EDN Global Roundtable
By Maury Wright, Editor at Large - June 23, 2005
Maury Wright, Editor at Large, EDN Worldwide
Graham Prophet, Editor, EDN Europe
Kirtimaya Varma, Editor in Chief, EDN Asia
Tsuguyuki Watanabe, Editor in Chief, EDN Japan
John Mu, Executive Editor, EDN China
Pradeep Chakraborty, Correspondent, EDN Asia/India
Mike Pan, EDN Asia/Taiwan
Kwon Yong Wook, EDN Asia/Korea
Wright: Communications remains a key driver of economies worldwide. Here in North America, communications is a growth sector, whether you look at new deployments such as EPON, GPON, and BPON that are pushing fiber closer to the home, or LAN technologies such as Wi-Fi that are connecting devices within the home. Moreover, I expect WiMax to be a major success as well. What are the most prominent communications technologies being designed in you regions? Are major networking vendors designing and building routers and switches locally? What about mobile/cellular base stations? How about traditional telecom gear? How about wireless-LAN (802.11 or Wi-Fi) or wireless-broadband (WiMax or similar) equipment.
Watanabe: The most prominent communication technology in Japan is the cellular handsets. Networking vendors use routers and switches made by both international and local companies. Traditional telecom gear is designed and built locally, as are wireless-LAN and wireless-broadband equipment. Wireless-equipment developments make use of semiconductors such as network processors and Wi-Fi chipsets made by both international and local companies.
Prophet: There is no doubt that the locus of design for the systems most associated with Europe in recent years, cellular systems, is shifting east. As 2G and 2.5G systems have become commodity products differentiated by features added for local markets, that design activity has faded in Europe. There is base-station design and build in Europe, and 3G development work. And there is considerable strength in communications IP (intellectual property), and in protocol stacks and applications software for cellular systems, at both terminal and infrastructure levels. For example, the IP marketed by TTP Com out of the UK.
Chakraborty:India is fast emerging as a design hub. And, wireless and broadband are all the rage. Several local and international companies are involved in various activities. Quasar Innovations, a local company in Bangalore, is said to be the first to develop a full-featured Bluetooth-capable GSM/GPRS phone. LG is also said to have developed a phone [in India]. The big news is that Nokia has opened its first fully integrated mobile phone manufacturing facility in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, in India. Both GSM and CDMA handsets will be produced here. Elcoteq has also set up its manufacturing facility in Bangalore, focusing on communication-technology products, especially wireless. This is not all. Sony Ericsson plans to manufacture mobile handsets in India, as do Moser Baer and LG. Samsung and the others should not be far behind. With the telecom companies getting an additional 10 MHz of spectrum, it is now envisaged that India can handle a mobile phone population of 250 million by 2007, compared with the current 51.4 million subscribers in February 2005.
Next, several companies are developing GPRS, WCDMA, and MMS stacks for the global market (Sasken, Wipro), as well as WAP gateways (Jataayu). Furthe, OATSystems, and Infosys have joined hands to address the needs of the global RFID market. EPCGlobal has also launched its India initiative to address RFID applications. In the Wi-Fi space, Microsense has outlined its strategy. Proxim will be conducting beta trials for WiMax in Q2 2005. MobiApps is designing and manufacturing terrestrial- and satellite-communication chipsets, transceiver modules, and software platforms for applications that require remote monitoring, asset tracking, and two-way messaging.
IP-core development has picked up in India over the past few years. Companies such as Wipro, eInfochips, inSilica, HCL, and Sasken, have developed IP in the communications space. Design-services companies have silicon design teams that work on IP development.
There is also activity in the telecom and networking area. 3Com is said to be working on developing products for VOIP at its Hyderabad facility. LVL7, a leading provider of production-ready networking software, has a development center in Hyderabad where it is said to be working on solutions for Ethernet/IP equipment vendors. FutureSoft's Layer 2 protocol stacks have been included in a Ciena Ethernet Services Provisioning Switch.
In the base-station space, Ericsson has recently set up a facility worth US$50 million in Rajasthan for manufacturing base stations. Perhaps Nokia and the others would surely look at developing base stations at their Indian facilities.
Wright: Are the semiconductors used in communication systems in your region designed and built locally, or they imported? Perhaps you can cite examples of both.
Watanabe: There are both cases in Japan, locally and imported.
