Thursday, November 27, 2008

Saluting Mumbaikars and Indians -- we rock, despite cowardly, terrorist acts

Fellow Indians, it is really tragic to see the unfortunate events happening in Mumbai live on TV. Very thankfully, all of those that I know are safe and sound in the city. Salute to all of those brave Indians who laid down their lives in the line of fire, and to those innocents who lost their lives in this cowardly act.

India and Mumbai will not be overwhelmed by these events! We are a proud, strong and resilient bunch of people.

There are forums on the Web, such as Facebook -- 'Mumbai Meri Jaan' and on eCademy, there's a forum where emails have been literally pouring in. Am sure, there are several fellow bloggers posting live stuff on the happenings in Mumbai.

The terrorist act was meant to destabilize the Indian financial system, if you may, or even the hospitality and travel industries, and the IT/hi-tech industries. Yes, those carrying out these acts may have succeeded in the very near short-term.

Yes, the situation is much better than before. However, the gun battles rage, and it is soon going to be a full 24 hours since the terror attacks started -- actually, in another 25 mins from now.

All Indians and Mumbaikars stand united. We will not allow such acts to overwhelm us. There are critical hostage situations that still need to be dealt with first. The presence of security personnel has been very comforting.

I was very pleasantly delighted to receive an invitation today from the India Semiconductor Association (ISA) for its forthcoming Vision Summit in early 2009. The theme of this summit is aptly titled "India: Gateway to Future Markets."

Yes, indeed! There is the famous Gateway of India in Mumbai, right in front of the Taj Hotel. That's where most visitors go -- to soak in the breathtaking view. It is literally the gateway to India's financial capital, which is Mumbai

The ISA Vision Summit is also the gateway to future markets in India! There are so many of those Indian product design companies, who are ruling the roost globally! Not to forget, the very strong Indian line-up within the Indian semiconductor and embedded design industry. Solar/photovoltaic is also coming up in a big way, and there will be lot of interest in the potential of renewable energy in India.

Get the message?

You can also see many articles from captains of the Indian industry pointing out how this attack will only have a very short-term impact on India. There may be small breaks in activities with minimal effect, but it will not stop India Inc. from marching forward, despite these cowardly, terrorist attacks.

India is strong and rocking! And beautiful!! Proud to be an Indian!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

2009 will not be 2001 repeat for global chip industry

The fact that the ongoing economic gloom has brought some doom for the global chip market is well known. H1-2008 held up well, better than most had predicted. However, now, the economic gloom in the global financial system has managed to nick the US, and Europe, and lately, Japan, into recessionary conditions, taking the global chip industry along with it!

Some fear that the recession will be as bad as 2001 and that 2009 could re-enact 2001! However, Future Horizons' Malcolm Penn differs, and I'd agree with him. In 2001, there was this huge dotcom collapse, coupled with the unfortunate happenings of 9/11, and a 'massive inventory burn just as a huge amount of excess capacity was coming on stream.'

What's the situation now? There's no serious overcapacity, and the pre-slowdown utilization rate were in the 90 percent region. Capex was already in retrenchment, well before the slowdown. Nor are there any serious excess inventory in the supply chain.

So, that only leaves the problem of the global financial gloom. Lot of money is being thrown about at the problem, hoping that it would pull the world out of the mess it currently finds itself in.

But, can the industry afford to NOT innovate? This is the time to innovate and find new ways to come out of the hole it finds itself in. The industry must also reconcile to single-digit growths mostly, from now on, I guess.

There has been no new 'killer device of mass use' like the mobile phone. Simply, no one has been able to come up with any new device of such mass appeal! The mobile phone, as we knew it, was only meant for voice. Now, it ports a camera, an MP3 player, Internet browsing, email, etc. It gave birth to PDAs, and probably, now, mobile Internet devices (MIDs).

It amuses me a lot when I find companies talking about providing full Internet experience on the mobile phone. It amuses me even further when I find a lot of people and companies talking about how they expect people to be on the Internet all the time! Surely, there are other things to do in one's life than simply staying hooked to the Internet! Or maybe, they have a crystal ball to gaze in, all the time!

