26th December 2007

SoC yield management – an emerging issue that could reshape the industry?

Read this interesting commentary by EDN’s Ron Wilson on Verigy’s acquisition of Inovys. While relating the ATE vendor’s acquisition as more towards acquiring Inovys’ failure localizing software, Ron has brought about an interesting emerging industry aspect

With “Time to entitled yield” becoming a critical metric especially for 65nm and below, it is doubtful if the existing distributed manufacturing model used between fabless companies and their foundry partners will suffice.  A closer loop is required which will cross the existing collaboration and contractual working relationships.And this leads to Ron’s observation – will we gradually see re-integration of design, test and failure analysis functions into real IDMs? 

Over the last couple of years, we have seen IDMs going towards fablite and fabless models, and the emerging dominance of the original pure play foundries. I say “original” as lately these foundries are paving their way into newer territories like climbing up the design support value chain by increasing their IP portfolio, collaborating with EDA vendors for providing yield related data/information to the designers and reference design flows,  and others – just short of coming up with their own ASSPs. 

So will we see the re-emergence of real IDMs albeit in the form of a morphed foundry??

posted in Business, Foundry, Fabless | 0 Comments

6th December 2007

Fab lite diet for analogs?

Over the last few years, we have been seeing IDMs outsourcing their digital production needs to the foundries. Now looks like, a similar path may be taken by the big analog IDMs too – or at least “their interest level in outsourcing has dramatically increased”, as per Thomas Hartung, VP of Sales & marketing for X-Fab.

Read a couple of interesting articles which highlight this potential move; here are few points from them which I’d like to share:

For years, analog IDMs have manufactured the bulk of their products in-house, shipping only a small percentage to foundries, for a number of reasons.

-    Many analog products do not require leading-edge fabs or processes. -    Most analog ICs have relatively small die sizes and wafer volumes are hence low as compared to their digital counterparts ; this does not work well with outside foundries-    Analog products generally have longer life cycles and can be made cheaply in older fabs for several years.

-    The real money makers in analog sell in modest volumes year after year; something that works for an internal fab but not at an expensive foundry.

-    And analog vendors insist fabs still give them a competitive edge as they work on the edges of highly optimized, internally developed processes

This doesn’t mean foundries have no role in the analog IC world. Foundries can effectively support fabless vendors of ICs that have considerable digital content but only modest analog content and that don’t push the envelope of analog performance. On the other hand, the specialized foundries are trying to get these analog IDMs look more towards outsourcing their production needs to them. Hans-Jurgen Straub, CEO, X-Fab Group, says that analog IDMs should focus on product innovation rather than on process innovation. Besides pushing its own analog & mixed signal processes, Germany’s X-Fab has also been acquiring fabs from various IDMs.(a US fab from TI in 1999, a UK fab from Zarlink semiconductor in 2002,  last year acquisition of Malaysia’s 1st Silicon and then ZMD AG’s wafer processing subsidiary early this year).

So, it is to be seen whether the analog IDMs will beat the same path as digital IDMs or continue in the old fashioned way  

posted in Business, Foundry, Fabless, Analog | 0 Comments

5th December 2007

Decline in ASIC design starts

The number of ASIC designs taping out in 2007 looks set to be 3,275 down 4 percent from 2006’s 3,408, according to market research company Gartner Inc. Of the 2007 ASIC design starts, about 200 starts made at 65-nanometer design rules or below.

A few interesting points from this report:

- In general ASIC design starts are declining. Exponentially increasing cost at leading edge plus a strong ASSP offering (which amortizes costs across multiple customers) are cited as the main factors. - Companies pushing leading-edge ASIC designs tend to be in high-performance computing, wired communications, high-end storage, high-end cellular phones and video game consoles.

- The average revenue per design and the average units per design continue to rise, resulting in overall growth in ASIC revenue.

- Designers in China are not using leading edge technologies; hence contribute to slowing of the overall ASIC start-ups’ decline.

- This also leads to China representing a market with ASIC growth potential.

