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This is a once in a generation opportunity
Biswadip (Bobby) Mitra
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Currently working as the Worldwide Director, Industrial Systems at Texas Instruments, Bobby Mitra has an extensive experience and leads multiple sectors of industrial electronics, wireless communication across the globe. He also played a pioneering role in creating the electronics and semiconductor industry in India. Bobby is identified by the industry as one of the top innovators of India and has been profiled in recent book 'Icons of Indian IT'. His other achievements include, being elected in several leadership roles including Chairman of Indian Electronics & Semiconductor Association, President of the VLSI Society of India, Executive Council Member of National Association of Software and Service Companies, Manufacturers Association of IT. He holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in Electronics & Electrical Communication from IIT Kharagpur.

India is an emerging market today and is moving towards evolving as an emerged economy in a few years. This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for all of us to take part in this transition and making it happen.

Technology has a key role in driving this transition. The electronics industry in particular, is different in India from the western world in its characteristics and the companies that are involved in it. What's different about India? Who are the players here? Like in the West, we also have large companies, but there is another aspect that is unique. We have nearly 2,000 small to medium-sized electronics companies in the country engaged in world class design and manufacturing. Several of these are names that many will not even recognize.

This led me to the realization that perhaps the 80:20 rule didn't apply to India. If any semiconductor company has to gain market share in India, it not only has to look at the 4 or 5 large electronics OEMs, but also take into consideration the business that can be generated from these 2,000 or more small companies. Those who want to participate in this transformation of India from an emerging to an emerged economy must work with this cross-section of large to small/medium sized companies.

Let me illustrate this by taking the example of LED lighting companies in Western India alone. There are at least 50 LED lighting companies designing innovative solutions for street lighting, large displays, etc. These companies consume a lot of semiconductors. The situation is similar in other areas of industrial, automotive, telecom infrastructure, medical etc.

It's just not the size, but the characteristics are also diverse. Let's take medical electronics, for instance. We worked with a medical OEM in India and came up with a solution that integrated many of the analog and digital functions onto a single chip. This was driven by the OEM's vision to take healthcare to the masses by bringing down the cost of a scan to one-tenth the cost that was being incurred earlier.

Using technology to reduce cost, and to build the right product

The kerosene lantern is very often used in the rural areas for lighting purposes. On an average, people in our villages spend around Rs. 2 per day on kerosene oil for lighting their homes. By using semiconductors in solar LED lighting systems, it has been possible to bring down the cost of usage to Rs.1.20 per day compared to Rs.2 that was being spent on kerosene. Also, solar powered LED lighting systems leave behind no carbon footprints and last much longer than the kerosene lamp. Some OEMs are already working on this along with the Government which is driving such deployment.

As the use of mobile phones proliferated across the country, there emerged the need to bring down the cost of the handset. We found that there were at least 20 to 30 electronic components in the handset. We worked on placing all the analog and digital components, as well as the digital radio processor on one chip. Thus was born the single chip cell phone in India, a revolution that made the cell phone into a sub-Rs.1000 device a testimony to the level of transformation electronics can bring, especially in an emerging economy like ours.

Low Power to No Power

As semiconductor technology advances rapidly, we find that power is playing a very important role in the design of electronic devices. In areas like medical and in implantables in particular, we find that just low power or even ultra-low power is not sufficient at all. We need to move to the 'no power' stage. How to achieve near-zero power consumption is going to be a challenging goal for the future.

The impact of such no-power innovation can touch the lives of people around us. Some time back, I met an old friend. He spoke about his seven year old son who was born with a heart ailment. The young boy had already gone through three surgical operations. In the first operation, a pace maker was implanted. There was absolutely nothing wrong with its functioning, but the boy had to be operated two more times to replace the battery in the pacemaker. Being a technologist, this revelation made me acutely embarrassed that a child had to be operated twice just to replace the battery. This is one instance where the need for transiting from 'low power' to 'no power' becomes imperative.

More Analog

As the world becomes more digital, the more is the need for analog chips. Analog chips gather the sights, sounds and textures of the real world - the temperature in a room, images from our body and the pressure we exert. I agree that the output is much more superior using digital technology. But we need analog for making use of digital technology. Take any electronic end equipment where digitization has taken major strides - whether it is in wireless, entertainment, industrial, or other domains. In every such system, we see a rapid growth of analog semiconductor solutions - amplifiers, data converters, interface or power management chips. This presents a great opportunity for semiconductor companies.

We are therefore in the threshold of a huge opportunity. We have the unique advantage of playing a part in the transition that is taking place in the economy. People in the earlier generations could not get this chance as the transition had not begun yet, nor will people in the future generations get an opportunity since the transition would have been completed by that time. Technology is playing a significant role in this transition and we as technologists are in the right place at the right time. In this transition, we must involve the large OEMs, and also the many medium to small OEMs. This is a once in a generation opportunity that we must not let go of.

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