21st May 2013

How will ST’s new two product oriented business segments organization strategy pan out?

Georges Penalver, chief strategy officer for ST, told the analysts community recently that ST is being constructed as two product-oriented business segments organization. The first block encompasses ST’s sensor, power and automotive products and is essentially ST’s successful analog business and its digital automotive business. The second block is ST’s embedded processing business and is the non-automotive digital business including microcontrollers and processors for digital consumer applications.

 

Focusing on the Embedded processing segment and ST’s manufacturing strategy, let’s look into some statements from the earnings call last month:

·       The 1st segment i.e. Sensor, Power & Automotive represented 56% of net revenues and the 2nd segment (Embedded Processing Solutions) 44%

·       Wireless saw a significant decrease due to ST-Ericsson and this will continue. LTE Modem development activity and biz has moved to Ericsson

·       ST will not compete in the application processor market in smartphones

·       Microcontrollers are a key driver in the Embedded Segment; the others are STB (set top boxes), TVs, digital ASICs, Imaging etc.

·       ST will focus on 2 segments in Microcontrollers. The first one is wearable electronics (healthcare, automotive, gaming) where it caters to diverse and small size customers (requirement is for low power microcontrollers, sensors and connectivity). The second one is secure microcontrollers (which is more for smartphone applications (NFC), banking - both contact and contactless) catering to a smaller number of customers but for a likely high volume

·       Digital biz will be in 300mm wafer fab in Crolles

·       Manufacturing distribution in Crolles: 1/3rd each into MCU, CMOS image sensors and dig consumer products

·       ST is betting big on FD-SOI tech. It has second source agreement with GlobalFoundries for selected customers for this techno. Here it is working aggressively on 2 fronts – 1st is communication infrastructure where low power dissipation is important along with strong performance. The other is portable equipment (outside smartphones, tablets)

 

Add to that the fact that the major semiconductor growth (last year and projected this year too) are the mobile consumer devices especially smartphones and tablets as well as the wireless communication sector.

 

Keeping the above in mind, it will be a big challenge for the company to support leading edge technologies in Crolles and that too with an allocation of a third of its capacity for digital consumer products – case of an expensive leading edge digital technology without targeting aggressive margins. So, how ST can keep its IDM model, especially on the leading digital edge with this kind of a product segment organization strategy, economically viable – that’d be interesting to watch.

 

What are your thoughts?

posted in Semiconductor, Business, Foundry, Communciation, Blogroll, Technology, MIDs, chip design, connectivity, Mobile, STM, IDM | 0 Comments

28th March 2013

My analyst series - Intel (INTC)

Going through some of the equity research notes, apart from the contents, one of the things that struck me the other day was the brief succinct way the main content is put out. And so, I thought, why not do a series with my take on some of the stakeholder companies and application markets in the semiconductor eco-system. Appreciate your feedback, comments, thanks!

So here goes the first one…

Intel (INTC)

Intel’s technology lead
- Pros: Increased capex to maintain the lead (at least 2.5 years ahead from competition), Intel’s stake in ASML for 450mm and EUV R&D
- Cons: The increased capex that could also result into high end fabs running under capacity. Intel needs to monetize its leading edge technology and also needs numbers and breadth of various types of chips to be fabricated in its fabs in order to fine tune its processes.
- As per IC Insights, Intel’s forecasted capex for period 2010-2013 is $40b, second to Samsung’s ($46.9b) – together to account for 42% of the total industry

Intel’s foundry principle seems to be - Open Intel fabs for non-Intel chips but not for competing chips (“chips for mobile biz”). Altera deal is seen as step forward. However, point to be noted is that while (reportedly) this deal does not allow Intel to let other FPGA vendors (Xilinx?) on its 14nm fabs, Altera can still continue to work with TSMC and others. Second source foundry options may not reel in 100% of Altera’s total fab requirements to Intel

Semiconductor growth drivers and Intel’s market share in it
- Slowing down/Cannibalizing of PC biz (Intel’s main revenue generator)
- Mobile chips being the major driver now for semiconductor growth and Intel’s not too effective efforts till date in this space.

• However lately, we are seeing Intel making good in-roads in this space. Mobile biz requires connectivity plus good power management solutions besides the performance factor. Two announcements from Intel this year point positively in this direction – Dialog deal (for power management in its Bay Trail (22nm)) and XMM7160 (multimode, multiband 4G LTE global modem solution) for an integrated SoC solution end 2013/early 2014.

posted in Semiconductor, Business, Technology, Intel, Ecosystem, chip, connectivity, Mobile, Power | 0 Comments

14th February 2013

Internet of Things (IoT) and the opportunities for chip biz

There has been a lot of talk on Internet of Things (IoT) or Machine2Machine (M2M) communications – which basically is an intelligent grid of devices connected to each other through the internet. Chips are embedded in the devices enabling them to relay information, take decisions, communicate commands and adjust settings/implement a requisite action(s) accordingly.