- More ASIC design starts are predicted in Asia-Pac

Now, we have been talking of ASIC decline for the last 5-6 years. The question remains: is there any life left in the ASIC market? The answer is a provisional “yes.” as per  Hugh Durdan, vice president of marketing for eSilicon Corp, a fabless ASIC house and I am inclined to agree with him due to the following reasons:

- Inspite of overall decline in ASIC design starts, overall revenue is increasing. Big players like Cisco, Nortel and other major OEMs continue to use ASICs for differentiation

- While FPGAs have improved in their race to catch up (and substitute) ASICs, the gap still remains. Structured ASICs have tried to fill this gap but have had a mixed response from the industry and market. Till the industry figures out a way to address this gap, ASICs and FPGAs will co-exist

- The big ASIC players have come up with various approaches to revive this ASIC market. Some of them are:

- IBM, world’s no 2 ASIC supplier (after TI) maintains that they do not see any slow down. It rolled out its ASIC offering this year in 45nm techno which combines embedded DRAM with SOI technology. However, let me add that this is more geared towards niche & bleeding edge applications and the mainstream ASIC sector consists of products based on 130- and 90-nm technologies and the 65-nm ASIC market remains small. Also SOI is more costly than the traditional bulk silicon process and this may not help the mainstream ASIC market.

- Earlier this year, NEC Electronics rolled out the CB-55L, a cell-based ASIC technology built around a 55-nm process. Believed to be the world’s first logic device that utilizes a high-k dielectric film for the gate stack, it claims to reduce leakage current and improve power consumption by 40 percent over previous 90-nm devices

- Toshiba is readying its previously announced, 45-nm ASIC line. The technology is based on bulk CMOS, which it claims will outperform the SOI-based offering from IBM.  

posted in Uncategorized, ASICs | 5 Comments

19th October 2007

ST Economist’s view of tomorrow’s semiconductor industry

An interesting and “down to basics” take on tomorrow’s semicon industry was provided by Jean-Philippe Dauvin,  chief economist emeritus at STMicroelectronics at SAME (Sophia Antipolis forum on Microelectronics).

 

He cited the development of low cost products, the consumerization of the market, the intensification of rivalries due to the number of competitors, the lack of strategic innovation from the semiconductor industry and the intensification of customers’ bargaining power as the reasons behind the low expected growth rate of 4.4 percent in 2010.
 

A statement that I especially liked in his reported address is “We are in a business that addresses the end-user, but we cannot understand the customer. Our obsession is silicon but the final customer cares about the usage not the fabs”.
 

This is so true. While it is essential for the industry to work on tools, fabs, methodologies etc., in our rush to new technos, we often lose sight of the basic tenet: Nobody actually wants we do – they want what it will do for them

posted in Business, Forecasts | 2 Comments

17th October 2007

Broadcom unveils 3G integrated chip

Broadcom Corp has announced that it has developed an integrated 3G high-speed wireless cell phone chip ahead of bigger rivals like TI and Qualcomm. The news has sent up its shares by as much as 3 percent while those of TI and Qualcomm dropped.

The BCM21551 combines a 3G baseband transceiver, Bluetooth 2.1, and a multiband RF transceiver on a single chip. The chip also includes an FM radio transmitter & receiver for playback through a car stereo as well as support for a 5 megapixel camera, and advanced multimedia processing. Support for WiFi or GPS will need to come from a separate chip. The chip is available for customer testing and poses a competitive threat to other wireless chip makers like Infineon, NXP and Freescale. Analysts have been guessing off-late when a 3G iPhone might arrive (Apple’s recent deal with Interdigital has fuelled rumours of a 3G iPhone debut around Christmas this year). Broadcom expects the first phones using BCM21551 to come on the market in 2009. So while most likely the first set of 3G iPhones will have the 3G radio equipment provided by Infineon chipsets, the market may soon see other handsets with this integrated chip.

posted in Product, 3G | 1 Comment

16th October 2007

Wipro buys radio access unit from Nokia Siemens

Continuing to beef up its engineering capabilities through global acquisitions (the last one being acquiring the Oki design centre in Singapore), Wipro is set to acquire the radio access related R&D activities from Nokia Siemens design centre in Berlin. Nearly 60 staff members from the design centre will be transferred to Wipro.

While adding to Wipro’s R&D capabilities in 3G, it once again provides Wipro a presence enhancing platform in a foreign market – Europe in this case.

posted in Business, Mergers & Acquistions | 0 Comments

15th October 2007

IPs and TSMC

Fuelling the ambition to become a leading provider of chip design services and IPs i.e. in addition to the top post of pure play foundry, TSMC has acquired Ottawa’s memory IP start-up, Emerging Memories Technologies Inc. (EMT).  

 

EMT, a start-up with a relatively small group of memory technologists (and headed by 39 year old Sreedhar Natarajan) specializes in the design and licensing of leading-edge embedded memory technology in both bulk CMOS and SOI and was launched in 2004 when the memory design biz of Atmos Semiconductor was taken by Mosys. Many employees at Mosys moved to EMT – and now will move to TSMC.

