad news for the beleaguered chip market?

Certainly, this seems to be the industry consensus view. Always the contrarian, Future Horizons' views are different. Here's how! April's results came in exactly as expected. Also, the unit rise and fall was simply the result of the engrained 'making the quarterly number' mentality!

Digging beneath the layers reveals a set of market fundamentals that are in remarkably strong form. The penny may not yet have dropped to the table, but, even for the chip industry ever full of surprises, let the market beware; it is no longer business as usual.

Penn says: To paraphrase the late Sir Winston Churchill's comments on Russia, "The chip industry too is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma". It marches to its own complex interwoven pattern of rules, each relatively simple when viewed in isolation, but contriving to interact in a volatile and unique way. Right now, the industry is at its most confused [state] for a decade, battered by a barrage of uncertainties and contradictions. Shell-shocked and confused, confidence is off the agenda … just when what is needed most is cool heads and determination."

Be it falling cap ex, tight capacity, focus on profits, continuing strong market demand, second half seasonal effects, according to him, the forecast tea leaves all seem to be pointing in the same positive direction. Has the worm finally turned then for the industry? He thinks so! Future Horizons also thinks that the "penny has yet to drop and that the impact on the market will be seismic and dramatic".

Earlier, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) reported that worldwide sales of semiconductors of $21.8 billion in May were 7.5 percent higher than the $20.3 billion reported for May 2007, reflecting continued strong sales of consumer electronic products. May sales were 2.8 percent higher than the $21.2 billion reported for April 2008.

Do bear in mind that May is historically a strong month for semiconductor sales, as per SIA.

NAND strong minus Apple effect
DRAMeXchange has indicated in its monthly review on the DRAM segment that the NAND Flash prices are likely to gradually stabilize after mid-July pushing by lower price, new demand from 3G iPhone, smart phones and low-cost PCs.

Elsewhere, as reported by Semiconductor International, according to Semico, NAND unit shipments are likely to cross over 3.5 billion units in 2008 as against 2.5 billion units in 2007, leading to a year-over-year growth of 35 percent.

However, reflecting the memory segment's ASP (average selling price) crunch, NAND revenues will grow 13 percent in 2008, down compared to 25 percent in 2007." Semico has said that the NAND industry will record a growth year in 2008, without experiencing what it has called the 'Apple effect'.

Heartening solar initiatives
The one heartening thing to note has been the various solar related initiatives that have taken place over the past month (actually, for over the year!). In fact, iSuppli has probably been spot on while analyzing that investments in solar and semiconductors could be on par by 2010!

SVTC Technologies, an independent semiconductor process-development foundry, announced that its SVTC Solar business unit has launched the Silicon Valley Photovoltaic Development Center in San Jose. Canadian Solar and LDK Solar signing a new agreement for an additional 800MW of solar wafers, besides LDK updating on its polysilicon plant in China.

National Semiconductors also entered the PV market with its SolarMagic technology that maximizes solar energy production. Evergreen Solar, a maker of solar power panels with its proprietary, low-cost String Ribbon wafer technology, signed two new long-term sales contracts. Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Co. Ltd and IBM are also collaborating to establish new, low-cost methods for developing the next generation of solar energy products.

Not be left behind, Intel too is spinning off key assets of a start-up business effort inside Intel's New Business Initiatives group to form an independent firm called SpectraWatt.

In India, solar has been making rapid strides, especially at the Fab City in Hyderabad. There is a possibility of something similar happening in Karnataka state as well.

Indeed, semiconductors are no longer business as usual! Right?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tackling low-power design issues -- Synopsys

Managing power efficiently is not a choice, but an imperative. Semiconductor content is increasing everywhere, and in fact, consumers and globalization are driving the semiconductor content in electronic systems.

A glance at the ecosystem pyramid reveals that the global electronics industry stands at US$3,200 billion, semiconductors at US$274 billion, equipment and materials at US$86 billion, and EDA at US$4.4 billion. EDA is at the heart of the electronics industry.

Subhash Bal, country director, Synopsys (India) EDA Software Pvt. Ltd, says that for low power imperatives, it is important to look at systemic factors. Energy usage and carbon emissions, especially, have been growing alarmingly, and will continue to do so for quite some time. This is largely due to uncontrolled consumption of devices and other electronic equipment. "We need to support energy usage without carbon emissions. In that respect, solar is a good solution," he adds.

Computing is energy intensive by nature. Consider these stats -- approximately 1 billion of the world's PCs are switched on for nine hours per day, requiring 95,000MW. And of the US$250 billion spent globally each year powering computers, about 85 percent of that energy is wasted, while the computer stands idle.

Today, more devices and gadgets are being introduced, with more features and at lower prices. All of these devices demand a huge amount of battery power. Speed increases at the expense of energy consumption. Leakage has also become a major issue. There is therefore a growing need to solve power-related problems.

The Synopsys Sentaurus
Synopsys' Sentaurus optimizes a device's power. It also addresses photovoltaics. The Sentaurus process is an advanced 1D, 2D, and 3D process simulator for developing and optimizing silicon and compound semiconductor process technologies.

Created by combining features from Synopsys and former ISE TCAD products, together with a wide range of new features and capabilities, Sentaurus is a new-generation process simulator for addressing the challenges found in current and future process technologies. "The Sentaurus takes care of the processing part. It does modeling, 2D/3D simulation, etc. It can be applied to both semiconductors and solar," says Bal.

Eclypse low-power solution
Synopsys' goal is to deliver the most comprehensive solution, enabling designers to build the most advanced, low power chips and systems in the world. In the hope of achieving this, it has introduced the Eclypse low-power solution. Sharat D Kaul, sales and marketing manager, Synopsys India, highlights the fact that the Eclypse looks at the design side specifically.

The silicon-level concerns include factors such as more functionality, more computing power, limited power budget, design complexity, verification complexity, testing, reliability and schedule. System-level concerns include factors such as battery life, system cooling, reliability, packaging cost, operating cost, air conditioning cost, carbon footprint and green initiatives. Most design teams are both overwhelmed and under prepared.

The Eclypse low power solution is aimed at addressing such needs. It provides an alignment of technology, IP, methodology, services and industry standards -- geared to meet the challenges of advanced low power designs.

Eclypse supports the industry-standard Unified Power Format (UPF) language, used to capture low power design requirements. It offers low power education programs, end-to-end UPF support, multi-voltage verification with assertions, automated clock tree synthesis, and automated power switch optimization.