Japan, too, starts to look to Indian designers

by Dr. Paula Doe, Contributing Editor

Japan’s major chipmakers’ preference for keeping their chip design work at home could handicap the country’s semiconductor makers in changing world markets, argues SST partner Nikkei Microdevices. Though the Japanese companies are starting to take advantage of Indian design resources, they markedly lag their US and European competitors in India.

Many leading global chipmakers now have large and well-established design centers in India, doing highly sophisticated work. Texas Instruments has about 1400 workers in India, its largest offshore design center, 500-600 doing SoC and RF analog design and another 500 doing embedded software. The company also added a new wireless communication chip research center last year, and completes a new facility this year with room for up to 3000 designers. STMicrodevices employs 1700 workers in India, accounting for 15% of the company’s total designers. The Netherlands’ NXP has 800 designers there, 12% of its total, 30% designing hardware and the rest embedded software. Freescale now has 700 designers in India, and has said it plans to increase that to 1500 over the next several years. Intel has about 1000, Cadence 900, Infineon 600, Synopsis 500, and Samsung 200.

And the work done in India is increasingly sophisticated. Synopsys notes that users of its design software India were working on chips of essentially the same complexity last year as those in Japan, with very similar distributions of process generations, speeds, and gate densities.

But most of Japan’s semiconductor companies are just starting to contract some work out to design service companies in India. As one Japanese chip executive notes, “We haven’t come to a company consensus yet on how best to use Indian design capacity.” Toshiba has been a bit ahead of the rest, buying up the Singapore design service company FTD Technology’s subsidiary SoCrates Software India about two years ago, where it now employs some 200 designers.

Other major Japanese chipmakers just started working with the big Indian design service companies last year. Renesas Technologies is contracting some design to KPIT Cummins Infosystems, and the companies expect about 500 KPIT engineers will be doing work for Renesas within three years. Elpida Memory will use the FTD Technology unit Edison Semiconductor, which now has only 10 employees, though it aims for 170 by 2009. And NEC has started contracting with Wipro Ltd. and Tata Consultancy Services for structured ASIC design services.

Japanese companies could be missing out on both a key future market and a vital source of design talent to make up for shortages at home, argues the leading Japanese trade journal’s report. The Indian Semiconductor Association, which now has 120 members, projects in a roadmap developed with Frost & Sullivan, that India will consume some $36 billion worth of semiconductors by 2015, for some 6.5% of the world’s total.

And the country is turning out some 500,000 technical graduates a year, including about 4000 chip designers, says Synopsys India sales director Subhash Bal. What’s more, the new graduates in India have more practical training, which gives them a 3-4 year jump on new hires from Japan, notes Oki Technocollage director Toshio Takada. “There’s a big difference,” he says. It’s also an advantage that the Indian designers speak English, so they can better read and understand the documentation for international standards for protocols and interfaces.

But communication can be a problem. H.R. Venkatesh, VP of Japan and Asian operations for Wipro, notes that his company has developed a database for its employees that relates what the Japanese say to what they really mean. — P.D.


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