 

As I noted in an earlier post on a similar topic in May this year - call it as seismic changes or consolidation, the chip manufacturing world is going through some upheaval.

posted in Business, Foundry, IP | 2 Comments

4th October 2007

Wipro acquires OTCS

So an Indian company has placed its foothold in the Singapore semicon design space….

 

Wipro Technologies has signed an agreement with Oki Electric Industry Co. Ltd. of Japan to acquire Oki Techno Center Singapore(OTCS), a wholly-owned subsidiary focused on wireless design and intellectual property. The all-cash transaction is expected to conclude within a year. Wipro will establish a dedicated development center to offer wireless semiconductor and embedded software design services to Oki.

 

OTCS has RF and baseband design capabilities, and the 40-member company has revenues of nearly 9M S$. It caters to Oki’s in-house requirements for semiconductor designs for its wireless communications equipment business.

 

To Oki, the deal has provided a global partner to improve its efficiency in semiconductor design through outsourcing.

 

Wipro has been expanding its chip design services portfolio. With digital expertise already existing, it has been adding analog and RF skills. It’s acquisition of Austria’s Newlogic in 2005 brought in expertise & IPs in Bluetooth and WLAN technos. Wipro-NewLogic with 61% market share has more than three times the share of its nearest competitor in Wireless LAN. Gartner also rates Wipro-NewLogic as the number one worldwide supplier of Bluetooth based on Design IP revenue commanding 59% market share in 2006. This OTCS acquisition helps in ZigBee, UWB and RFID related technologies.  

 

……..And it has also provided Wipro access into the Japanese market for outsourced semiconductor designs– a geography where Wipro already has a strong presence in the IT services space.

posted in Business | 0 Comments

1st October 2007

Near field communications, high tech and village banking in India

Read an interesting story by EDN executive Ron Wilson about technology fitting serendipitously in developing countries.
 

NXP’s NFC (Near Field Communications) technology, the underlying technology of its contactless SmartCard MIFARE product was primarily targeted for subway ticketing and the like.
 

And it has found a market in rural India – in a high tech village banking scheme!
 

India has several villages which do not have a local bankbranch – the meager cash flow does not provide adequate return on capital to justify establishing a branch. Enter NXP – a trained villager with a cell phone handset with NFC and fingerprint scan capability acts as a lone banker. Authorization and authentication is provided by the swiping the client villager’s smart card and swiping his finger. Transaction takes place by dialing the central bank through the handset and records are updated on the smart card.
 

Everyone benefits – The village gets banking and NXP gets the market!
 

Do read the complete article

posted in Business, Technology | 1 Comment

1st October 2007

CSSP: A new cross road in chip evolution

In his editor’s note, Majeed Ahmed of EETimes, Asia comments on CSSP (Customer Specific Standard Product) as an interesting turn point.

 

QuickLogic has broken from its FPGA past (hard time competing with the Coke and Pepsi of FPGA world i.e. Xilinx and Altera) by coming out with CSSP – an alternative design solution integrating the “application specific” functions (akin to ASSP) while incorporating a programmable fabric which allows additional “customer specific” functionality for flexibility and differentiation.

 

It is indeed a mutation in the semiconductor fabric, as pointed out by Majeed and a step towards trying to address the increasing challenges of the market. However I see it is another variant of the structured ASIC technology; trying to get a foothold between flexibility and cost plus time to market

 

…. and too early to term it as a new cross road in chip evolution.

posted in ASICs, Technology | 0 Comments

20th September 2007

2008 - Year of WiMAX ??

Mobile connectivity was the main thrust in the recent Intel Developer Forum. The company said its 45-nm Penryn-based Montevina processor technology due out in 2008 will be the company’s first Centrino processor for notebooks to offer the option of integrated Wi-Fi and WiMAX wireless technologies in an adapter code-named Echo Peak. This option would ensure customers do not necessarily need to make a choice between 3G and WiMAX.  Montevina also boasts the capability to run both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray for media applications. The new PCs and motherboards will be rolled out by Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Toshiba and Panasonic. Intel is investing with KDDI in a trial in Japan in addition to the well publicized trials by Sprint & Clearwire in the US.
 
In the old times, system providers used to put their bets on any 1 standard (amongst the few major competing ones) and come out with a product based on that standard and see how the market reacts. Now, they roll out products supporting all the standards (or at least the major ones) lest they lose out on the market share. So it is 3G and WiMAX, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray…….
 

I read this interesting article by Cliff Edwards in the recent edition of Business Week.

It talks about how Intel’s “Broadband Man” (EVP, Sean Maloney) garnered support from Samsung, Motorola, Nokia and Sprint to get this technology to its present state.

