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Lone ASIC vendor in Japan stands firm

Posted: 06 Apr 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Socionext? ASIC? Fujitsu? Panasonic? DBJ?

Socionext, founded in March 2015, is the merger of two troubled LSI design teams, from Fujitsu and Panasonic. The 13-month-old pre-IPO fabless company is 40 per cent owned by Fujitsu, 20 per cent by Panasonic and 40 per cent by the Development Bank of Japan (DBJ). Composed of about 2,700 employees and seven disparate business units, the company is under government pressure to keep all its employees on the job.

Running Socionext are chair and CEO Yasuo Nishiguchi and president and COO Amane Inoue. Nishiguchi, a former Kyocera CEO, served most recently as an operating executive at The Carlyle Group LP, a private equity fund. Amane is originally from Fujitsu Semiconductor.

EE Times last week caught up with Inoue at company headquarters. We asked about Socionext's progress in its first full calendar year, specific areas of post-merger 'synergy' and Socionext's new product and technology roadmaps. We also asked what lessons, if any, Socionext might have learned from Renesas, born out of the consolidation of semiconductor teams from Hitachi, NEC and Mitsubishi.

Amane Inoue

Figure 1: Socionext president and COO Amane Inoue

Socionext who?

Socionext's revenue, combining sales of the Fujitsu/Panasonic LSI design teams, is estimated at roughly $1.3 billion. That's pretty big, but Socionext is a fabless company little known outside Japan.

One thing is clear, though. Right now, Socionext is the odds-on favourite as the last ASIC vendor standing in Japan.

Roughly 60 to 70 per cent of Socionext's revenue comes from ASIC businesses. As one Japanese semiconductor executive said, "Socionext is the only chip company who could receive all the ASIC RFQs in Japan," thanks to the ASIC heritage bestowed by Fujitsu and Panasonic.

The story gets more complicated. Inoue explained that Socionext is seeking to expand ASSP revenue, currently trailing at 30 to 40 per cent of the company's whole business, to 50 per cent.

With Japan's electronics business shrinking globally, hoping to get big new ASIC design wins in Japan isn't so realistic. Equally tough will be increasing Socionext's ASSP presence in the global market.

Socionext isn't exactly an easy company to pin down. Its product portfolio is all over the map.

The codec and image processing chips might be one market segment Socionext is already known for. Fujitsu has been a leading ASIC supplier to one of the most prestigious camera manufacturers in Japan for a long time. Panasonic's LSI team, serving as the internal supplier to Panasonic's huge CE business, also designed a well-known SoC platform for digital consumer products, called UniPhier.

Socionext is equally engaged in optical network chips (developed by formerly Fujitsu and now Socionext's design team in the U.K.) and high performance SoCs for servers (developed by the U.S. design team, designed into Fujitsu's own supercomputers).

Socionext's ASIC products

Figure 2: Socionext's ASIC products range from codec for TV, fast SerDes for servers, vehicle graphics to transcoder for broadcast and fast A/D, D/A for network.

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