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Embedded pushes India into spotlight

Posted: 16 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:India electronics industry? software? embedded market?

The electronics industry in India is undergoing a gradual, but inexorable, transition from a software-driven outsourcing model to one increasingly focused on growth and development of the domestic market. And as this shift occurs, the $4 billion embedded computing market is beginning to come into sharp relief.

Telltale signs of just how the Indian embedded computing sector differs, both technically and market-wise, from larger embedded markets in the United States, China and Europe emerged in some informal discussions at India's first Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) held last month in Bengaluru, where over 1,000 conference delegates and visitors from companies such as Wipro, Honeywell, Broadcom, HP, Dell, HCL, Tata, ELXSI and Samsung turned out to take in three days of classes and exhibits.

Economic and cultural factors set the pace and pattern of electronics consumption in India, at least in the near term.

India is still a largely poor country with a relatively small middle class, and where "74 percent of the people still live in the countryside," according to Joe Jensen, general manager of embedded markets for Intel's embedded communications group, a keynote speaker at ESC-India. What this translates to in terms of consumption for traditional consumer electronics devices will be a slower ramp up in production and sales volumes for things such as MP3 players, video games and laptop computerspersonal electronic devices that have been huge volume drivers in the U.S., China and European marketplaces over the past several years.

Culturally, India appears to be a much less individual-centric and a more family-oriented society than Europe and North Americaand perhaps even China. In the large cities of those regions, one cannot walk on the streets or in any public place without encountering a huge segment of the population operating in either mobile-phones-to-the-ear or MP3-headphone-zoned-out modes.

In contrast, MP3 players seem especially scarce here. "There are so many people here with so little, I would feel guilty and selfish having an MP3 player," one ESC-India attendee said, noting that if he were to buy a music player of any kind it would be something he would be able to share with his entire, extended family, with whom he lives.

Video games "are practically non-existent" in India because they are too expensive. Laptop computers and other personal computing devices also have a low penetration rate, one observer noted.

So what are the top three items India's middle class aspires for? "A TV, mobile phone and a car," one observer said, noting that personal mobility in India's population-choked cities with poor public transportation far outweighed other electronic devices on most people's wish lists.

Shifting market
But the tide is turning. And India, most observers agree, is on the verge of a major market explosion and expansionespecially in the embedded computing segment, where increasing attention from some of the world's largest embedded device and software suppliers is beginning to shift into high gear from a design and development perspective.

Intel's objectives for the India embedded market emerged during a press conference. According to Jensen, Intel will help Indian firms develop platforms in the embedded segment with the intention of assisting these firms to meet the unique needs of India's emerging market. Form factor, modularity and other details of products for the emerging market will be met through reference designs being built by India-based design houses under the program.

The first solution to be unveiled will be reference designs for point-of-sale terminals. Intel sees the Indian retail market being the biggest market segment domestically for products using its embedded solutions. Versions of the device were shown at ESC-India.

Infotainment devices will also be developed under the program, while reference designs for medical-imaging products and communications-infrastructure products using Intel embedded solutions will be developed by Indian design houses for overseas customers. "Local design houses have become key to OEMs with respect to system architecture, and it is this that the program will seek to address," Jensen said.

'Tremendous' talent pool
Asked about the audience at ESC-India instructor and consultant Jack Ganssle noted: "The engineers seemed to be almost apologetic about the small size of their design teams, which often ran to 'only' 300 to 500 developers."

"In the U.S. a developer group of this size would be immense," Ganssle said, adding "there is a tremendous resource here in terms of talent." On the other hand, "the average level of expertise, of experience is significantly lower than in the United States," he noted. "Overall, I found these engineers to be extremely excited and engaged and that's all it really takes to drive an industry like this to do what they need to do," Ganssle said.

- Richard Wallace
EE Times




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