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India's VLSI design projects soar to greater heights

Posted: 24 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mixed-signal designs? analog? intellectual property tool?

VLSI design services provided by companies in India brought in $760 million last year, rising to $927 million in 2008, according to a study recently released by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA).

The ISA report said the U.S. market accounted for nearly 70 percent of the 2007 revenue. Europe is the next biggest buyer of design services from Indian firms, and Japan is seen as a market with huge potential. "The unique challenges Japan presents in terms of language and managing relationships set it apart, but Indian design houses are starting to get more projects from Japanese companies," the report added.

India logged 1,826 VLSI design projects last year, of which 1,027 were done in the captive centers of overseas companies, and the rest by domestic design service providers. The ISA noted that it expects the total number will rise to 2,283 by the end of 2008.

Indian design houses are beginning to do more of the complete design, from specification to tapeoutat least within companies that have experience in designing complex chips at the 65nm process node.

"Nearly 11 percent of last year's total fell into the complete-design category, with the rest being chip-testing assignments," said Poornima Shenoy, president, ISA.

"Although the cost of both infrastructure and salaries is rising, there is still about a 30 to 40 percent differential when doing designs in India vs. the United States or Europe," the group said.

Digital designs take the lead
"Digital designs made up the vast majority of the 2007 total, at 72 percent, followed by analog at 16 percent and mixed-signal designs at 12 percent," the report said. "Companies in India are largely involved in digital design, but the industry is expected to shift toward mixed-signal technology in a few years," said S. Janakiraman, chairman, ISA. "In India, there is a demand for trained personnel to work on analog and mixed-signal designs. If the shortage of talent is addressed, India can emerge as a major powerhouse in mixed-signal design," he added.

In terms of gate count, 61 percent of the 2007 designs were between 1 million and 10 million gates. Another 21 percent came in at less than 1 million gates and 12 percent were in the 10 million to 20 million gate ranges. At the upper end, 3 percent were in the range of 20 million to 30 million gates and 2 percent at 30 million to 50 million gates. Just 1 percent of designs surpassed 50 million gates.

"In India, 83 percent of the chips were designed in 90nm and 130nm processes," Janakiraman said. "Some companies have designed chips at 45nm process technology and some are in the process of creating libraries," he added.

Valuing cost
In any technology upgrade, cost is a major factor. "The 90nm/65nm process technology is successfully meeting the geometries and the cost target," he said. "Some captive companies will migrate directly to 45nm, but these will only be very few," he added.

According to the ISA report, 52 percent of digital designs in the past year were at 90nm and 31 percent at 130nm. Another 7 percent were in 65nm technology, 2 percent in 45nm and 6 percent in the older process technology of 180nm. Two percent of designs were done at 250nm.

"Analog and mixed-signal design is largely done at the 130nm or 180nm nodes in India," he noted.

Specifically, the report put 46 percent of 2007's analog designs at 180nm, 34 percent at 130nm, 18 percent at 90nm and 2 percent at 65nm. In mixed-signal, 48 percent were in the 180nm process node, 32 percent in 130nm, 17 percent in 90 nm and 3 percent in 65nm.

Need for competence
"The Indian industry employed 13,996 engineers in 2007," the ISA said, adding that, "27 percent of whom had master's degrees. Engineers with doctorate degrees have only 1.5 percent of the total engineering workforce."

The shortage of PhDs has been a major concern, especially when it comes to innovation, and some industry players are seeking to lure Indians with doctorate degrees back from the United States, where most of them currently work.

The ISA report listed the top design services companies in India such as HCL Technologies, KPIT Cummins Infosystems Ltd, MindTree Ltd, Sasken Communication Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro Technologies. Intel Corp., Texas Instruments Inc., IBM Corp. and Motorola are among the largest global companies with captive centers.

Indian companies that provide VLSI design services are often paid at an hourly rate for the number of engineers they put on an assignment. The preferred alternative by Indian firms is to be paid on a project basis or monthly.

Monthly rates, which depend on the seniority of the engineers, are usually from $3,520 to $6,160 per personnel. Last year, the average monthly rate was $4,562. The biggest projects, however, are sometimes decided on a firm, fixed-price contracts.

Of the 1,826 overall designs in 2007, the largest single category (42 percent) was module design and verification, while 25 percent were in physical design and 16 percent were in intellectual-property development.

The largest industry segment that did VLSI designs out of India was consumer electronics, with 33 percent, followed closely by telecom and networking products. The portable- and wireless-products segment accounted for 14 percent, computing for 9 percent and automobiles for 4 percent. The medical and defense segments accounted for the rest.

Design-service challenges
While the long-term prospects for the country's high-tech design services providers are bright, the report cited a number of challenges. On top of the list is the lack of engineers who can be immediately deployed on a design. "Many Indian engineers need additional training and skill development," ISA said.

"Although Indian companies may be good at product design, but they need to do more in complete-system design and development," the report said. "The lack of adequate testing-and-validation facilities within the country is also a setback, lengthening cycle time and prolonging revenue realization," it added.

- K.C. Krishnadas
EE Times





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