BANGALORE, India Two of India's leading high-tech companies, Wipro Technologies and MindTree Consulting, have signed on to provide design services to Taiwan's United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC).
The agreements mark a growing trend toward closer ties between the Indian software developers, both based here, and Taiwanese chip makers. Wipro signed a similar deal with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) last year, and MindTree said it is seeking additional agreements to provide IC design services in the region.
Links between Indian companies and pure-play foundries like UMC and TSMC are relatively new here. One reason is that few Indian companies can afford the large investment in tools needed for back-end design, since reaping a return on that investment takes time. Moreover, Indian companies have largely chosen to play it safe by concentrating on less-risky application software development.
"The advantage of having alliance s with both TSMC and UMC is that we are no longer restricted in terms of which technology our customers would want us to support them with," said A. Vasudevan, general manager of VLSI/system design at Wipro. "If a fabless customer comes along who is a UMC customer, we are just as equipped to design for that customer as we are for a TSMC customer."
S.N. Padmanabhan, MindTree's vice president of hardware services, said that "without a foundry tie-up, we cannot provide end-to-end product realization services." The deal gives UMC an additional design partner and gives MindTree the opportunity to take customers to UMC while helping the Indian company promote its design services throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Wipro's ASIC and system-on-chip (SoC) design groups will be used to leverage UMC's foundry technology resources, ranging from IC development to testing. Vasudevan said the partnership with UMC will help Wipro expand its design services into areas like turnkey ASIC/SoC products.
The company ha s been ramping up its ASIC and SoC design expertise for a decade. Rajita Kaundin, Wipro's marketing manager, said its EagleWision design methodology has allowed the company to expand its back-end design services.
UMC executives called the Indian agreements part of an effort to partner with vendors that can offer advanced design services to fabless customers.
Padmanabhan said the UMC agreement brought MindTree a step closer to its goal of becoming a product development company. "A foundry alliance such as this helps us make sample devices for customers using the intellectual property we have developed, though we are not in the business of making or selling devices," he said.
MindTree would consider alliances with other foundries, Padmanabhan said, but "UMC offered us the most flexibility and low-cost services. We are looking at going to UMC with our own intellectual property and making a sample device."
Wipro also has agreements with California-based prototyping service Mosis and is completi ng an agreement with Malaysia's Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) for test and packaging services.
Wipro recently launched a project for TSMC with San Diego-based SiliconWave in which Wipro handled integration and physical design for a Bluetooth SoC. "We reckoned that the majority of fabless companies may wish to work with either TSMC or UMC,," Vasudevan said. "By allying with both, we have simply ensured that we address the superset and serve the needs of both TSMC and UMC customers."