Chakraborty:A majority are either developed outside or imported. However, some design centers of leading multinationals such as TI and Intel do have their India centers that work extensively on the design side. Some, like Encore's Simputer, use a locally developed chip. Cypress Semiconductor will roll out its next-generation networking chips for easy and faster packet processing over the Internet in the second quarter of the next year from its India development centers. Cavium is expanding its India Development Center for developing software for silicon portfolio in Hyderabad.
Prophet: Both. Local design-and-fab would include Infineon, with its large business in cellular terminal chip sets, and STMicroelectronics in, for example, infrastructure chip sets. In the same space, Analog Devices would count as an imported supplier. The distinction is often blurred; do I count Texas Instruments as an importer to the region, or as an indigenous supplier with its European plants, and work done, for example, on its OMAP chip in Nice, France? There are increasing signs that large chip designs are being done on a globally distributed basis, making the 'design' aspect of the question a difficult one to be specific about.
Wright: It seems to me that communications standards are often so volatile and constantly in an upgrade cycle that ASICs and SOCs often don't make economic sense for those sockets. And while you might consider DSPs and FPGAs competitive in communications applications, they are actually symbiotic vehicles that both deliver signal-processing resources to specific tasks, with FPGAs winning where parallel processing is key and DSPs winning when maximum compute power is needed.
What types of semiconductor technologies are most widely used in communication applications, in your opinion? Are FPGAs predominant, or do more designers work with DSPs and application-specific standard products? Do you see SOC development for communication applications happening in your region?
Mu: Chinese telecom companies closely follow their international competitors when it comes to the adoption of semiconductor technologies. Cost is also vital to many local designers when they make technology decisions. The larger players in China are now staffing in-house IC design teams both for product differentiation and IP protection.
Chakraborty: Perhaps DSPs. Texas Instruments is very strong in India, and Ittiam, a local player, was recently selected as world's most preferred DSP IP supplier in 2004, based on a survey of DSP professionals by Forward Concepts. Also note that Xilinx recently created 12 IP cores in its first year of operation at its development center in Hyderabad, India. In addition to being verified and optimized for Xilinx programmable silicon platforms, including advanced 90-nm devices, the cores are aimed at telecommunications, consumer-electronics, and automotive applications. As for SOCs, quite a lot of activity is taking place. As an example, Insilica in Bangalore has an "SOC-ODM" model, where it delivers complete silicon to customer requirements.
Prophet: At the low-cost end, there is considerable expertise in Europe in RF CMOS, for example CSR with its Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chipsets. There is also some use of SiGe technology. My impression is that for the comms design work that goes on here, the use of FPGAs is still emergent; there is a lot of expertise in Europe around DSP, and modest project sizes often dictate the use of ASSPs. Nevertheless, there is a steady number of SOC projects brought to completion—including use of the latest 90-nm technologies. I would have to say, though, that big SOC designs are subject to the same pressures on development costs seen everywhere, and are not all that numerous. They are ever-more confined to the performance-driven regime, where nothing else will do the job.
Watanabe: In Japan, the mostly widely adopted semiconductor technologies would be baseband control processors and media processors for 3G handsets. FPGAs are used for mobile base stations. SOC technology has been adopted in cellular-phone design. DSP functions are implemented in application-specific processors or SOCs. I don't think designers are using general-purpose DSP ICs.
Wright: VOIP is a huge growth area in North America. We have both telecom carriers and cable operators deploying VOIP with excellent voice quality, and independent gear vendors and service providers offering service over any Internet connection. The result is low service prices for subscribers and huge market opportunities for VOIP IC vendors. How prevalent is voice-over-data or VOIP technology in your region? Who is deploying VOIP? Is it only large companies for internal use, traditional telephone service providers, Internet service providers, or wireless service providers?
Watanabe: Big companies have adopted VOIP systems for internal telephone use in Japan. The system builders are mainly traditional telephone companies like NTT.
Prophet: VOIP is gaining ground for large-company internal use, although it would probably be fair to say that it is seen first in companies that are already "tech-savvy" in other areas. A relatively minor but highly visible use is for toll-bypass, cut-rate international telephone service. It is just beginning to be used by individuals (in any real numbers) over their IP connections via providers such as Skype.
Chakraborty:Quite popular. Some like Cisco and Snom are currently selling VOIP phones, and others like Audiocodes are providing gateways, VOIP, CTI, and call-logging communication boards, VOIP media-gateway processors and modules. The three leading players in the IP-VPN game are Nortel, Avaya GlobalConnect, and Cisco.
