The Indian Semiconductor: Market Trends to Watch in 2011

Date:   Thursday , February 03, 2011

The Indian semiconductor industry represents every aspect of the semiconductor lifecycle from cutting edge electronic design automation (EDA) and very large scale integration (VLSI) design companies to an evolving manufacturing ecosystem. The semiconductor industry has grown into a prominent player in the past couple of decades and has been a vital contributor to the nationís economy. In 2011, emerging trends in semiconductor design and growing demand for electronic products within India give reason for additional optimism about the future of the India semiconductor industry.

In 2010, virtually every SoC design is a mixed-signal design a mixture of digital and analog functions. For example, the modern high-end cell-phone has a single, large, high-performance mixed-signal IC containing the bulk of the analog and digital functionality combined with a special RF chip. Mixed-signal design has become much more challenging, yet the evolution of a true mixed-signal solution has been relatively slow.

Existing EDA companies, traditionally specializing in digital design, have tried to address the problem by purchasing existing, mature analog solutions. The result is a disparate collection of point tools not well-suited for integration. For example, analog and digital tools use different databases, crippling communication between the two domains. Digital and analog design teams still largely work in isolation with little or no visibility into what the other team is doing.
Because these EDA companies "bolt together" existing analog and digital tool suites, they fail to provide an optimal way to handle the complexity of implementing large analog, digital and mixed-signal IP blocks.

Further, the majority of analog tools were conceived in the early and mid-1990s, and the underlying architectures of these tools were never intended to support the sophisticated demands of a mixed-signal design environment. As a result, designers are limited to capturing and simulating transistor-level schematics. Thus, analog ICs are still largely full custom and are painstakingly crafted by hand. In addition to being expensive, time-consuming and prone to error, this transistor-level design style does not allow an existing design to be easily transferred to a new foundry or process/technology node.

As the EDA industry closes out 2010, a better solution for mixed-signal design is on the horizon. It has to happen. As analog content grows and digital design sizes increase, a fully integrated, automated analog and digital design environment will be required for the growing complexity of mixed-signal SoC designs.
Digital implementation is another area that will experience significant change. Solutions that can automatically handle more than 10 million cells flat, pushing the practical capacity of EDA solutions beyond their current 1-2 million cells, will emerge.

These solutions will intelligently partition and distribute the design blocks across a network of servers and then automatically re-synchronize the design at major stages in the flow. This will allow a designer to tackle a much larger design and still achieve the same throughput in terms of cells per day than they would using a traditional digital implementation solution on a much smaller block.
Analog implementation will move from fully hand-crafted to semi-automated. Analog optimization engines will take process-independent specifications and automatically generate robust devices with SPICE-accurate results. They will also take into account intra-chip random variations plus layout effects related to stress to produce layout-aware device sizes. Automated device place-and-route capabilities will further automate the overall analog design flow.

The improvements in mixed-signal design technology will make it easier for India's semiconductor industry to meet the upsurge in demand for electronic products that are more cost effective while offering higher performance and lower power consumption.

In the past, India was a favorite destination to outsource, we saw a spate of companies off shoring their operations to India to reduce development costs for products sold outside India. These outsourced jobs have raised the income levels of a large segment of the population and is fuelling consumerism in India. Today, the focus of many companies is on producing products for growing local markets.

In addition to boosting business for large, established companies, rising demands and growing markets for electronics applications is giving rise to new opportunities for entrepreneurs. The wireless sector is one such example, where we are now starting to see many players apart from established brands. It is further enabled by the huge diversity of India, which brings forth a wide range of opportunities starting from the entry level applications and going up to high end sophisticated instruments.

In 2011, the combination of growing demand, the huge market potential and new, automated capabilities for mixed-signal design system could lead to significant growth in India's semiconductor industry. This should be welcome news for semiconductor companies worldwide.

The author is Managing Director, Magma Design Automation