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Semiconductor Industry Outlook: Enormous Opportunity, Says Jaswinder Ahuja

Comments(1)Filed under: EDA companies, electronics design, IC design, IoT, semiconductor industry, chip design, wearables, Indian semiconductor companies, Jaswinder Ahuja, Cadence India

Jaswinder Ahuja knows EDA and he knows India. The industry veteran has worked for Cadence since its earliest days in 1988 and has led the company's India operations since 1996. He's overseen the nearly tenfold growth in Cadence India's workforce and has enjoyed a ringside seat to the continuing transformation of India as a silicon design hub. I wanted to check in with Ahuja--Corporate Vice President and Managing Director, Cadence India, pictured below--to get his current perspective on where the region and the electronics business as a whole are headed.

Cadence Corporate Vice President Jaswinder Ahuja

Q: Jaswinder, let's start with a high level: From your vantage point, what's driving the electronics industry today?

A: Mobile connected devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud computing. The mobility market is expected to reach $141 billion by 2018, growing at a CAGR of 10.8%. Wearables, the next frontier in mobility, is forecast to be an $8 billion market by 2018. And we have barely scratched the surface in terms of applications - currently most of them are fitness and lifestyle products, but as the technology evolves the imagination is the limit to where this disruptive technology will go.

Q: What about IoT?

A: Cisco forecasts that the IoT will involve 50 billion devices by 2020. As far back as 2010, the number of things connected to the Internet exceeded the number of people on Earth. This is going to be an enormous market. Consider that Google bought Nest, the home device company, for $3.2 billion. The industry giants recognize that the IoT is going to change the way we work, live, and play.

The cloud represents at $6 billion opportunity for semiconductors by 2015, according to McKinsey. Apart from wired and wireless infrastructure, the cloud will need 32-bit MCUs, optical and other sensors, discrete chips, disk drives, microcontrollers, etc.

Q: What does this all mean for semiconductor and electronics systems engineers?

A: A lot of change! Change in the way we design; change in how we manage complexity and in how we verify those complex designs. Let's take three big design developments:

  • The need for good-quality IP
  • Challenges such as low power and mixed signal
  • Changes in hardware architectures

First, with increased SoC complexity comes the need for more silicon-proven, quality IP blocks. Increased functionality means more IP cores, and that causes challenges in SoC integration and verification. In his keynote address at CDNLive Silicon Valley, Krishna Yarlagadda, President of Imagination Technologies Inc., said that the path to tackling system design complexity runs straight through SoC IP design and methodology, because getting differentiated systems to market in a timely manner can no longer be done from scratch. I liked his quote from your post:

"The key is to take the existing IP that's best in class and bring it together in a way that you can deliver your solution faster along with your core intellectual property." 

Q: Talk about the low-power and mixed-signal challenges that never seem to abate.

A: You're right they never go away and just get more challenging with time. Take the power consumption concerns. A successful design flow must simultaneously consider power, performance, and area constraints in a seamless closed-loop, multi-objective planning-to-signoff solution. Power optimization techniques must combine seamlessly with advanced power switching and scaling techniques applied to power domains. But these advanced techniques can lead to component overhead and introduce new complexity to design, verification, and testability. Engineers demand a holistic solution that manages complexity while reducing risk and increasing predictability, and we're delivering on that.

That leads to my last point, which is that rapid technology acceleration has caused rapid changes in hardware architectures.  In the IoT, for example, all of the real-world signal data coming in through all sensors must be processed before it can be stored or consumed by the processors and microcontrollers. Many of these applications are algorithm-intense with low-latency requirements, so hardware implementation is a must. The most economically viable means of accomplishing this today is to utilize high-level synthesis. Many companies are already widely deploying high-level synthesis tools, such as Cadence's C-to-Silicon Compiler.

Q: Jaswinder, you have seen the remarkable evolution of this industry as it addresses relentless increases in complexity. Companies used to be able to go it alone, but that's now impossible.

A: Ecosystem collaboration has become increasingly important in the last decade, but never more so than today. Turning design into product requires collaboration with many different kinds of companies in the ecosystem, from IP to manufacturing. In the new IoT era the value is created not by the individual components but, instead, by the combination of them, from device though hub to the cloud that holds the data that is analyzed. Choosing the right ecosystem partners is crucially important.

Q: I had the pleasure of interviewing Jani, the president and chief technology officer for Mindtree, the global IT, IP, and design-services company. He had some interesting comments on the evolution of India as a design center. How do you see things evolving in the coming years? 

A: We cannot foresee the electronics of tomorrow, just like we could not have imagined 15 years ago the electronics of today. But we are witnessing a time in which startups are taking the front seat in driving innovation. That means local entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to make a big impact. The environment for entrepreneurship in India is ripe, with never-before access to venture funding from investors and the government.

Cadence has been working closely with semiconductor and product startups for many years, and we have witnessed increasing startup activity, contrary to global trends. For India to make its mark on the global electronics stage, entrepreneurial activity must grow. There is a world of opportunity out there as multiple big trends drive the electronics industry to new horizons. Bleeding-edge innovation will come from startups, and if you are a budding entrepreneur, this is the time to grab the opportunities out there.

Brian Fuller

Related stories:

-- 25th Anniversary: Mindtree CTO on Electronics' Evolution and India's Engineering Revolution

-- CDNLive 2014: Lip-Bu Tan Cites Opportunities and Challenges for Electronics

-- Semiconductor Industry Outlook Continues to Brighten

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