 

The key technology was obtained by Intel when it purchased a company called Iospan Wireless from a Stanford university professor Arogyaswami Paulraj. Maloney then went on to woo the industry heavyweights for this standard (AT&T had earlier, in 2000, tried a precursor to WiMAX in Project Angel. The project however was a non-starter because of lack of industry standard and support)

 

While Intel has declared 2008 to be the year of WiMAX, the technology and businesses built upon it still have a lot to prove and better & cheaper devices are needed to get to mass market adoption. However, several big companies have a lot at stake here and it does look poised to alter the communications landscape; or as Ottelini said: we are on the cusp of a new global network.

 

posted in Communciation, Technology | 0 Comments

7th September 2007

NTU –Rice University initiative on probabilistic CMOS

ISNE (Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics) is a new initiative established by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and aims at developing next-generation embedded IC chips that consume over 100 times less energy, as well as cut design and production costs.

ISNE aims to evolve a platform independent design methodology that can exploit the exponential rate at which the size of electronic component has been shrinking, while tying the costs for design, energy consumption and production. ISNE will receive a seed funding of $2.618 million from NTU over two years and the institute will collaborate closely with Rice University’s Value of Information-based Sustainable Embedded Nanocomputing Center (VISEN), which was founded and directed by Krishna Palem, an NTU visiting professor from Rice university and who has invented probabilistic CMOS (PCMOS). The PCMOS approach is claimed to allow chips to use less energy and attain nano-dimensions, enabling longer battery life and faster turn-around in new designs. The research team is currently designing and building the first production prototype of these new ICs.

What brings this news closer is that a key member of this initiative is Prof. Yeo Kiat Seng, an EE professor at NTU and also a member of MIDAS’ executive committee.

posted in Semiconductor, Process | 1 Comment

7th September 2007

MIDAS Semicon Summit 2007

MIDAS, the Singapore Semiconductor Association is organizing a high profile industry event on 13th September in Raffles Town Club, Singapore – this is mainly why off late I haven’t been able to blog as frequently as I would have wanted to (I’m helping organize the same along with my other colleagues)!

 

The summit, “Enabling Singapore’s Semiconductor Excellence” is a full day inaugural event. Singapore’s leading semiconductor companies, start-ups, investors, industry analysts and industry leaders will meet and discuss Singapore’s semiconductor industry and how its semiconductor community continues to address the challenges and accelerating growth. There will be a couple of panel discussions – “Singapore: Gateway to Asia-Pacific’s Semiconductor Market” (moderated by me) and “Living the Silicon Valley Dream” (moderated by Mike Holt, CEO Get2Volume).

Speakers include quite a few industry stalwarts like

  • Mr. Chan Yong Choong, VP Corporate Development & Business Management STATSChipPAC
  • Mr. Damian Chan, Head Semiconductors Electronics Cluster, EDB
  • Mr. Thomas Fu, VP & Managing Director Qimonda Manufacturing
  • Dr. Markus Wachter, Managing Director German Institute of Science & Technology
  • Mr. Rohit Girdhar, Head of Corporate Strategy Asia-Pacific, Infineon
  • Ulf Schneider, VP Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific
  • Prof. Yeo Kiat Seng, Head of Division for Circuits & Systems, NTU
  • Mr. BC Khou, CEO Trilobyte Tech
  • Mr. Edwin Chow, Director Technology Innovation Division SPRING
  • Mr. Anthony Ng, CEO D’Crypt
  • Mr. John Tan, Lead Venture Partner Jafco Singapore

The summit sponsors include Cadence, Infineon, Qimonda, Silicon Labs, Marvell, GIST, Get2Volume and Arfic.

 

For details, click here.

posted in Industry Events | 1 Comment

30th August 2007

ST-Infineon merger

With rumours afloat about a potential STMicroelectronics and Infineon Technologies merger, most of the news on it has been on how the thus created power semiconductor giant will face the ire of the European Union’s competition authorities.

 

So it was a refreshing & light take to read comments by David Manners from Electronics Weekly in which he cited culture as a stumbling block for mergers in the chip industry.

I recollect when way back in late eighties/early nineties when I was working at STMicroelectronics (then SGS-Thomson) headquarters in Agrate, Italy. We had just lost a design project to Siemens. To add to the local woes, this was just after Germany won the World Cup. On hearing the project news, one of my disgruntled local colleagues exclaimed – Hey, we just gave them the World Cup; what else do they want??

 

Well, as David said in his blog – Does Bozzoti speak German?

