India's IC industry watch: is the semiconductor ecosystem finally taking shape?

HCL Technologies, a large Indian provider of IT services and consulting, recently announced the acquisition of Sankalp Semiconductor, a local analog and mixed-signal designer, for $25 million in cash. It is part of HCL's strategy to expand into new markets, and the deal is a sign of the growing number of chip design firms emerging in India that are no longer just design hubs for multinationals.

Since the 1980s, semiconductor manufacturers such as TI and Intel or EDA suppliers Cadence and Synopsys have set up overseas design centers in India. For these multinationals, India is a hub for software development talent, which can support large development projects with large Numbers of people. Now there are a number of alumni from these design centres who have started their own careers. You can find teams of Indian start-ups that have been members of former TI engineers or management, and some of them already have a lot of entrepreneurial experience.

For example, the founder of Sankalp Semiconductor, Vivek Pawar, has worked at TI for more than 15 years. The company's current CEO, Samir Patel, is the first head of Rambus India and has been with the company for 15 years. Patel, who built Sankalp's north American presence, became the company's chief technology officer in 2013.

An earlier upstart in the Indian chip industry is Cosmic Circuits, co-founded in 2005 by four former TI engineering managers; The company, which is based in Bangalore and is a provider of analog mixed-signal IP, was acquired by Cadence in May 2013. Cadence chief executive Lip Bu Tan was bullish about India as early as 2011, when he invested in Cosmic Circuits, saying the country has a good chance of producing world-class chip players. Interestingly, two of Cosmic's founders have also joined Sankalp's management team over the past two years.

In fact, when Patel attended an event in silicon valley in early 2018, he thought there would be more acquisitions in India and more ipos of new companies on the Indian stock market, such as Tejas Networks, a developer of optical networking systems that successfully listed in India in 2017.

India's IC startup family tree

Cosmic was co-founded by Ganapathy Subramaniam, who continued to work as a partner at Mr Chen's venture Capital firm WRVI Capital, with a focus on the Indian market. One of his investments was Aura Semiconductor, a fabless Semiconductor company that provides wireless IC, timing IC, and portable audio IC solutions for Internet of things applications, founded by former Silicon Labs engineers Srinath Sridharan and Kishore Ganti.

Subramaniam is also chairman of Cirel Systems, another bangalore-based fabless semiconductor company that specializes in mixed-signal asics and standardized power management products, as well as MEMS sensor front end ics.

There will be a born TI "alumni" founded by Signalchip announced earlier this year, the company after eight years of development time to become India's first developed the 4 g and 5 g/LTE NR modem chip IC industry, and released four chips: it contains fundamental frequency transceiver and 4 g/LTE modem single chip machine, 4 x4 LTE frequency modem single chip, 2 x2 LTE transceiver chip, and support 5 g NR standard 2 x2 transceiver chip. The RF in the Signalchip chip supports all LTE / 5g-nr bands up to 6GHz, and also takes advantage of the positioning capabilities of India's own NavIC satellite navigation system.

Cases like Cosmic's founder, born from TI, are just one of a growing family tree of Indian chip design; Saankhya Labs, a software-defined radio chip developer founded in 2006, is a co-founder of Philips Software, Genesis Microchip (which ST acquired) and Synopsys.

Saankhya Labs recently announced that it is developing a 5g-capable next-generation Broadcast offload platform for ONE Media 3.0, a subsidiary of U.S. television station operator Sinclair Broadcast Group. The company is developing an end-to-end network platform that includes radio nodes and mobile terminals, allowing 4G and 5G network operators to offload over-the-top and live content traffic to a one-to-many digital terrestrial broadcasting (DTT) network.

Last January eInfochips, an internet-of-things design service based in Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, was bought for $280 million by Arrow Electronics. Pratul Shroff, the company's founder and chief executive, started out as a logic design engineer in Intel's microprocessor division and later worked at Daisy Systems, an American EDA company.

The three co-founders of Tessolve Semiconductor, which provides design, testing and product engineering services for chip and embedded systems, were engineering managers at TI, NS, Motorola and Cirrus Logic. Tessolve, acquired by Hero Electronix in 2016, boasts more than 1,500 engineers and customers that include at least eight of the world's top 10 semiconductor companies. Hero Electronix is the technology venture capital arm of Hero, an Indian motorcycle maker.

India's semiconductor ecosystem finally taking shape?

What do these companies represent? From India of TI in a multinational company such as "alumni" founded his own IC business in India, is it possible to like silicon valley in those days, because there are many who have served Fairchild "alumni" with established companies such as setting up new company, and form the semiconductor industry ecosystem, and then become the power of leading global technology industry?

Sateesh Andra, managing director of early-stage venture capital firm Endiya Partners in India, sees the U.S. -china trade war as an opportunity for India to upgrade as a chip design hub. Last year Endiya invested $1m in Steradian Semiconductor, A Bangalore start-up co-founded by former employees of TI and Qualcomm, which has more than 50 patents in GPS and lte-a technologies; Steradian claims to have developed the world's smallest 28nm mmWave imaging radar chip, capable of 4D imaging.

And although the government in order to achieve the "made in India" (Make in India), has been to promote all kinds of subsidies and incentives to foster domestic electronic industry, Andra contribute in an article in the journal of India said that now is unprecedented semiconductor industry development opportunity for India, but the lack of competition in the market fairness may become an obstacle.

I have observed the Indian electronics industry for a long time since 1993, and my view is that while India has been showing ambition, it still needs to move from a cultural attitude to putting the right amount of real money into the chip ecosystem. Digital app start-ups that serve India's vast consumer base are flush with cash, but local electronics design start-ups remain relatively unloved relatives of investors, despite the success stories of alumni from multinational companies.