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February - 2003 - issue > In My Opinion
It's Beginning to Add Up, Now
Dr. Biswadip (Bobby) Mitra
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Bobby Mitra is currently serving as the Worldwide Director, Industrial Systems at Texas Instruments . He posses an extensive experience and leads numerous sectors of industrial electronics, wireless communication all over the world. Booby is identified as one of the notable innovators of India and his profile entered the bokk 'Icons of Indian IT'. He has also played crucial role in creating the electronics and semiconductor industry in India. Bobby holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in Electronics & Electrical Communication from IIT Kharagpur.

OF LATE I HAVE BEEN NOTICING THAT THE different pieces of the story are beginning to point towards a common vector. The ecosystem seems to be building. These events reinforce in me the strong belief that India can—given the right conditions—become a silicon design powerhouse. I have been fortunate to be involved in this field at a time when software services—let alone silicon design—was unheard of in India.

Over the past decade and more, even before the software services companies were carving out an impressive resume of global clients and convincing the world of the India value proposition, a succession of semiconductor companies decided to come to India to leverage the two greatest advantages of Indian IT - cost and access to talent.

The design ecosystem
“But why a powerhouse only now?” you might ask. Companies have been leveraging Indian expertise in this field since 1985, when Texas Instruments first set up shop in Bangalore. While the value proposition is the same as in the software services sector, the difference is that silicon design or IC design needs an entire ecosystem in place before we can think of India as an IC design powerhouse. And this has just begun to happen.

One very important element in the IC design domain is Electronic Design Automation (EDA). Universities that train students in Microelectronics and access to state-of-the-art design infrastructure are some other key components. Today, it is this partnership in India between semiconductor companies, EDA companies, universities, hardware and software vendors that has just begun to flower.

The other consideration is purely financial. The entry barrier for firms interested in getting into IC design is very high in terms of investment. And very few Indian companies were willing to go full-fledged into this field, because starting services companies with assured revenue streams was far easier. But this is clearly changing.

Growing partnerships—multinationals and Indian design houses
The recent increase in Indian companies engaged in IC design —with several hundred of these companies active today—has opened many avenues of partnership, IP development and outsourcing among multinational semiconductor companies and Indian companies. And it is not the menial tasks that are being outsourced by the multinationals to the Indian design houses. In several domains, the outsourcing companies have competencies that exceed those of the semiconductor companies themselves. This allows the Indian companies to get involved in core activities of the design process. This rapidly increasing partnership between multinational companies and their Indian partners is fueling the growth of IC design activities and talent in India.

The fuel behind the growth
So what really happened to make India a lead player in this space? As we get deeper into the nanometer-gigahertz era with tighter time to market pressures, semiconductor companies have realized that all components of the integrated System-on-Chip (SoC) cannot be built in one location. This has led several Indian companies to build design IP or provide design services.

In addition, companies located in India, have been stretching the product development envelope. Companies like Texas Instruments (TI), as well as many of our peer companies, are stretching the envelope of product development—right from India.

Several industry-first products that extend the capabilities in terms of highest performance, lowest power, massive degrees of integration are now being successfully driven out of India. We are stretching the product development envelope right here from India.

The large number of U.S. patents already filed or being filed in the U.S. patent office (well over 200 by TI engineers in India alone) is testimony to the innovative design activities happening in India. In terms of product criticality as well, India has moved from being a destination where “safe projects” used to be done to one where “mission critical” projects are now being entrusted with confidence. IC designers in India have built execution credibility over the last several years—thus opening increasing windows of opportunity. These two factors—the need to access Indian talent and the credibility that India has built now, make me feel bullish that there is a huge potential for silicon design companies in India.

A never-before opportunity for India: US experts as returnees
However, we need to do a bit of internal assessment. It is na’ve to think that India can become a silicon design powerhouse without the requisite talent. While there are a large number of people who are very good at IC design, supply is far too short of demand.

The only way to set up a talent base is by attracting the U.S.-based Indian talent back to India. These experts in the U.S.—with many successes and bruises under their belts—can drive the inflexion point of India's potential in becoming a silicon design powerhouse. They can now get to innovate and develop world-class products in India and be closer to the booming Asia market/customers. The compensation levels in India have become attractive as well. All this with the benefits of being closer to their family and friends in India.

In Texas Instruments alone, we have added almost four times the number of U.S. expert returnees in 2002, compared to 2001. They have brought with them 10 to 20 years of experience in this field and have been a tremendous value-add to our success. I see this continuing in even higher proportion in 2003 and beyond.

I firmly believe that the U.S. returnees to India hold the key to taking India to the next level where it can be recognized globally as a powerhouse in IC design. These design experts, residing in the U.S., can truly take India from good to great. Today, it can be a great win-win for them personally and for their country. India already has a readymade blueprint to emulate. It is pertinent to remember that expatriates who were enticed to return to their homeland and set up companies largely drove the Taiwanese high-tech revolution.

The “atomic” risks
Now that we have discussed the factors that could help India become a silicon design powerhouse, let us examine why India cannot become one. The difference in bureaucratic control between 1985 and today is like night and day. But despite the large strides made in the area of governance, bureaucracy still remains the single biggest impediment in setting up a unit in India.

However, as long as companies stay in the domain of bits and bytes and transfer design data electronically, they are safe. But the minute you begin to consider any business that involves shipping components and samples of silicon—atoms if you will—you run into the famed bureaucratic stonewall that slows down your business. But for an IC design company, it makes sense to locate the design, hardware acceleration boxes and the characterization or test facilities in the same location. This is where atoms need to co-exist with the bits and bytes. And delays could result. There could be customs clearance delays, and shipments are liable to languish in ports for days, throwing customer schedules into disarray.

Having said that, I must say that the government has done more in the last 3 to 4 years than has been done in the previous decade. Nowadays, we rarely have cause to complain. Bits and bytes are moving much faster—and we are beginning to see some acceleration in the atoms, too! Early planning with the agencies on what is in the pipeline helps in reducing the cycle time, we have learned. More fundamentally, the attitude and appreciation of the business criticality among the government staff is now for all to see and experience.

But I would submit that in spite of all the changes, we should constrain ourselves to focus on becoming a silicon “design” powerhouse.

…and the risk of not being customer savvy
The other impediment towards India becoming a silicon design power house, is the fact that many designers in India are not systems savvy and do not have the advantage of having a local customer base. These are not insurmountable challenges, but needs focus to close the gap. While the India semiconductor market is small, the rest of Asia is booming and having key design experts interface with customers worldwide, especially in Asia, can help connect the design teams better with the customer needs.

The future ahead
Today I am excited to see well over 1000 key companies in the space of silicon design and embedded software in India! Has the world taken notice of this quiet transformation that has happened? Not yet. But the writing on the wall is clear. NASSCOM and MAIT, apex bodies in India in software and hardware respectively, have both identified silicon design and embedded software as an emerging opportunity for India. An Electronic Design Association of India is also being formed to position India's strengths in silicon design globally.

It is my belief that by the time we end this decade and look back, the years from now would be seen as the pivotal years when it all added up, and India emerged as a powerhouse in silicon design and embedded software.

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