As per a report from ABI Research, over five billion wireless connectivity chips will ship in 2013.

What does this mean for the chip biz?

Some basic things that various devices involved in this IoT will include are: wireless connectivity (mostly low power unless one or more of these devices is connected to the mains), sensors, MEMs and control units.

The control units here needn’t be too fancy – efficient and sufficient enough to do the task they are assigned for. They span from low end to high end depending on the computing power required for the control functions - served by MCUs, embedded processors. The sensors (for temperature, pressure, moisture, light etc.) are coupled with accelerometers, gyroscopes and the like.

Connecting to the internet – wirelessly and power efficiently – that will be the key for connectivity stake holders in this space. Nuel has come up with an interesting way to achieve this. It recently announced a white space (unused frequencies during TV channels’ transmission) radio chip for low power communications and come out with a chip to demonstrate the same (it implements the “Weightless’ specifications)

One thing I find interesting about IoT/M2M is that it does not have any defined market space/application. There are potentially several applications, several markets where these can find their way. So, while one can chose to specialize in servicing one market/application, a choice of providing a generic chip/platform (control/sensor/connectivity) for any or combination/integration (SoC) of the components of the basic fabric for any (or at least most of the applications) is also wide open.

However, for the application to catch on, it has to be implemented in an inexpensive way and should be easy to use - and that is where we’ll see some exciting innovation & integration happening

posted in ASICs, Semiconductor, Business, Communciation, Technology, Hardware, Ecosystem, chip design, Market trend | 0 Comments

3rd July 2012

Fab Power

Looks like the scaling down road for fabless – foundry model is getting bumpier. First the high cost of setting up new fabs made the earlier IDMs get into the fab lite model – i.e. depend upon the pure play foundries for the basic process capacity and do the specialized process add-ons in-house to get the competitive advantage. The fabless companies too coupled with pure-play foundries and gained prominence. The industry seemed to have found a way out (at least temperoraliy) of the high cost challenges of scaling down coupled with the issues of designing multimillion gates chips with increasing features and decreasing time to market window.

But now the speed breakers on this road are getting frequent and higher. Take the last couple of examples. FD-SOI is one of the new transistor architectures thrown up by ST/ST-Ericsson for scaling down 28nm and below. The process is reported to give a 35% power performance gain and that too by a simpler process transition from the typical CMOS. But ST lacks the capacity and hence is exploring options with GlobalFoundries. The latter is reportedly insisting that it will use ST’s process to make parts for all other parties too, in exchange for this extra capacity – leading to ST/ST-E potentially losing on a big competitive edge of sole access to a proprietary process through its FD-SOI process.

The second recent example is of Qualcomm. The world’s largest fabless company uses TSMC‘s 28nm process to manufacture its Snapdragon S4. And the world’s largest pure play foundry has had yield/capacity issues on this node.

TSMC’s 28nm foundry capacity woes have put a dampener in the presently exclusive run of Qualcomm – the sole (at least presently) provider of integrated multimode 3G/4G LTE baseband chips. And it ripples further down the chain causing distress to LTE smartphone vendors. Shortage is not expected to cease before Q4’12. Qualcomm is now planning a 23 per cent increase in operating expenses this year and looking for alternative (apart from TSMC) suppliers. It’s CEO Paul Jacobs’s recent visit to Samsung, reportedly for discussions that included semiconductor supply as well as his comment of not ruling out owning the means of chip production has led to a lot of water cooler speculation.

Incidentally TSMC’s sales hit an all-time high (9.1% annual revenue growth) in April’12 – with much of the strong growth attributed by 28nm demand!

So where does this leave the fabless-foundry model? And how does this affect the IDMs?

One thing for sure is that the model will need to be tweaked in order to stand up to the sub 28nm/20nm challenges. Some pointers:

• Cost advantage of scaling down is diminishing for the foundries. The cost-per-transistor has been about 29% per node leading to cheaper scaled down chips. 28nm and sub has seen that levelling off for the foundries. Intel still has a big (at least a couple of years) lead in the process race. If the fabless companies do not see a steady decline in the cost-per-transistor in their foundries’ scaling, it certainly puts a spoke in their continuing down on the scaling path with this model.

• The prohibitive high cost of setting up a new fab and the related R&D and yield challenges just does not make sense for a fabless company, even Qualcomm, to start one. Owning a pre-planned and negotiated capacity or even production means with an existing foundry – yes but a fab from scratch, no, that doesn’t appear to be a viable option.

• With the increasing yield issues at smaller geometries pitched along with capacity shortage and uncertain market demand, a stronger vertical integration of supply chain may become the order of the day to sustain the fabless model – one which accounted for $64.9 billion in 2011. While expecting to resolve 28nm capacity shortage by Q4, TSMC has raised this year’s capex 42% to USD 8.5 billion to ride the market opportunities.