The industry needs to be careful about all the predictions and technologies. Not all will succeed. What they should try their hand at is at being innovative! Or, has innovation completely gone out of the window?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Freescale to leverage on embedded processing leadership: Rich Beyer

During the recent Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) 2008 India, in Bangalore, Rich Beyer, CEO, Freescale indicated that the company will continue to leverage its leadership in embedded processing in the high-growth industrial, consumer, networking and automotive markets.

He said: "We are the number one supplier of automotive semiconductors, and this has been built on a leadership position in automotive microcontrollers and with technology leadership in telematics, sensors, analog and power management for safety and infotainment. We are the leader in communications processors for networking, and we are number one in RF power amplifiers for wireless infrastructure. We will extend this leadership to address the growing demand for broadband and Internet access, both wired and wireless.

"We also offer technology leadership in our i.MX multimedia processors, sensors, analog and power management for embedded solutions used in personal mobile internet devices, personal navigation, gaming and other consumer applications." Beyer's vision is that Freescale will help redefine best-in-class customer support.

Beyer touched upon the three three major trends impacting the world, the markets, and its customers. These are The Net Effect: this is the emergence of user-created content and the insatiable demand for bandwidth to fuel the multimedia experience. Health and Safety: the need for improved healthcare monitoring and the opportunity for electronics to keep us out of harm's way. And, Going Green: the need for energy.

The Net Effect
According to Beyer, Freescale is the only semiconductor company to publicly demonstrate working LTE technology in both handset and network platforms. We expect to be in field trials with cellular infrastructure providers in early 2009, and field deployment shortly thereafter in selected markets.

Freescale's QorIQ (Core-IQ) multicore platform will address the new era in networking. The QorIQ communications platform brings to market multicore technology that takes system performance, power efficiency and programmability to a new level. "As we enter this new era of networking, we will continue to leverage our long heritage in embedded processing," he added. "We are leveraging many of our existing as well as new innovations in our QorIQ communications platforms."

He also touched upon the acquisition of Intoto, a leading provider of software platform products for multicore networking and communications applications. According to Beyer, "Multicore implementation is not just about great hardware, it has to focus on the software and the developer's experience."

Health and Safety
Beyer talked about the need to find new solutions, and that those solutions will be based on semiconductor technology, as the current methods of housing and caring for the senior members of our society will not scale.

With over 2 billion cell phones in use worldwide, the estimated market for wireless remote monitoring systems to help care for the sick is projected to increase to a $345 billion market by 2010. "The proliferation of personal medical devices connecting patient and doctor will redefine the way we conduct regular check-ups, help detect diseases early, dramatically decrease complications, and simplify care," he added.

He also highlighted the Monebo and Freescale partnership to deliver an ECG-on-a-Chip platforms for OEMs to integrate into a variety of other implementations.

Freescale envision applications in the medical market like hospital bedside monitors, telemedicine and portable ambulatory monitors. It also sees possibilities on the consumer side with products for fitness and personal health.

Going Green
"Perhaps, the most significant challenge facing the engineering community is the need to increase energy efficiency in everything we create," said Beyer. He touched upon emerging standards like Wireless Highway Addressable Remote Transducer, or WirelessHART, which are helping deliver affordable and efficient industrial-strength wireless networking solutions.

According to him, major industrial automation vendors believe that wireless sensors will make up 60 percent of the instrumentation in a future green field plant and in existing plants; many believe that wireless technology will result in a 30-40 percent increase in instrumentation.

Beyer touched upom how Freescale drove the effort to form the Wireless Industrial Technology Konsortium, or WiTECK, and its first project is to develop a fully certified WirelessHART stack by December of this year.

Given the rising demand for more fuel efficient vehicles, in the mid-term, Freescale believes that the more likely candidate is the plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle.

Beyer also touched upon smart meters. He said: "One of our North American customers, Trilliant a leading provider of advanced metering network solutions uses our 802.15.4 solution in their smart meters to help deliver demand response and grid management programs to more than 100 utility companies. Major utility companies across Europe are also planning to deploy smart meter networks in the coming years. Italy has already deployed 25 million connected meters, and France and Spain are running pilot projects for the planned deployment of their automated meter network in 2011."

