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India seeks to boost efforts in IP firms

Posted: 09 Jul 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IP? SoC? HDTV? wireless? ASIC?

Indian technology companies facing cost pressures from a global economic slump and domestic competition are seeking a way out by boosting R&D investments to develop semiconductor intellectual property (IP).

Ittiam Systems and Cosmic Circuits are pursuing the pure IP route, having rejected the services business. Service providers Wipro Technologies and Mindtree Ltd are now developing chip IP and are using it to attract new services around their IP products.

Ittiam Systems is India's largest pure IP company, focusing on advanced media communication applications for which software solutions are either unavailable or too expensive. Its IP includes synthesizable RTL cores that can be integrating into an ASIC being designed by its customers.

In 2005, Ittiam began investing in multiformat high-definition (HD) video decoder IP. The video decoder can handle most video standards, enabling SoCs for HDTV and HD DVD applications," said Srini Rajam, chairman and CEO, Ittiam.

"Venture funds and investors believe that IP companies cannot scale in revenue," said Ganapathy Subramaniam, CEO, Cosmic Circuits. "ARM and Rambus Inc. have proven them wrong. While there are many IP companies in the world, only very few have been able to scale in revenue," he added.

Cosmic has created over 75 analog IP cores for portable power management, video analog front-end, WLAN and WiMAX analog front-ends. The company works with more than 10 foundries to create IP cores from 0.35nm to 65nm.

"India is slowly emerging from services and getting into the business model of licensing IPs," Subramaniam added.

Market researcher Gartner Inc. ranks Wipro-NewLogic as the leading global provider of WLAN and Bluetooth IP, estimating that it holds two-thirds of the global market for IEEE 1394 IP cores. Wipro's chip IP arm is focusing on wireless and wireline connectivity.

Potential areas for growth
"Developing IP is an important differentiation for the leading design service houses, where wireless communication, analog components and DSP-based IPs are the potential areas for Indian companies," said A. Vasudevan, VP, semiconductor and system solutions, Wipro.

Mindtree, which specializes in short-range wireless technologies, is focusing on Bluetooth IP. "It has invested in ultrawideband technology, and plans to offer UWB IP in its future products," said S.N. Padmanabhan, senior VP for semiconductors, Mindtree.

Mindtree also has several peripheral IP blocks usually bundled with the Bluetooth or UWB products. "The entry barrier is very low if someone has to build synthesizable IP at the RTL level," added Padmanabhan. "The semiconductor industry needs various IPs and smaller players can provide small, standards-based, popular IP blocks. Building IP blocks is the easy part and marketing them is the toughest," he noted.

Sridhar Mitta, who led Wipro's unsuccessful IP startup EnThink, said India's track record for IP development is not good. "The lessons of EnThink are that products or IP companies will not get attention in large service companies," he added, noting that, "Indian companies will see IP business as an adjunct to their service businesses."

India's IP strength
Matta said the best opportunities for Indian success in IP development are in volume markets like PCs or cellphones. "Adopting standards and creating new ones will also boost India's IP efforts," he added.

Gartner predicted that Indian IP development would be dominated by big chipmakers in India as well as independent IP providers. "Some of the independent Indian IP providers are Wipro, Cosmic Circuits, Mindtree and HelloSoft," said Ganesh Ramamoorthy, principal research analyst for semiconductor IP and design, Gartner.

- K.C. Krishnadas
EE Times

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