India should focus not only on the manufacturing of chips but also on the development of intellectual property that goes into these chips says Hemant Mallapur, Co-Founder & EVP Engineering, Saankhya Labs.
Q1. How Has the Global Shortage of Semiconductors Impacted the Industry?
Answer - Semiconductors are critical for every market ranging from consumer electronics, manufacturing industries, automotive industry, agriculture, healthcare, infrastructure, entertainment, telecommunications, transportation, energy management, military systems and space, to name just a few.
The global chip shortage has had a very big impact on all these industries. With semiconductors being an important component of the products, the shortage of chips has led to a slowdown in production. This has led to massive delays in the delivery of goods. For example, there are reports of delays of 10-12 months for some automobile models. Companies like Apple have also slowed down the production of their iPhones.
Q2. What Are Your Expectations From the Government That Is Reportedly Working on a Package to Push Semiconductor Production in India?
Answer - The global chip shortage and the current geo-political scenario has prompted the government to work on a package for encouraging semiconductor fabrication. However, setting up of fabrication units is highly capital intensive with the requirement of billions of dollars for a single fab. The return on investment will happen only if an end to end ecosystem is developed.
The government should also aim at promoting fabless semiconductor companies. We have a great talent pool as well as the presence of fabless MNCs in India. The R&D and output from the fabless companies will ultimately help in generating good ROI in the manufacturing of semiconductors.
Q3. How Significant Is It for India to Have a Fabless Semiconductors Ecosystem?
Answer - Fabless semiconductor companies are an integral part of the semiconductor ecosystem. They design the chipsets and own the Intellectual Property of each specific chip. Pureplay fabs do not design but only manufacture chips designed by their customers - the fabless companies. India should focus not only on the manufacturing of chips but also on the development of intellectual property that goes into these chips. This will enable the Indian ecosystem to capture a higher share of the semiconductor value chain.
Q4. Why Should the Government Prioritize PLIs for Fabless Semiconductor Design Firms?
Answer - As discussed, fabless companies form a crucial part in the semiconductor ecosystem. India already has a major presence of fabless semiconductor companies. Most of these are MNCs who have their development teams in India, and while the design happens in India, IPR is owned by the parent company outside India.
The Indian government should prioritize the PLI scheme for fabless semiconductor companies with a focus on homegrown entities that develop IP owned in India. India has a great semiconductor design talent pool, and a PLI scheme will help Indian startups’ chances of delivering to a global competitive market. Priority of the PLI scheme should be on domestic R&D with special emphasis that incentivises investments in R&D. Growth of semiconductor design IPR in India will be a boost to #AtmanirbharBharat for the semiconductor sector.
Q5. Are You in Talks With the Government for Designing Semiconductor Chipsets?
Answer - We interact with government departments to share our inputs on policies to boost semiconductor development in India. As a privately held product company, we assess market opportunities and decide our business roadmap on our own. So far, we have not come across any opportunity to engage with the government in the development of specific products. We do have one of our chip development projects being supported by an accelerator called SFAL (Semiconductor Fabless Accelerator Lab), which is funded by the IT Ministry, Government of Karnataka and managed under the aegis of industry association IESA (India Electronics and Semiconductor Association).
Q6. Tell Us About Your Partnership With ISRO.
Answer - We are the strategic MSS (Mobile Satellite Service) technology partner for ISRO. We have developed a number of Satcom and Sat-IoT solutions in association with ISRO. These include locomotive tracking terminals installed in Indian Railways, vessel tracking solutions for fishermen going in the deep sea, S-Band handheld satellite phones, hubside equipment, satellite receive-only terminals etc. Our solutions work with ISRO’s satellites.
Q7. From Space Towers to Home Appliances, Semiconductors Are Needed for Manufacturing of Almost Every Electronic Systems. What Is Your Take on the Market Potential?
Answer - Semiconductors is a mature industry globally with three decades of track record. The size and growth trends of the industry are well-understood. India’s consumption of semiconductors is now estimated to be around $50 Billion per year and growing at 26% YoY. The global market is $550 Billion in size with a similar growth rate.
Newer markets emerge continually. As the demand for electronic devices rises, so does the demand for semiconductors. The pandemic has brought in the concept of working from home and online education that has led to an exponential increase in demand for devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets. This has led to a big boost in demand for semiconductors.
The rollout of newer technologies such as 5G networks, Cloudification, Artificial Intelligence, Smart cars and Blockchain across the globe will ensure that the semiconductor industry continues to grow at these rates.
8. What Are Your Future Plans in the Semiconductor Space?
Answer - Saankhya Labs is now a Telecom and Broadcast equipment OEM apart from being a Fabless semiconductor company. We continue to develop our semiconductor chipsets based on Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology. We are presently developing our next generation products for 5G Telecom infrastructure, and they will be introduced in the market starting early next year.