Solar lanterns in India
Turning towards India, Beyer mentioned that 26 million Indian households are without an electrical connection, and that the Indian government provides a subsidy on kerosene oil for lamps to help provide lighting for these homes.

With the rising price of oil and the carbon emissions associated with burning kerosene, the Prime Minister's Energy Coordination Committee is considering a proposal to shift part of this subsidy to fund solar lanterns in India's rural areas. If implemented on a large scale, replacing at least one kerosene lantern with a solar-powered LED lantern in each of these homes could eliminate 1.9 million metric tones of carbon dioxide per year.

In this context, Beyer highlighted Freescale's work with InnovLite, a Bangalore-based provider of new generation lighting technology, to help create clean and energy-efficient lighting solutions.

AMD's roadmap 2009 provides lots of answers... now, to deliver!

AMD's roadmap 2009, or guidance, presented during its 2008 Financial Analyst Day on Nov. 13th, provided a lot of answers to several of the questions it had been facing. Also, AMD did something Intel hasn't! It did not revise the Q4 guidance!! During a webcast, AMD CFO, Bob Rivet, said he would offer an update to the company’s earnings outlook in the first week of December. Also, one of AMD's announcements, the Yukon, is definitely not going to take on Intel's Atom, and should be priced higher.

Kicking of proceedings, Dirk Meyer, President and CEO, talked about a complete AMD & Foundry Company realignment, which includes executing key technology transitions. These include: deliver 2nd wave of 45nm products and platforms -- including chipsets; transition to 40nm graphics products; finalize 32nm designs for 2010 production. Also, deliver, market and sell platforms; and continue operational excellence.

Later, during the Q&A session, when asked about the validity of AMD's cross-license for patents with Intel, Meyer said there was no legal issue. AMD's agreement with Intel allows AMD subsidiaries to be licensed. The Foundry Company, 43.5 percent owned by AMD, qualifies as a subsidiary, as defined, as per the agreement with Intel.

Asset Smart strategy
According to Rivet, who spoke last during the Webcast, it has been a tough operating environment. However, AMD launched Asset Smart; achieved operating profitability in Q3-08 and is now making progress toward $1.5B operating income breakeven by early ‘09. It also has a richer MPU product mix and the first 45nm product has been launched. Graphics has returned to operating profitability. AMD has already divested its DTV business and plans to sell handheld.

Asset Smart manufacturing strategy
* Strategic commitment from Mubadala
* The Foundry Company plans multi-billion dollar build-out of leading edge fabs in Dresden and Upstate New York
* Expanded IBM partnership delivering leading-edge bulk and SOI process technology

Stronger financial structure
* ~$1B new cash investment
* ~$1.2B debt assumed by The Foundry Company
* Future fab capital expenditures optional
* Reduced process technology R&D costs
* Improved free cash flow by elimination of required fabrication capital expenditures offset somewhat by wafers purchased for cash (foundry model)
* Leaner and more variable business model, with a lower breakeven point of ~$1.5B

The Foundry Company
Doug Grose, Senior VP, Manufacturing & Supply Chain Management and Incoming CEO, The Foundry Company, highlighted AMD's 2009 manufacturing priorities. These are: transition to best-in-class foundry model; complete conversion to 45nm production; and successful 32nm technology development.

This October 7, AMD and the Advanced Technology Investment Co. announced their intention to create a new global enterprise, The Foundry Company, to address the growing global demand for independent, leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing. This announcement was the lynchpin of AMD’s Asset Smart plan, and a key initiative designed to enable the company to achieve sustainable profitability.

