We take a look at India's growing VSLI chip industry, as it moves from service based to product development.
If you move around Marathhalli, Mahadevpura, Brookfield, Whitefield Road, and Kadubeesanahalli areas of Bangalore, you'll end up finding close to a hundred small to medium-sized VLSI design services companies. These companies provide VLSI design engineers on a contract basis to leading semiconductor vendors. Development offices of leading global chip makers and silicon IP developers are also concentrated in the aforementioned areas. But it is tough to find an India based VLSI company who design and sell their own chips, except for the two companies; Signalchip and Saankhya Labs. Signalchip and Saankhya Labs have developed market-relevant cutting-edge SoC chips in the advanced 5G wireless communication areas.
Saankhya developed SoC chips named Pruthvi-3 series, designed using patented Software Defined Radio (SDR) architecture. The new SL-30xx and SL-40xx chips supporting worldwide broadcast communication standards can be used in multiple communication products including mobile devices, broadcast TV, satellite communications, ADAS systems and military communications. Saankhya developed a patented 5G broadcasting solution, mainly for video streaming to mobiles, where the mobile phones can utilize freed up bandwidth for other applications including voice. These chips utilize the TV transmission dedicated white-space frequency for convergence of broadcast and broadband services. These chips are fabricated by Samsung fab in South Korea.
Saankhya is expecting massive business growth from these new chips, where it is looking at a 50% year over year revenue growth and expecting sales revenue around Rupees 100 Crores in this financial year.
Saankhya is founded by Parag Naik, Vishwakumara Kayargadde and Hemant Mallapur. All these founders are engineers at their core with vast experience in designing chips, software, and systems.
Another equally interesting chip-family code-named Agumbe is from Signalchip, a company invested and mentored by Dr Sridhar Vembu, cofounder of Zoho Corporation.
The Agumbe product line includes:
- SCBM3412: Single chip 4G/LTE modem featuring 2×2 MIMO and TDD/FDD support
- SCBM3404: Single chip 4x4 MIMO LTE Baseband Platform featuring 4x4 MIMO and TDD/FDD support
- SCRF3402: Single chip 2X2 transceiver for LTE supporting 350MHz-6GHz and up to 40MHz RF bandwidth
- SCRF4502: Single chip 2X2 transceiver for 5G NR standards supporting 350MHz-6GHz and up to 100MHz RF bandwidth
These chips can be used to design base stations of different form factors covering small cells to high-power base stations. Agumbe chips support network architectures such as OpenRAN/CRAN with flexible interface configurations. Agumbe is also the name of a hill station in the Malnad region of Karnataka which receives the highest rainfall.
These SoC devices were developed with eight years of research and development, demanding high levels of patience and diligence. This shows quite a long period of consistent research-effort is required to develop globally competitive products, when capital investment needs to be flown without having any revenue for many years.
Himamshu Khasnis, Rajesh Mundhada, and Kandasamy Shanmugam are the co-founders of Signalchip.
Adding to these two made-in-India chips, there are two more initiatives taking birth in Indian Institute of Technologies (IITs) resulting in the development of two more chip families for different applications.
The open source RISC V architecture based processors were developed by a group of students and faculty from IIT Madras, Chennai. These processors are named as SHAKTI processors. They were developed with the aim to save the IP cost and also save the processor-user from using any black box technologies from proprietary silicon IP providers. The source code of all the components of Shakti processors is open, free to use and modify. The users can circulate the source code without having to sign any agreements. Prof. V Kamakoti from the Department of computer science and engineering of IIT Madras is the key person behind this initiative.
In another similar effort, the researchers from IIT Bombay, Mumbai have developed and fabricated a microprocessor named AJIT. The nine-member team headed by Prof. Madhav Desai have collectively developed this chip. A company named Powai Labs funded by MeitY is to own and market this microprocessor chip. The processor architecture and other details of Ajit were not disclosed openly by the developers and the company. Ajit is expected to cost less than two dollars or even less when it is manufactured on large-scale.
All this indicates that India’s VLSI chip design industry is emerging from a services business to product development.