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Fueling China's IC design market with advanced IP

Posted: 12 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IC design? design verification? chip design? semicon? IC verification?

Ussery: China is the highest growth market for IC consumption and is uniquely positioned to build a strong domestic IC design capability.

By Cary Ussery
Improv Systems Inc.

China has become the third largest consumer of semiconductors and is forecasted to be the largest market for semiconductors by 2010. The demand is driven by the broad movement of low-cost manufacturing of equipment into mainland China, with computers still being the largest application area, followed by consumer electronics and telecommunications equipment.

The domestic IC design community represents a high growth area for IC design. There are now over 450 IC design companies in China, according to the China Semiconductor Industry Association. And China's universities are graduating over 300,000 engineers each year, creating a highly motivated and skilled engineering base. Large numbers of engineers who have been working overseas are returning to help establish IC design companies, bringing with them significant experience in design, management and operations. Telecommunications and consumer electronics are the areas that represent the best opportunity for domestic IC design companies to gain market share.

Advanced IC design and SoC ICs are still relatively new to the local industry, creating a real need for advanced EDA tools and, more importantly, semiconductor intellectual property (IP) that can help fuel the success of these domestic IC design companies. Traditional issues of IP protection, the low number of IC designers, regulatory restrictions, and lack of domestic supply chain have been largely addressed, creating an exciting new environment for IC design and development. EDA and IP vendors are in a unique position to provide an underlying design platform that can help design companies achieve rapid growth and revenue.

Improv Systems has recently embarked on an overall strategic plan to address the needs of China's domestic IC design market. In particular, the goal is to address the overall IC design ecosystem systematically and effectively. This includes working with major universities, government organizations, standards organizations, key foundries, design service companies and leading companies.

China is rapidly developing infrastructure for the mobile TV market, including satellite, terrestrial and IP broadcast. There are a number of broadcast standards (DMB-T, DVB-H, S-TiMi) that require new semiconductors for channel decoding/demodulation and media processing. Customized DSP processors are the best approach for addressing the needs in these areas. For example, channel decoding/demodulation requires high performance operation (up to 400BOPS) at very low power (Another key market is portable media electronics. MP3 players have been a major driver in the China market and have driven the success of new domestic semiconductor players, including Actions Semiconductor, Fuzhou Rockchip and Vimicro. In addition, new audio and video capabilities are being added into mobile handsets and smartphones. These products are now expanding into the video processing arena and a new class of ICs will be required.

Wired and wireless communications products are growing at a very high rate in China. New 3G capabilities and frequencies have been introduced into the market with a number of deployments. For this market, programmability is again key since there are competing and evolving standards, including the domestic TD-SCDMA standard and introduction of WCMDA, GSM, GPRS and EDGE. IC designers can apply a combination of general purpose DSP algorithms coupled with targeted custom accelerators and instructions to develop new baseband technology and supporting services (VoIP, GSM, poly ring tones, etc.). In addition, network and telecom operators are significantly expanding services and increasing bandwidth in an overall drive to unify broadband, internet and television. IPTV is a key driver application for diversification by telecom operators looking to expand revenue and market penetration. Data encryption, quality of service features, media/data compression and advanced protocol support are all evolving and in need of IC support.

The computer and office equipment market is the largest market for semiconductors in China. With so many new companies and enterprises opening and expanding in China, the domestic requirement is high for new equipment. In particular, there is a large rise of small- and medium-sized companies that create a large market for multifunction printers, LCD projectors, networking equipment and other office support functions. Each of these have unique DSP processing requirements that can be addressed with custom-designed, highly-optimized application processors. Also, IP-based voice communications using VoIP has been growing rapidly in China, both for domestic and international business communications. With the increasing number of international joint ventures, wholly-owned foreign entities, subsidiaries and development centers, the need for lower-cost communications has become critical for success.

China is the highest growth market for IC consumption and, therefore, is uniquely positioned to build a strong domestic IC design capability. The fundamentals are in place, including strong engineering base, semiconductor supply chain, manufacturing capacity and strong domestic customer market. With the addition of advanced EDA and IP capabilities, the IC design market will grow and mature quickly. Innovation and design will be the hallmark of successful Chinese IC companies.

About the author
Cary Ussery
is a founder and past president and CEO of Improv Systems Inc. He is presently president and CEO of Vivace Semiconductor Inc., a fabless semiconductor company delivering secure video processing chips. Prior to Improv Systems, Cary was the group director of core technology for Cadence's Alta Business Unit.

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