While India is a fairly mature market when it comes to PBX systems, IP-PBX is in its infancy. The IP-PBX market was estimated to be worth US$43.1 million in 2004, according to Frost & Sullivan. The IP-PBX market was US$30 million in 2003 with an increase of 198% from 2002. Frost & Sullivan expects this market to touch $250.1 million in 2010, growing at a CAGR of 35.4% from 2003.
There has also been a lot of discussion surrounding SIP. Most of the enterprises and other communication platforms are still based on H.323 and are likely to remain so for at least the foreseeable future. Sooner or later though, SIP is likely to penetrate enough deployments that companies will have to take it into account when making a contact-center purchase or service-provider decision.
As for service providers, BSNL, Tata, Sify, Reliance, Hughes Escorts, HCL Comnet, and Bharti Broadband are offering VPN service, mostly, MPLS-based IP-VPNs. In India, IP-VPN is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 26% from 2003 through 2008 from 2.3 billion rupees in 2003 to about 11.41 billion rupees by 2008. MPLS-based IP-VPNs are being heralded as the technology of the future.
Wright: Automotive design work is now happening in almost every region of the world. While the auto is already an attractive target for semiconductor vendors, the best is yet to come. As technologies such as drive-by-wire become a reality, and sensing technologies take an active role in keeping the car and occupants safe, the number of semiconductors in the auto will skyrocket. What type of design work is prevalent in your region, hardware or software, analog or digital, DSP or microcontroller?
Prophet: All of the above! Driven by the demands of the high-end brands (BMW, Mercedes) there is very active design work at all levels in body, powertrain, and entertainment systems. Drift of features down through the model ranges continues year by year, increasing the volumes of components and systems.
Wright: Is the auto design in your area focused on drivetrain systems such as brakes or drive-by-wire, or on telematics such as GPS and entertainment?
Watanabe: All types of design are prevalent in Japan, including powertrain controls, braking controls, body controls, steering controls, and informatics systems. Each of these also includes software design. In the semiconductor products, many companies, such as Renesas Technology and Fujitsu, supply microcontrollers with CAN interfaces. Many other products for automotive use are supplied by a long list of semiconductor companies. In addition, many Japanese companies have designed GPS systems.
Prophet: I definitely see a trend toward implementing applications such as X-by-wire that have, in technology terms, been "in the can" for some time but have been held back by worries over matters such as possible legal liabilities.
Wright: Are the automobile companies in your region pushing technology to the maximum in new designs, or are they moving conservatively into new technologies?
Watanabe: Automotive companies in Japan relish the challenge of advanced technologies such as fuel-cell-based cars, short range radar, and ITS (intelligent transportation systems).
Prophet: You can find examples of each. However, there is anecdotal evidence that manufacturers are seeking to "rightsize" the feature mix in the newest models, paring down features that were conceived "because we can" and attempting to focus on features that drivers really make use of.
Wright: What is happening in automotive networks in your region? Is MOST still a strong networking technology? Are companies in your region pursuing FlexRay automotive-networking technology?
Watanabe: CAN and LIN are already used in Japan. The development of FlexRay was started by an automotive industry consortium called JasPar in Japan. MOST integrated with CAN will be adopted after 2008 in Japan.
Prophet: MOST is being actively developed for "infotainment" systems, especially as multiscreen rear-seat entertainment installations become more widespread. FlexRay is becoming the preferred option, going forward, for time-critical buses. At the lower complexity level, LIN probably accounts for as much business, due to its proliferation into vehicles at all levels in the model ranges.
Wright: Many analysts believe that consumer electronics segment—in particular spurred by the digital representation of audio and video—will be the biggest driver of worldwide economies going forward. Do you believe that consumer electronics is the most important market sector in your region?
Prophet: As noted in an earlier discussion on this topic, consumer electronics in Europe is a large retail sector, but only a limited amount of the product is manufactured locally. A larger proportion is designed locally, although there is some evidence that some of that design effort is also moving east. Consumer electronics is better viewed as an indicator of economic health in Europe, rather than as an industry driver.
Pan: In Taiwan, PC-related products are still the major export—items such as notebook computers, motherboards, and LCD monitors. In each case, Taiwanese companies own the largest market share in the worldwide market. Mobile phones, however, are still a tough business for Taiwan-based makers, because major brands don't do a lot of outsourcing. Meanwhile, orders from China have decreased. According to the Taiwan-based Market Intelligence Center, the year-over-year growth rate for Taiwan mobile phones was -1.8% in the first quarter, compared with 20.6% worldwide year-over-year growth.