At the 2008 AMD Financial Analyst Day event, AMD provided more details on what its manufacturing operations will look like once the spin-out of The Foundry Company is complete.
* For the Silicon on Insulator (SOI) and bulk manufacturing processes needed to build AMD CPUs and APUs, The Foundry Company plans to offer AMD 65nm, 45nm and 32nm manufacturing capabilities at:
- Fab 36 (Dresden)
- Fab 38 (Dresden)
- Fab 4x (Saratoga County, NY)
* For the bulk manufacturing processes AMD uses to manufacture its chipsets and GPUs, AMD plans to have access to 55nm, 40nm and 32nm manufacturing capabilities at:
- TSMC/UMC (Taiwan)
- Fab 38 (Dresden)
- Fab 4x (Saratoga County, NY)
* The Foundry Company also provided an update on its progress towards moving to a new 32nm manufacturing process for bulk and SOI production. The company confirmed that it will complete 32nm test chips in Dresden by the end of year, and is on schedule to successfully incorporate High-k Metal Gate within this process node. 32nm technology development will ramp in late 2009 in preparation for 1H 2010 volume production.

Platforms for ultraportable notebooks and mini-notebooks
There has been lot of interest in ultraportable notebooks and mini-notebooks, owing to their small form factor and lightweight profile. AMD also announced new platforms aimed at serving these markets.
* AMD introduced two ultraportable notebook platforms -- Congo and Yukon. Congo is based on the dual-core Conesus CPU with the RS780M and SB710 chipset. Yukon is based on a single-core CPU with the RS690E and SB600 chipset. While targeted at the ultra-portable market, these platforms are designed to address a portion of mini-notebook market, especially at the dissatisfied users of limited Internet experience of mini-notebooks. Yukon is planned to be available in 1H09 followed by Congo in 2H09.
* AMD announced the 2010 ultraportable notebook platform code named Nile. It will feature dual-core Geneva CPU utilizing DDR3.
* In 2011, AMD plans to introduce the dual-core Ontario APU for ultraportable and mini-notebook platforms.

Server platforms
* Fiorano, the first AMD platform to combine AMD server processors and chipsets. It is on schedule for mid-2009 introduction based on planned release of the AMD SR5690 chipset. Fiorano will likely support Shanghai and the upcoming six-core Istanbul processor in 2H09.
* AMD's next-generation, DDR3-based server platform, Maranello, remains on track for introduction in 1H10.

Desktop platforms
* Dragon is set to launch in Q1 2009 and feature AMD's upcoming 45nm AMD Phenom II X4 quad-core processors, codenamed Deneb.
* Kodiak is scheduled to enhance AMD Business Class platforms in 2H09.
* Pisces mainstream desktop platform will debut in 2H09.
* Maui is its new home theater platform planned for launch in Q408.

There you have it! Everyone wants the global semiconductor industry to be humming and chirping! It would be great if AMD delivers on its promise and hopefully, becomes profitable all over again as well.

For those keen, PDF files of all of AMD's presentations can be downloaded from its web site.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The 'Bangalore' in Shanghai! But AMD still has lots of questions to answer!!

Welcome Shanghai, AMD's latest 45nm quad-core Opteron processor! It was launched with great fanfare in Bangalore today. However, lots of other questions remain unanswered. It is hoped that some answers will come out of AMD's 2008 Financial Analyst Day, which starts later today, in the US. More of those questions later!

First, the chip maker focused on three key points: virtualization performance; delivering up to 35 percent more performance and up to 35 percent decrease in power consumption at idle; and up to 21 percent CPU power savings.

Shanghai is packed with a lot of virtualization features, evidently aimed at the enterprise segment. It allows faster switching between virtual machines. Among other features, Shanghai allows live migration, which was also demonstrated at the launch,
and the cache has been doubled to 8MB. As per the AMD spokespersons, the Shanghai platform already boasts of over 25 ready platforms and more platforms will be announced by its customers in the coming months. It is said that with the Shanghai, AMD is well positioned in the 2P market.

The 45nm quad-core AMD Opteron processors build on AMD's legacy as the virtualization platform of choice, with the new processor already powering nine global OEM servers specifically designed for virtualization. The processors deliver faster 'world switch' time, which enhances virtual machine efficiency, and feature improved Rapid Virtualization Indexing, AMD's innovation in AMD-V that reduces the overhead associated with software virtualization.

