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VLSI industry focused on 1-10 million-gate designs

Posted: 24 Jun 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:VLSI design services  complex chips  65nm process node  digital designs 

According to a study released last week by the India Semiconductor Association, VLSI design services provided by companies in India brought in Rs.3,041.60 crore ($760 million) last year, rising to Rs.3,709.95 crore ($927 million) in 2008,

The ISA report said the U.S. market accounted for nearly 70 per cent of the 2007 revenue. Europe is the next biggest buyer of design services from Indian firms, and Japan is seen as a market with huge potential. The unique challenges Japan presents in terms of language and managing relationships set it apart, but Indian design houses are starting to get more projects from Japanese companies, the ISA said.

India logged a total of 1,826 VLSI design projects last year, of which 1,027 were done in the captive centres of overseas companies and the rest by domestic design service providers. The ISA said it expects the total number to rise to 2,283 by the end of 2008.

Indian design houses are beginning to do more of the complete design, from specification to tape-out—at least within companies here that have experience in designing complex chips at the 65nm process node.

Nearly 11 per cent of last year's total fell into the complete-design category, with the rest being chip-testing assignments, said Poornima Shenoy, president of the ISA.

And though the cost of both infrastructure and salaries is rising, there is still about a 30 to 40 per cent differential when doing designs in India vs. the United States or Europe, the ISA said.

Digital designs still primary

Digital designs made up the vast majority of the 2007 total, at 72 per cent, followed by analogue at 16 per cent and mixed-signal designs at 12 per cent, the report said. "Companies in India are largely involved in digital design, but the industry is expected to shift towards mixed-signal technology in a few years," said ISA chairman S. Janakiraman. "In India, there is a demand for trained talent to work on analogue and mixed-signal designs, and if this shortage of talent is addressed, India can emerge as a major powerhouse in mixed-signal design."

In terms of gate count, 61 per cent of all the 2007 designs were between 1 million and 10 million gates. Another 21 per cent came in at less than 1 million gates and 12 per cent were in the 10 million- to 20 million-gate range. At the upper end, 3 per cent were in the range of 20 million to 30 million gates and 2 per cent at 30 million to 50 million gates. Just 1 per cent of designs surpassed 50 million gates.

"In India, 83 per cent of the chips were designed in 90nm and 130nm [processes]," Janakiraman said. "Some companies have designed chips at 45nm process technology and some are in the process of creating libraries."

For any technology upgrade, cost is a major factor. "The 90nm/65nm process technology is successfully meeting the geometries and the cost target," he said. "Some captive companies will migrate directly to 45nm, but these will be very few in number."

According to the ISA report, 52 per cent of digital designs last year were at 90nm and 31 per cent at 130nm. Another 7 per cent were in 65nm technology, 2 per cent in 45nm and 6 per cent in the older process technology of 180 nm. Two per cent of designs were done at 250nm.

Analogue and mixed-signal design is largely done at the 130nm or 180nm nodes in India, Janakiraman added.

Specifically, the report put 46 per cent of 2007's analogue designs at 180nm, 34 per cent at 130nm, 18 per cent at 90 nm and 2 per cent at 65nm. In mixed-signal, 48 per cent were in the 180nm process node, 32 per cent in 130nm, 17 per cent in 90 nm and 3 per cent in 65nm.

Shortage of PhDs

In all, the Indian industry employed 13,996 engineers in 2007, the ISA said, 27 per cent of whom held master's degrees. Engineers with doctorates number just 1.5 per cent of the total engineering work force.

The shortage of PhDs has been a cause of concern here, especially when it comes to innovation, and some industry players are seeking to lure Indians with doctoral degrees back from the United States, where most of them now work.

Among the top design services companies here, the ISA report listed HCL Technologies, KPIT, Mindtree, Sasken Communication, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro Technologies. Intel, Texas Instruments, IBM and Motorola are among the largest global companies with captive centres in this country.

Indian companies that provide VLSI design services are often paid at an hourly rate for the number of engineers they put on an assignment. The alternative preferred by Indian firms is to be paid on a project basis or by the month.

Of the 1,826 overall designs in 2007, the largest single category (42 per cent) was module design and verification, while 25 per cent were in physical design and 16 per cent were in intellectual-property development.

The largest industry segment that did VLSI designs out of India was consumer electronics, with 33 per cent, followed closely by telecom and networking products. The portable- and wireless-products segment accounted for 14 per cent, computing for 9 per cent and automobiles for 4 per cent. The medical and defence segments accounted for the rest.

While the long-term prospects for the country's high-tech design services providers are bright, the report cited a number of challenges. Foremost among these is the lack of engineers who can be immediately deployed on a design; many Indian EEs need additional training and skill development, ISA said.

Moreover, Indian companies may be good at product design, but they need to do more in complete-system design and development, the report said. The lack of adequate testing-and-validation facilities within the country is also a dampener, ISA added, lengthening cycle time and prolonging revenue realisation.

- K.C. Krishnadas
EE Times

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