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India plays critical role in global electronics design chain

Posted: 29 Oct 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded design  India  software design 

From the perspective of technology development and manufacturing, India can be a tough read especially compared with its booming neighbour China, the world's factory.

India has a strong manufacturing presence in sectors like steel and automobiles, but it is far behind China in electronics and chip manufacturing. What India lacks in manufacturing, however, it makes up for in software development. It is especially strong in embedded software a foundation that could prove increasingly important in the future.

Indeed, as more telecommunications, consumer, computer, industrial and automotive products evolve toward the embedded, SoC design and development model, India is poised to become a more critical link in the global electronics design chain.

China's tech-manufacturing infrastructure is already legendary a vast network of factories, fed by a well-oiled global supply chain interconnected to airports, deep-water ports, new highways and a reliable electrical power grid. But China's chip design and product development activities are laggard.

IP haven
While the lights go out far more frequently here than in China, India is a country where democracy and the rule of law are rock solid, making it a safe haven for intellectual property. A large and growing pool of globally trained, highly educated and motivated, English-speaking computer scientists and electrical engineers, with technology and professional network links to Silicon Valley, fuels India's intellectual infrastructure. While China manufactures, India innovates a brains-vs.-brawn distinction that is destined to become an increasingly important differentiator.

A clearer picture of India's emergence as an IP force and its growing role in the global technology design chain emerged in keynote sessions and interviews here during the Embedded Systems Conference India, an event organised by United Business Media India and CMP Technology, parent company and publisher of EE Times.

According to one estimate, more than 80 per cent of working EEs in India are employed in embedded systems development a significant shift from recent years, when VLSI design was the discipline keeping most Indian EEs gainfully employed. The electronics industry in India is undergoing a gradual but inexorable transition from a software-driven outsourcing model to one increasingly focused on growth and development of the domestic market. And as that shift occurs, the country's Rs.16,179.32 crore ($4 billion) embedded computing market is coming into sharp relief.

"Right across the globe, everyone is watching India becoming a rich source of innovation and technology," Gregg Lowe, senior VP for analogue products at Texas Instruments, remarked at ESC India. "It is, indeed, a unique place with its own culture and with a unique set of technological needs. And today, it is playing a key role in delivering next-generation IT solutions."

Texas Instruments should know. It entered India in 1984 and became one of the first electronics companies to tap the country's deep well of engineering talent. TI India was established in Bengaluru primarily as a design centre, and it continues to be one of TI's largest design centres outside the United States.

Rs.174,210.79 crore ($43.07B) by 2015
The India Semiconductor Association (ISA) and market researcher Frost & Sullivan have projected that the Indian semiconductor and embedded design industry will grow from Rs.13,145.69 crore ($3.25 billion) in 2005 to Rs.58,326.43 crore ($14.42 billion) in 2010 and to Rs.174,210.79 crore.($43.07 billion) in 2015.

Indian design organisations are moving beyond simple labour-cost arbitrage to become true contributors to product innovation. Growing numbers of multinationals are opening design centres in India or are expanding existing ones, according to the ISA. Intel, AMD, NXP Semiconductors, Renesas Technology, Freescale Semiconductor and STMicroelectronics are among the companies turning to India not just to cut engineering costs, but also to leverage the country's rich intellectual infrastructure.

Intel Corp. has launched two projects in India to leverage the company's embedded architecture portfolio. One track intends to aid Indian design houses in launching products for the domestic market; the other aims to help them build products for global markets. The India Design House Program is similar to a third-party alliance network and will cash in on the increasing role that design houses here play in platform definition and design for customers locally and overseas.

Targeting home digital multimedia applications, Freescale recently introduced a highly integrated two-chip set whose design cycle was completed in India. ST has completed a designed-inch-inchdia one-chip solution for digital STBs. And both Freescale and TI are developing single-chip mobile-phone solutions that are expected to be introduced in 2008.

NXP Semiconductors' India Private Ltd operation is emblematic of the western multinationals riding India's rising wave of chip and embedded system design. The operation's 800 embedded developers and system architects work on next-generation digital video systems and other embedded projects.

NXP's Bengaluru development centre recently completed work on an integrated "system stack" consisting of 4 million lines of embedded software code for a multicore, four-processor 8051 MIPS + Trimedia DSP HDTV solution, according to senior system architect D. Jaipal.

"The engineers on my team come from a hard-core hardware background," Jaipal said, noting that the key to the embedded implementation of an HDTV system is "insight into hardware." Key employees and designers are EEs and graduate students from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), India's top school for research and development. (IISc is not affiliated with IIT, the technology school renown for filling the ranks of software developers at U.S. companies such as Microsoft Corp.)

"Fifteen years back, software was not so important, but in the past eight years we have seen embedded systems?and embedded software?emerge as the future of electronics technology development here in India," Jaipal said.

He identified a key cultural and professional marker for Indian engineers, especially top graduates from IISc. "Technologically, people do not want to become identified with one specific field; they do not want to become too specialised for too long a time in any given area," Jaipal said. "The culture is to become a generalist, not to stay a specialist."

"Being a generalist in design is a growth path, which is why you will not see any engineer in India with more than eight years of experience doing code development," he said.

Jaipal and his team of embedded system designers and system architects are paving a new highway in India's intellectual infrastructure, and it represents a total-systems-design approach to IP development.

Changing definition
"The definition of an embedded system is changing. Systems are much more digital, and all technologies, from the PC to Internet-connected devices, are converging into a single, complex system," he said.

Being able to design "across multiple domains" not only requires a complex set of skills spanning technology boundaries, but also increasingly involves "collaboration across company borders," Jaipal said.

On display at NXP's booth here was a series of HDTV system designs slated to hit production lines in TV factories around the world in the coming months. The NXP solutions will fuel set-tops and TVs that consumer giants Sony, LG, Samsung and Philips will exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

The equipment may be manufactured and assembled in China, Japan or elsewhere in Asia. But the complete hardware and software platforms for all of these manufacturers' HDTVs are "made in India"?one line of code at a time.

- Richard Wallace
EE Times




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