Chakraborty: Yes, the consumer-electronics segment is steadily emerging as a force to reckon with in India. Projection and plasma TVs, DVD players, and MP3 players are considered hot items, besides digital video cameras. The fact that several mobile phones come with built-in cameras is also helping drive sales. According to ELCINA, the body for electronic components in India, the sectors driving growth at present are telecom equipment, related to growth of cell phones and Internet usage, computers and peripherals, and consumer electronics, including VCD/DVD players, televisions, and audio equipment. Another sector that is growing and will become significant in the near future is automotive electronics.
Electronic components constitute the largest chunk of electronic exports from India. Many firms are dependant on exports. The major export items are passive components, such as capacitors and resistors, wound components, CD-ROMs, connectors, color picture tubes, and computer components/assemblies such as head stacks, memory modules and RFID products. The main destinations for India's exports are the European Union, the ASEAN nations, and the United States.
Varma: The consumer-electronics sector is among the most important market sectors in the Asia-Pacific region. In the consumer-electronics segment, we include TVs, DVDs, VCRs, digital still cameras, camcorders, video games, set-top boxes, appliances, toys, and other personal and household electronic items sans mobile devices. Mobile phones have not yet fully evolved into consumer devices. If we don't include mobile phones into the consumer segment, then consumer electronics cannot be said to be the biggest driver of economies in Asia. If we look at the electronics industry output by sector, in Southeast Asia, the consumer segment is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.4% during the period 2003 to 2006, according to Fusion Consulting, relative to an 11.3% CAGR for computing and 8.3% for communications. For the period 2007-2010, the consumer segment will grow by a 5.2% CAGR, compared with 7.7 for computing and 6.3 for communications. In the Asia-Pacific region, computing rather than consumer electronics is the leading economic driver.
The main consumer-electronics products providing growth are DTVs, MP3 players, DVD recorders, and digital still cameras. The growing importance of Taiwanese and Chinese ODMs and EMS, and the waning influence of traditional vertically integrated Japanese OEMs, is pushing the growth of consumer electronics into the ODM and EMS segment. Taiwan is the most important ODM country in the world, while Taiwan, China, Singapore and India are emerging as hot EMS destinations. Consumer electronics is an important market sector in these regions.
Wright: The mobile handset continues to be the biggest selling end product worldwide. Is that true in your region? Is the handset considered a consumer product in your region? If not, how are handsets classified in your region? Do you foresee any impending slowdown in handset demand?
Watanabe: I suppose that mobile handsets are still the leader when it comes to sales volume worldwide. In Japan, however, the demand for handsets is fully saturated. Only the replacement/upgrade cycle drives new sales.
Varma: Yes, the mobile continues to be the biggest selling product in Asia-Pacific, and is gradually evolving into a consumer product from a telecom product, but the evolution is not yet complete. I do not see any slowdown in handset demand.
The Asia-Pacific region represents a broad spectrum of telecom infrastructure development, with mobile penetration rates as high as 100% to less than 5%. The wireless revenue for whole of geographic Asia in 2004 was $152.734 billion (iSuppli figures), and is projected to grow by 14.4% to $174.672 billion in 2005. Over the period 2003-09, the Asia wireless revenue is projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.11%.
The fastest growing telecom sector in Asia-Pacific is wireless technology, specifically cellular phones. Asia is passing through a "sustained 10-year bull market" for mobile phones. The Asia-Pacific market is made up of "mature" players and "developing" players. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are "mature" players. In Taiwan, the number of mobile-phone subscribers runs to 25.1 million, representing 100% penetration rate (APRG Research figures). Hong Kong, with a population of 6.8 million, reached over 8.1 million mobile phone subscribers in Q1 2005. Singapore has 3.9 million subscribers, constituting a penetration of 91%. South Korea has a mobile-phone population of 37 million against a human population of 48 million.
The major "developing" players are India, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. India has a population of 1.1 billion, but the number of mobile subscribers is merely 53 million. The Philippines, with a population of 86 million, has over 32 million mobile subscribers. Malaysia has a penetration rate of 58%, with 14.6 million subscribers out of a population of 25 million. Indonesia has 29 million mobile subscribers out of a population of 233 million.
While the "mature" players provide a great opportunity for Value-Added Services (VAS), the "developing" players provide the opportunity for basic services, making Asia the most dynamic and rapidly growing telecom economy of the world. The dominant players in "mature" countries are migrating their networks to data-centric 3G technologies and developing new data and video services to stimulate revenue growth.
