Archive for October, 2007

ST Economist’s view of tomorrow’s semiconductor industry

Friday, October 19th, 2007

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

Broadcom unveils 3G integrated chip

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

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.

Wipro buys radio access unit from Nokia Siemens

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

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.

IPs and TSMC

Monday, October 15th, 2007

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.

Wipro acquires OTCS

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

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.

Near field communications, high tech and village banking in India

Monday, October 1st, 2007

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

CSSP: A new cross road in chip evolution

Monday, October 1st, 2007

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.