BANGALORE, India India's nascent design industry, no longer content to provide run-of-the-mill software services, is positioning itself to offer hardware designs and perhaps even system-on-chip design services. But industry experts at a conference in Bangalore said the country has a long way to go in retooling its high-tech sector.
Taking a cue from neighbors like Taiwan, which has become the leading designer and manufacturer of PC motherboards, risk-averse Indian companies are slowly emerging from the safe haven of software services to pursue riskier product design activities that could eventually yield the types of intellectual property needed to compete globally.
Speakers at the second annual Electronic Design Forum, hosted here by Cadence Design Systems Inc., said India is primed for product design but must first understand customer needs while investing in intellectual-property (IP) development and design tools. At a more fundament al level, participants said, India needs to encourage innovation, take more business risks and develop a "can do" mind-set.
Sridhar Mitta, one of India's best-known R&D engineers and a former head of Wipro Technologies' engineering laboratories, said Indian companies could complement their software expertise by targeting the development of semiconductor IP. "With proactive investments, companies here can be successful in semiconductor IP development," Mitta said.
S. Janakiraman, president of technology practice at MindTree Consulting, suggested that Indian companies gear up for product design by taking on outsourcing projects farmed out by overseas companies. "We need to have systems architects and product management people sitting in the markets to be aware of what's happening" in the design segment, Janakiraman said. "Morphing from offering software services to product realization is the challenge for Indian companies now."
To achieve the product design goal, companies here must address suc h technical challenges as miniaturization; higher data-processing speeds; growing complexity, created by the use of radio-frequency and mixed-signal processing; power consumption; and compliance with industry and national standards, Janakiraman said.
Still, "the expertise, experience and involvement are already available here, and those can be built upon" to move into product design, he said.
The drive to transform India's electronics industry from software services to products will also require intensive exposure to specific industry segments, such as telecommunications, control systems and consumer electronics. Then, experts said, companies here must build a portfolio of proprietary technologies, licensed IP, development and integration methodologies, test frameworks and increased participation in international standards committees.
Traditionally, few Indian companies participate in standards bodies. Now they are beginning to realize that they must be ther e at the inception of new products.
"The ability to [determine an architecture] and make hardware-software trade-offs, understand and [undertake] project management, and deliver innovation and rapid implementation capability, together with a consultancy approach, will help here," Janakiraman said.
Companies here typically possess system architecture skills while lacking broad expertise in systems integration and IP development. Exposure to specific industry segments is minimal and needs to be widened. "The Indian information technology industry has evolved from legacy-systems maintenance to software reengineering and, in the recent past, has started to focus on electronics design," Janakiraman said. "The future will be about product realization, but only technology development firms in the products or services area can do this."
The result, experts said, is that application development companies could be left out, while system software developers thrive.
Rajat Gupta, managing director of Cypr ess Semiconductor's Indian operations, said understanding new markets will be the key to the success of India's product design drive. "India does not do this too well," he said, adding that Indian companies targeting semiconductors need to draft a product road map rather than focus on a single device or technology.
Market conditions here that discourage risk taking will also require aspiring design companies to cut risk by reducing development costs. One way is to leverage existing IP and architectures in their product designs to create re-usable IP, Gupta said.
"India has demonstrated that it is a technology development hub, and its technical manpower skills have the best reckoning," said S.L.N. Murthy, chief executive of Ecad Technologies, based here. "But it lacks realization infrastructure" which is needed to see product designs through to completion, he said.
Indian companies "have a traditional approach to hardware prototyping, with a limited awareness of high-performance interconnect desi gn," Murthy said. "[They] have not caught up with virtual prototyping as a concept, and they fail to look at [profit] loss due to delayed product introduction." India needs fast-turnaround prototyping shops for product design, must give packaging the same importance as circuit design and must use virtual prototyping approaches where feasible, he added.
Others at the design forum said Indian designers should seize growth opportunities in system-on-chip design. A. Vasudevan, general manager at Wipro, said designers need to develop reusable IP and embrace system-level specification and verification in their analog and mixed-signal designs. What is lacking, Vasudevan said, is a forum for IP exchange and the type of system-level design experience that few Indian companies other than Wipro possess.
U.S. companies based here have designed products from scratch. Texas Instruments India has designed a digital signal processor and what it says are the world's fastest control DSP and floating-point DSP, accordi ng to Avinash Gautam, general manager of DSP design for TI India. "If TI India has done it, I don't see any reason why it cannot be replicated," Gautam said.
"There is a need to get out of the comfort zone, a need to take risks," he said.