Asia is not only the biggest consumer of cellular phones, it is also the biggest producer. It is estimated that 60-65% of mobiles phones are manufactured in Asia.
Asia is the largest market for wireless infrastructure, with an investment of $10.698 billion in 2004 (iSuppli), projected to rise to $11.773 billion in 2005. Asia will remain the largest market for wireless infrastructure, with a CAGR of 5.4% during the period 2003-2009.
Asia has been at the forefront in the deployment of next-generation wireless technologies. While Japan leads the world in 3G migration, Korea is closely following Japan. All major Korean carriers launched 2.5G networks in 2001, and are moving towards 3G. Most Asian carriers currently use the GSM standard for their existing 2G networks, though many began upgrading to GPRS in 2003. A few carriers in India, Hong Kong and Taiwan are currently deploying CDMA2000 as a 2.5G networking technology.
Prophet: The mobile handset is certainly a consumer item here, being marketed and purchased as a fashion item. The mobile market continues to confound in its ability to be driven by unpredicted (and unpredictable?) factors. Who would have guessed that an influential factor in the appeal of a handset would be its compatibility with a particular format of downloaded ring tone? I would expect to see the rate of handset turnover in mature Western European markets settle down to a base of upgrade business plus a modest growth rate. However, this may spike again when (and if) service providers attempt to migrate consumers to 3G tariffs by use of an "upgrade bundle" strategy.
Chakraborty: Yes, the mobile handset continues to be the largest selling product in India and is likely to remain so for at least the next two to three years. The demand for mobile phones has grown at a scorching pace in India and it is currently about 2 million units every month. The recent flurry of announcements by major cell-phone manufacturers to set up units in India is testimony to the fact that they too appreciate the potential in India. Even the Indian hardware industry is keen to supply components for these handsets. There is slowly and surely an all-out to make mobile phones the star product, which can drive growth for several years.
Wright: It appears the next frontier for the handset is video. Already we have major North American carriers such as Sprint and Cingular that offer video programming over the cellular network, albeit with quality ranging from a few frames per second to perhaps 10 or 12. Soon overlay networks will roll out, supporting higher-quality video, and in fact a DVB-H trial is already underway. What are the prospects for video to the handset in your regions?
Kwon: TU Media, a subsidiary of SKT, has recently started Satellite DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) service based on Toshiba's technology. Now, Satellite DMB phone users can enjoy television programs and movies everywhere in Korea if they pay about US$15 for the service. Meanwhile, Terrestrial DMB service developed by KETI will also start by the end of this year. On the other hand, Qualcomm and Nokia are also developing FLO and DVD-H technologies. Predicting the final winner in the Asia market is impossible right now.
Wright: The PC market remains robust worldwide, and more and more PCs are considered consumer products. Is the PC considered a consumer device in your region? If not, how is it classified? Are Media PCs, which can record TV shows and deliver video around a home, selling in your region? Will consumers in your region continue to buy full-featured PCs based on Intel and Microsoft technologies, or is there potential demand for lower-cost computers that simply provide word processing, email, and Internet capabilities?
Prophet: The PC as business tool, and the PC as entertainment center, are rapidly developing into more-or-less completely separate sectors. Media PCs with PVR capability are available, but could not yet be said to have become a mainstream consumer product. If you are doing PVR recording on your PC, at this moment you would still be in the "geek" fraternity. With well-specified PCs now a supermarket item with rock-bottom price tags, it's hard to see how there is any space left for a real basic-facility machine.
Watanabe: The PC market is still a big market. The number of PCs produced is about 740,000 per month in Japan. But the growth rate has been saturated. PCs are not categorized as consumer equipment in Japan but rather as industrial-electronic equipment. Many present PCs being sold in Japan provide the ability to record TV broadcasts.
Chakraborty: Yes, PCs are now considered a consumer device in India, and home PCs are proliferating. There are TV tuner cards available that can be attached to a TV to view current broadcast channels. Video-on-demand is still in a nascent stage, and DVRs are slowly catching on as a concept. It's still the early days.
Consumers in India generally prefer full-featured PCs with an Intel processor and MS Windows 98/2000/XP. Recently, Xenitis, a company based in Kolkata (Calcutta), launched a PC branded as Apna (My Own) PC at 9999 rupees (US$227.50).