• Rewinding to one of my earlier blog posts (Jan 2008), I had cited a remark by Infineon’s CEO, Ziebart in an interview to EE Times’ rick Merritt, “The major thing giving semiconductor makers a competitive advantage has evaporated. Today everyone has access to the same process technology at roughly the same time. This access used to be what differentiated the best from the worst semiconductor companies, but now it has evaporated, What’s replacing process technology as a differentiator is systems know how, and it must be specific to a market area”. My comment to that, as also mentioned in the same post, was: Yes, the differentiator has moved from process technology; but it is due to access to the process techno. This access has become cost prohibitive for any single semiconductor company (perhaps leaving aside a couple with really deep pockets) and hence the scramble to find an alternate place in the value chain to survive.
That access to the process techno is now morphing, if not under threat.

• GlobalFoundties’ SVP Mojy Chian mentioned that “New challenges at 20nm and beyond will require deep, IDM-like collaboration to accelerate the time-to-market”. Now, does this mean that foundries will transition towards virtual IDMs?
Rewind to another earlier blog post (Dec 2007): “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??
IDMs, foundries, fabless… they are all morphing from their original identities and are reshaping the industry with their redefined (work in progress) grey and diffused boundaries

However, one thing stands tall amidst all this and that is “The “Fab power’ is increasingly getting honed into the semiconductor eco-system lately.” Fab matters

posted in Semiconductor, Process, Business, Foundry, Fabless, Technology, Samsung, Qualcomm, Intel, Ecosystem, chip design | 0 Comments

7th June 2011

Tablets and other MIDs: Commoditization of hardware??

A Tablet market report from Goldman Sachs states “The OS platform wars could drive greater hardware commoditization over time. We believe that over time the more open platform vendors may have to impose standard hardware and user interface specs on handset and tablet OEMs to ensure that software developers have a uniform installed base. This move to standardization would narrow the ability for hardware manufacturers to differentiate their technology over time and could result in hardware commoditization like that found in the traditional PC market.”

With the gaining importance of software in the Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), hardware’s role as a differentiating factor is indeed diminishing. And with that, so do the profit margins for the chip industry incumbents. So, how are the chipset players reacting to survive, if not thrive, in this evolving market?

Qualcomm shows a recent example - “Qualcomm will give web apps a boost”.
As a part of the company’s effort to enable a shift away from today’s fragmented set of native mobile environments, it is set to release shortly a set of applications programming interfaces geared to give Web-based applications deeper links into hardware. The company already supports Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and WebOS mobile OSes among others. A move to Web-based applications would help it reduce the variety of platforms for which it needs to write software supporting its chips.

Web vs. native apps - as the mobile usage increases, both will grow with it and become valuable factors of product road maps. The question the product strategists need to ponder upon, however, is “what does my target audience need?” While the debate of web vs. native apps is not new, it does throw some interesting options in this backdrop of looming hardware commoditization.

One option is - The chipset vendors start conforming to the standard specs set by the open platform vendors. The hardware is strongly connected to the OS platform and with a proliferation of various mobile OS in the market, it is not an easy task supporting them all or even hedging on a few. Not enticing.

But what if a chipset vendor were to make inroads into web apps and get a deep link between web apps and its native hardware through some popular browsers? it can potentially get some interesting revenues by tapping the right web apps based on their target market – and remember that web apps is an open platform – no waiting, no approval. Its success is hinged on its adoption by the user community.

Having said that, the speed comparison (of compiled vs. interpreted code/web vs. native) will be there as well as cases, especially till the near future, where native wins over web but companies are working on those too (Qualcomm has been working for two years to optimize software so that browsers run as fast as possible on its chips). What has happened to desktop apps, can also happen to native mobile apps. Hmmm…. This may be one escape route from the commoditization problem.

posted in Semiconductor, Technology, MIDs, Hardware | 0 Comments

3rd December 2009

Indian Doctors use iPhone for remote diagnostics

I had mentioned about technology fitting serendipitously in developing countries in an earlier post. Just came across this news item which shows yet another use of a consumer device for an unintended but highly useful application.

Pediatric eye surgeons in India and elsewhere find that the iPhone’s security and features makes it the best platform to be used in tele-opthalmology to cure Retinopathy of Prematurity (RoP). An Indian eye hospital is piloting software that will push retinal images collected from patients in remote locations to the doctors’ iPhones. They can then quickly send their diagnosis and recommendations from their iPhones to the doctors in the location nearest to the patient. Laboratory assistants take pictures of the retinas of prematurely born babies and transmit them via broadband to pediatric eye surgeons, who could be hundreds or thousands of miles away.
It is envisioning of applications like these that will help to bridge the digital divide

posted in Technology | 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

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