On the energy efficiency side, AMD's Smart Fetch technology reduces power consumption by allowing cores to enter a 'halt' state during processing idle times with zero impact on application performance and compliments AMD's CoolCore technology, which reduces power on unused sections of each processor to further reduce power consumption. Shanghai supports DDR2, and not DDR3, for now!

The 'Bangalore' in 'Shanghai'
You can see Karthik Muttuswamy, Silicon Design Head, AMD India, Bangalore, along with others, holding the wafer in the picture above. Karthik's team was involved in all aspects of Shanghai, from architecture to tapeout. Shanghai was developed across Centers of Excellence in the United States and India. The US/India teams delivered key sections of the chip. AMD India's Bangalore team put them all together to create the complete design.

It is a matter of really great pride that India is playing a decisive role in driving the roadmap for the next generation processors and has contributed tremendously to the latest 45nm server processors, he said.

Lots of unanswered questions for AMD!
Well, AMD surely has managed to bring Shanghai faster to the market than expected. It is said to be the only X86 MPU spanning the 2P, 4P and 8P server segment. So far so good! There are lots of questions that AMD has to answer! (Oh, I did ask three of these questions!)

Now, where is that Atom killer? Where is AMD's strategy in the netbooks and mobile Internet devices spaces (MIDs)? Don't tell those aren't important for them, with rival Intel going for broke in that segment! Where is AMD's strategy, then, for OEMs to push its technologies into much smaller form factors?

What about Abu Dhabi-based Advanced Technology Investment Co. and The Foundry Company? How will this deal proceed given AMD's cross-licensing agreement with Intel? Or, how will the foundry compete against the likes of TSMCs of this world? Will the Shanghai bring about a brilliant or much better Q4 for AMD? What's the projection like? And well, how will the Shanghai strengthen AMD's position in the MPU segment? How will AMD fare in the global semiconductor industry next year?

I also thought that AMD would probably touch upon embedded computing, but well, nothing of that sort, as this was a Shanghai launch. Maybe, that'll come later!

It is hoped that a lot of answers to these questions, and much more, will come out at the Financial Analyst Day later today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Embedded computing -- 15mn devices not so far away!

It has been close to three weeks since the Intel IDF @ Taipei, Taiwan. However, way too many things happened there, which still deserve a mention. One such event would be the keynote on embedded Internet by Doug Davis, Intel's Vice President, Digital Enterprise Group and General Manager, Embedded and Communications Group.

Today, there are 5 billion connected devices, and this number should likely go up to 15 billion by 2015, as per IDC. However, technology barriers need to be overcome. Davis cited these challenges as reliability and long life, software scalability, low power and low cost, privacy and data security, IPv4 addressing and open standards. As of now, the Intel architecture (IA) is said to be (due to lack of any good competition) the preferred architecture for the embedded Internet.

While on embedded products, post the Intel Atom processor, Davis said that the Menlow XL is likely for a Q1-09 introduction. The associated market segments include retail, PoS, digital signage, kiosks, vending, ATM, etc.

On digital PoS for retail markets, Davis highlighted India, and rightly so, adding that digital retail PoS would find applications, given the growing and quite affluent Indian middle class. Such a digital PoS device could improve inventory management and transaction security, allow more efficient space utilization, etc. Yet another application is digital signage for business intelligence [as informative displays].

Davis showed all of us MediaCart's example. MediaCart is providing a unique shopping experience. It is trying to revolutionize the shopping experience with a computerized shopping cart that assists shoppers, delivers targeted communications at the point of purchase, and streamlines store operations. Incidentally, Singapore's Venture GES was contracted by MediaCart to develop the new shopping experience cart.

Pervasive embedded computing
Davis believes that embedded computing would become more pervasive in the days ahead. "The Intel architecture has all of the unparalleled scalability to meet these needs," he added.

Davis estimated that China could go on to become the world's largest semiconductor market over the next five years or so. Semiconductor TAM for industrial automation is likely to grow from $13.5 billion in 2008 to $17.5 billion in 2012. India is said to be the second largest destination for industrial automation, which is interesting, and something to look forward to.

