India goes deep into semicon market

Country has potential to excel in integrated circuits fabrication, but must produce more engineers specialized in embedded systems, say industry experts.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

BENGALURU, India--The country has capabilities to be a leader in the realm of embedded systems, but it must first build the facilities and ecosystem needed to support this market, say industry experts.

"India is clearly moving toward systems level development of embedded software, as against working on simple components," Robert Oshana, engineering manager at American semiconductor manufacturer Freescale Semiconductor, said in an interview Wednesday, on the sidelines of the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) held here.

"From the reputation of being an outsourcing hub for embedded software, India is fast moving into innovation," Oshana said. Held over four days, the ESC featured 50 keynote presentations and tutorials conducted by some of the world's major embedded systems providers of various embedded applications.

The Indian Semiconductor Associate (ISA) and Frost & Sullivan have projected that the local semiconductor and embedded design industry will grow from US$3.25 billion in 2005 to US$14.42 billion in 2010, and US$43.07 billion in 2015.

According to research house Gartner, the overall Asia-Pacific semiconductor market will generate revenues worth US$160 billion in 2008, expanding to US$203 billion by 2012.

One of the things that India might be good at is exploiting the use of IC fabrication to generate extremely low-cost RFID components.
Jack Ganssle, The Ganssle Group

"The semiconductor industry has always been driven by volumes," Jack Ganssle, an embedded systems expert and chief engineer with The Ganssle Group, told ZDNet Asia in an interview.

According to Ganssle, countries such as India and China have played a significant role in reducing the cost of embedded systems, such as those used in mobile phones.

"In future, one of the things that India might be good at is exploiting the use of IC (integrated circuits) fabrication to generate extremely low-cost RFID (radio frequency identification) components," he said.

Michael Barr, president of Netrino, said in an interview: "As opposed to IT, software developed for embedded systems is more specialized... India needs more engineers in the field of embedded systems.

"Indian universities are failing to provide that," Barr added. Netrino specializes in the design and implementation of custom microprocessor-based electronics and related software for various vertical industries.

Concurred Oshana: "India needs more hands-on laboratories and co-op universities for the growth of this industry."

According to Richard Wallace, global editorial director of Techinsights, growth in the Indian embedded systems industry is triggered by not just exports, but also by the domestic market. A division of United Business Media, Techinsights is show organizer for the ESC, the second held in India.

"As the Indian population gets more prosperous, they are buying more mobile phones, more high definition television sets and other consumer electronics, and soon, cars like Tata Nano--all of which run on sophisticated embedded software," Wallace told ZDNet Asia.

Indian design houses are moving beyond simple labor-cost arbitrage and becoming significant contributors to product innovation. Many multinationals have already invested in new design operations or expanded their existing facilities in India, and homegrown companies are also a mark in this field.

According to Wallace, India is currently witnessing a second wave of growth in this industry. "Homegrown companies like Tejas Networks and Mistral Solutions, are doing some high-end designing in this field," he said.

Oshama said: "Technologies that were earlier only seen in supercomputers are now being loaded into modern-day gadgets in the form of sophisticated applications."

Focus on embedded
Thus far, India has concentrated primarily on IT and IT-enabled services.

"It's all a matter of focus," Oshana said. "If India focuses more on embedded systems, there is nothing that can stop India from becoming a leader in this field."

For example, the state of Karnataka is working on a policy--to be released in a few weeks--to facilitate higher growth in the Indian semiconductor industry.

Speaking at the ESC, Ashok Kumar Manoli, principal secretary of IT, biotechnology and science and technology with the Karnataka government, said the state aims to create the ecosystem necessary to kickstart growth across all components of the semiconductor business, including manufacturing.

"India does not have companies that manufacture semiconductors. Traditionally, chip-making has been dominated by China," Manoli said.

"We are working on a very progressive semiconductor policy," he explained. "Karnataka will make provisions to encourage global players to set up a base here for work in areas, such as embedded systems and solar energy."

The policy also contains specific elements to encourage the industry to expand beyond the state's capital, Bengaluru, to second- and third-tier cities, he added. Karnataka is also putting together a policy for rural information technology, Manoli said.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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