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India makes headway in analog design

Posted: 10 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:India analog design? ASIC? mixed-signal chip?

Ten years ago, Anand Valavi thought of starting an analog design group at his company, Wipro Technologies, where he worked as an ASIC engineer. Analog, he thought, could be strategic for India as well as his company, which was trying to develop a portfolio of silicon blocks for licensing.

"At that time, newspaper articles were saying there weren't 40 analog engineers in all of India," predicting the shortfall would impede the growth of the country's semiconductor business, Valavi said.

Three years ago, Wipro executives finally decided Valavi was right and hired him back from a job at Microsoft in the United States to found the new group. Valavi now heads a 150-person analog group at Wipro, arguably one of the largest in the rapidly emerging country.

"It took nearly 10 years [for Wipro] to be at the leading edge of digital design, but with this analog effort, we couldn't wait that long," he said in an interview in his office here.

Valavi created a core team made up of India natives he convinced to return from jobs in South Korea and the United States at companies such as Intel, Linear Technology and Texas Instruments. Then he rounded out the group with handpicked candidates from India's universities.

To date, the group has designed a range of 90- and 65nm phase-locked loops, 65nm read channel chips for a HDD and even a few blocks at 45nm. The group is particularly proud of a medical mixed-signal chip that had to be able to run for up to three years off a button cell, with some blocks drawing just nano-amps of current. "A lot of the circuits had to operate at sub-threshold levels," said Valavi.

Analog dreams
The manager still has big ambitions in analog. "Our steps so far have been fledgling moves," he said. "In the next three years or so, we want to get to the point where people think if they have some state-of-the-art analog work to be done, India is a good place to do it."

Indeed, India has made great strides in recent years in the field of analog design, which is often considered more art than science. Companies such as Conexant, Intel, Infineon, Marvell and TI all have analog work done here.

"There are definite pockets in India where the kind of work that is done here is on par with the best in the world, but what we are lacking are the numbers," said Shanthi Pavan, a professor in the electrical engineering department at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras. "There [still] are too few analog engineers and a paucity of middle-level managers."

Tapping India talent
TI India has more than 100 engineers working on analog projects. "Analog has always been a key focus, and our India team always works with our worldwide programs on cutting-edge R&D work," said Poornima Mohanachandran, general manager of analog at TI India, who has more than 18 years of analog experience.

TI's India branch has spun off three local analog startups. Cosmic Circuits is the most prominent of the trio since it may be India's only pure-play analog startup. The other two, Karmic Design and Sankalp Semiconductors, provide design services that include analog work.

"The analog market is not easy to enter, but once you get going, it is one of the most profitable businesses," said Ganapathy Subramaniam, co-founder of Cosmic Circuits, which licenses analog IP. "The critical factor is that it is talent-intensive, and talent is scarce."

Vivek Pawar, who left TI a few years ago to set up Sankalp, agreed. "India has a very small and a very disproportionate share in the global analog market. Unless companies as well as engineering schools come up with a viable model for ramping up and training engineers, the going will be extremely tough," said Pawar, whose small but successful analog services firm is based in Manipal.

Analog is important because the SoC chip business in India is booming and as much as a third of SoCs consist of analog blocks, said C. Muthukrishnan, vice president of business and strategy at Karmic Design Center India, which provides services to TI's India and Dallas offices.

- Sufia Tippu
EE Times

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