Digital factory
We have all had some visions, sometimes of how a digital factory would look like? And, who would be working at such a factory. Possibly, robots, or industrial robots would make up the attendance!

Well, if KUKA, a company that builds the world's leading robotic and automation devices is to be believed, we are a little closer than before to this vision or dream. Bruno Geiger, managing director, Asia Pacific, KUKA, pointed out in his chat with Davis that the company makes robotic and automation devices based on Intel's platorms. That, 'takes us closer to the vision of a digital factory!' This is a great example of multi-core in industrial automation.

Portal for embedded designers
Getting back to the embedded Internet, Davis said that the greatest challenge for customers is to integrate new technologies. To address this need, Intel is investing in a new Web portal for embedded designers. He announced that the Intel Architecture Embedded Design Center, a Web portal for embedded designers, will likely get launched in the spring of 2009. This is indeed something to look forward to!

Asia has all the trappings to become the largest market for embedded computing, and Taiwan, the largest market for automation. Well, don't count India out! Embedded systems and software is India's strength, and don't be surprised to see and hear about lots of such activities from the country.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Semicon job cuts galore, but at what cost?

The world is plagued with so many job cuts all over again, thanks to the global financial crisis! Those laid off must be getting fed up! Those who are so far lucky to survive, will be spending anxious days. Everytime we have a recession, the first thing companies do is cut jobs on the pretext of cost cutting! The semiconductor industry is also going through such an exercise at the moment!

There have been reports in the media that EDA major, Cadence, will be cutting 625 jobs! Cadence plans to achieve an annual operating expense savings of at least $150 million through a combination of workforce and other expense reductions!

AMD also announced that it will cut 500 jobs worldwide! If that's not enough, ST-NXP Wireless, to rationalize its product portfolio and development efforts, announced a plan to reduce its global workforce by about 500, including subcontractors, from the current total of over 7500 people.

Oh my!! I wonder who all are getting laid off! I hope only very few good chip designers as possible are laid off. Otherwise, how are these companies going to maintain their momentum in the global semiconductor industry if they lay off several designers?

One question! Why do companies need to hire so many people, only to dump them at the first sign of recession? And, at what cost? Is it going to make the companies nimbler, really improve profitability, improve their market standing, etc.? I wonder!

And what of the global semiconductor industry itself? What about the so-called consolidations? Besides cost cutting, what are the industry pundits really doing to try and revive semiconductors?

We do hear a lot about poor memory market, lower capex on fabs, but well, didn't they all see it coming?

iSuppli reported recently that mainly due to oversupply, a number of semiconductor companies have been struggling with their average selling prices (ASPs) so low that they were not profitable even before the current economic turmoil!

Further, companies may even face problems in getting credit or worse, finding investors for a next upgrade or expansion. And how do companies basically deal with problems? By cutting costs, such as laying off personnel or merging with other company which creates redundancy, leading to the same result.

Every single person laid off is a consumer, besides being the company's valuable asset, right? If he or she wasn't valuable enough, then why was the hiring done in the first place? Also, if he or she gets laid off, won't that effect the economy? If yes, won't that translate into the global economy taking a longer time to recover? Job cuts are fine, but at what cost? Is the industry thinking about all of these?

We all talk about how companies should try and must try to bring the cheer back in Christmas spending! As a friend remarked yesterday in jest -- "Which Christmas? This year, or next?"

Will job cuts bring the cheer back, especially in the Christmas spends? If no, then how is it helping the semicon and electronics (and all other) industries? Can you tell me?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Solar/PV is just right for India

There have been significant investments in the solar/photovoltaic space in India in the recent past, and that does not look like ending any time soon.

Given the ongoing global financial crisis, and the state of the global semiconductor industry, it appears that India has bet quite successfully on the solar/PV segment. In fact, it seems that solar/PV is just right for India! In fact, it may just kick off the kind manufacturing activity India really needs.