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

28th August 2007

Infineon buys LSI Corp.’s mobility products biz

LSI Corp. has signed a definitive agreement to sell its mobility products business to Infineon Technologies for $450 million in cash, plus a performance-based payment of up to $50 million payable in Q1 2009. The sale does not include any production facilities. And about 700 LSI employees will join Infineon.
 

LSI’s mobile business involves mainly mobile radio baseband processors and platforms. While this signals a fabless step from LSI as well as a move towards shedding all its non core biz (LSI’s focus is storage & networking), it signals a larger move of consolidation in mobile communications and for Infineon specifically, this marks it’s strengthening hold in communications biz and its position at important mobile phone makers. It follows its recent acquisition of TI’s DSL CPE unit. 

 

There has been a recent commentary that this decision from Infineon is not technology driven; rather it is to tap on LSI’s customers for its baseband chips.  Now LSI’s top customer here is Samsung and although Samsung is a big client, it has also been losing share as 3G sales have increased; so this doesn’t sound entirely conclusive.

 

Also Nokia, which has a third of the world’s mobile phone market,  had recently announced that it would outsource all of its chip manufacturing to Infineon, Texas Instruments, Broadcom and STMicroelect ronics. This acquisition will strengthen Infineon’s position which is also recovering from the major setback of having insolvent BenQ Mobile as its largest customer.

posted in Business, Communciation | 0 Comments

27th August 2007

Qualcomm gets into iSuppli’s top 10 chip suppliers list

Despite its woes (in June, Broadcom won a patent-infringement case against Qualcomm before the U.S. International Trade Commission. The import ban, coupled with a separate injunction in a federal court could cost Qualcomm $2.4 billion over five years. In addition, Nokia has recently asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to slap Qualcomm with an import ban on semiconductors that allegedly violate Nokia patents),  Qualcomm has become the first fabless company to figure in iSuppli’s top 10 chip suppliers ranking.

 

While this does give credence to the increasing strength of the fabless design model, it is to be seen how Qualcomm fares in retaining the competitive edge in the unfolding litigation saga.


posted in Fabless | 0 Comments

14th June 2007

SIA slashes 2007 semi outlook

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) has downgraded its forecast for 2007 global microchip sales growth to 1.8%. 

Forecasts are always tricky. The uncertainty is compounded with the rapidly changing market conditions. However such a big change i.e. 10% forecasted in Feb this year down to 1.8% 3-4 months down the line is quite dramatic.

Reasons cited for this forecast change: rapid price attrition in three key market segments – microprocessors, DRAMs and NAND flash memories. Incidentally, another news item, “Intel plans 50% price cut for Core 2 Quad chips” was reported on the same day.

Does provide fodder for thinking………………….

posted in Semiconductor, Business, Forecasts | 1 Comment

13th June 2007

EDA & Foundry

Ron Wilson, executive editor of EDN makes an interesting take on the low power SoC trend. He writes about the change in significance of low power design. Pre 90nm, low-power design was something you did in response to a specific application requirement. Post 90nm, according to tool vendors at least, low-power design is something you do so that the chip can work at all. This suggests that tools for invasive low-power design will be a gating factor in the industry’s migration to 65 nm and certainly beyond. And if there’s one thing that increases the–shall we say—intimacy of the relationship between the foundries and the EDA industry, it’s an obstacle to wafer shipments. 

I refer to this as yet another example of the expanding role & growing prominence of foundries. To fill their billion dollar fabs, they have to catalyse solutions for issues which may deter new design starts. So, if low power tools is a gating factor, they will “collaborate” with the EDA vendors. As I noted in an earlier post, Virtual vs. Vertical, it is the same for DFM; here too foundries started working together with the EDA vendors with information & data that was once under wraps. 

As they say, it is the economics!    

 

posted in EDA, Business, Foundry | 1 Comment

12th June 2007

OEM - Foundry Direct model??

Slowing growth in semiconductors will drive new rounds of consolidation and partnerships as chipmakers seek creative strategies, according to Bryan Lewis from Gartner.  As reported in an article in EE Times, he talked about some systems makers experimenting with direct links to foundries, cutting traditional chipmakers out of the picture.

While the couple of examples cited in the article are by no means a sure indicator for this possible trend, there does seem to be a few signs leading to this path:

- Growing importance of DFM, and thus links between design & foundry

- TSMC’s growing role in developing IPs

posted in Business, Foundry | 0 Comments

5th June 2007

Just moved…

Hi folks, welcome to my new blog address; I’ve just moved my blog from blogger (www.asic-vlsi.blogspot.com) to here (www.asic-vlsi.com/blog). Whilst I moved, I re-titled the blog too! Have managed to move across all old posts; however could not carry across the comments.

Hope you like the new look.

posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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