Poornima Shenoy, president, India Semiconductor Association (ISA), says that solar/PV is right for India for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, India has among the highest solar irradiance, globally. Secondly, it is established as a low-cost producer and assembler of solar PV cells and modules. And thirdly, India has among the best quality reserves of silica in the states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

She adds: "At present, solar PV may not seem to be an attractive option, primarily due to high generation costs. However, in the coming years, with increases in fossil fuel prices, rising environmental concerns, and a reduction in the cost of solar PV technology, it is likely to become a major source of energy."

The ISA expects 2015 to be an important year for the solar/PV industry. Around this time, the product cost of the Indian solar PV industry is likely to match the semi grid parity (peak power) globally, and also to match the grid parity within India.

The four major segments offering maximum potential in the coming years for solar PV in India are: rural electrification -- decentralized distributed generation (DDG); grid interactive solar PV power plants; backup power for telecom (base transceiver stations); and roof-based solar PV systems.

ISA-NMCC report on solar/PV
The ISA recently released a report on the solar PV market in New Delhi with NMCC (National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council).

According to the ISA-NMCC study, of the US$71 billion invested in new, renewable energy capacity globally in 2007, 30 percent of was in solar PV. Solar PV is the fastest growing area in the energy sector, with a CAGR of 47 percent over the last five years. The grid-connected solar PV segment saw 50 percent growth in 2007.

As per the report, the solar PV industry is likely to grow four-fold by 2011. However, there are various uncertainties in the short- to medium-term on both the supply and the demand side.

On the supply side, the main constraint is the lack of available polysilicon. The demand side is limited by the quantum of incentives for solar PV.

Gradually, there will likely be improvements in technology. The decreasing cost of manufacturing could drive the preferential tariffs lower, and ongoing demand for PV products could also attract significant investment.

As for the global solar PV supply chain. Thin-film production is one of the fastest growing segments in solar. The lack of available polysilicon is limiting growth, and this has led to the emergence of thin-film technology. This technology has enjoyed substantial growth since 2005: 80 percent in 2006 and over 100 percent in 2007.

Monday, November 3, 2008

FPGAs have adopted Moore's Law more closely!

How true! Field programmable gate arrays or FPGAs have become faster, denser and more complex over the years!

Speaking at the recently held Altera SOPC conference, S. Janakiraman, President and CEO-R&D Services, MindTree, and former chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA), said these had found acceptance in a wide range of market segments. "FPGAs are everywhere, be it telecom or industrial or medical," he added.

Once relegated to simple glue logic design, FPGAs are challenging SoCs today. The million-gate FPGAs are, in fact, quite common. What's more, ASSP like features, for example, PCI Express, USB, etc., have also found their way into FPGAs.

FPGAs have adopted Moore's Law more closely than any other device technology! They even 'help' in 'ratifying' new process nodes.

Janakiraman said: "With the ever increasing costs of designs and declining ASIC starts, FPGAs offer a considerably less riskier approach, development costs, tools and testing – even at latest technology nodes."

So what would be the factors driving change? These are multiple, and actually split into cost, performance, time-to-market and also field-upgradeable hardware.

From the cost aspect, functions in a system with standard ICs are performed by dedicated discrete components on a PCB. The FPGA route can reduce routing congestion and lower costs by enabling the use of smaller boards with less layers and lower component count.

Next comes performance, and a key factor in accelerating performance is parallel implementation. Here too the FPGA can be easily programmed to handle the same sequential instruction set by leveraging multiple micro-CPUs, connected by very wide internal buses.

Time-to-market has obviously become critical with the consumerization of electronics. As a result, the FPGAs are increasingly entering this segment because of the obvious advantages of early product introductions.

As for the field upgradeable hardware, Janakiraman elucidated an example: configuring video capture card for Europe (PAL), NA (NTSC), JAPAN (SECAM), need one hardware configuration with an FPGA on it. Depending on the location end-user downloads country specific driver that configures FPGA accordingly.

Jani Sir, as he is affectionately known, delivered the keynote at the Altera SOPC, which really touched upon how a fabless India was shining.

I also managed to catch up with Jordan Plofsky Senior Vice President Market, Altera. All I can add here as a sneak peek is: uncertainty favors FPGA's usage! Let's see how true -- in my next blog!