Wright: Who are the semiconductor vendors in your region that are the biggest sellers of ICs into the consumer space? What types of chips are the big sellers—processors, networking chips, application-specific standard products, analog components?
Prophet: There is no reason that this should be other than the usual top-10 global semi vendor list. Depending on specific sectors, indigenous suppliers (such as STMicroelectronics) can be predominant, but overall, Europe functions as part of the global semi market.
Watanabe: Most semiconductor companies sell ICs to the big consumer-product makers directly. In case of small quantity business, they sell products through distributors. In terms of product volume, microcontrollers are the biggest sellers for both the consumer market and the industrial market in Japan.
Chakraborty: All of the leading multinationals are present here, including Texas Instruments, Infineon, Samsung, and Intel. Both processors and ASICs are selling here, as are DSPs. Analog Devices supplies GSM chips in Asia. It also offers a DSP and a media processor. Its Shark DSP is the de facto standard with any military equipment.
Industrial automation and control
Wright: Industrial control is an often ignored product segment in North America, yet one with enormous revenue. Much of the work in control seems to be related to minimizing power consumption everywhere from motor control, to power supplies, to power-management in products. Is power consumption a major focus in your region? How are design engineers attacking the problem of power consumption?
Watanabe: Of course, Japanese consumer product makers focus on the power-consumption issue as do players in the industrial-control market. Design engineers select low power semiconductor devices and develop a power-management architecture at the system level.
Chakraborty: Power consumption on consumer electronic devices is a major concern. Reducing the power consumption within a device, to increase the battery lifetime, is an attractive option. To address the size of the power supplies, efficiency needs to be addressed as well as parts count. Efficiency has to be increased to a large extent and component parts have to be reduced.
Total chip power was said to be on the increase due to SOC integration, especially leakage power, which can be up to 40% of the total power at 90 nm. Battery life concerns require management of active and standby power. Gate oxide tunneling leakage also becomes a major concern at 90 nm, in addition to the existing concerns with channel (sub-threshold leakage). More recently, Applied Materials, ARM, Cadence Design and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC), formed the Silicon Design Chain (SDC) Initiative, and announced new, silicon-validated, low-power design techniques to achieve total power savings of over 40% on a 90 nm test design.
Prophet: What might be termed "general industrial control" is also a very large sector in Europe. Marketing efforts towards this area often employ homilies about the benefits of efficiency and reduction of power wastage, but this may not always be the prime consideration of designers. For telecoms and base station designers pressed to deliver more channels from given rack space, or from a sealed cabinet, then minimizing heat dissipated will indeed be a prime consideration. For those developing motor drives, other considerations such as meeting stringent harmonic requirements (European legislative requirements, that is) may come first.
Wright: Is DSP an important technology for control applications in your region? Are hard-wired controllers still widely used? Is control design done via hand-coded software, or are engineer in you region moving to graphic environments, software libraries, and virtual control or instruments?
Prophet: As always with the general industrial-control market, it depends where you look. You can still find designers coding microcontrollers in assembler, but the for processor-based projects the centre-of-gravity has now moved to high-level language design, with as much abstraction as possible - although the DSP gurus will still code by hand. Graphical programming tools command a much higher level of confidence in the user base than they did even a short time ago.
Watanabe: Generally, I believe that the primary control circuits are transitioning from hard-wired logic to programmable systems based on MCUs or FPGAs. Software development techniques are also moving from hand-coded to high level languages such as C or SystemC.
Chakraborty: Engineers are definitely moving toward graphic environments, software libraries and virtual control of instruments. As an example, National Instruments recently unveiled an India-specific market expansion initiative to promote virtual instrumentation. Under this, LabVIEW, its flagship measurement and automation software, will be offered along with intensive LabVIEW training, as a single package. By netting many first time users into virtual instrumentation, the initiative will end up expanding the market for virtual instrumentation in India. The Indian market for measurement and automation is witnessing unprecedented growth fuelled by buoyancy across sectors like automotive, semiconductors among others. LabVIEW provides tools for data visualization, user interface design, Web publishing, report generation, data management, and software connectivity, etc.
Wright: Can you cite a product or two that highlights the great control work being done in your region? How about a household appliance? How about a technology-centric medical device? What about factory automation?
Prophet: We are watching with interest to see if technologies such as Zigbee, with local champions such as Ember, can make the impact promised in the industrial control arena.
Watanabe: One is an industrial robotic and other one is an air conditioner as a household appliance.
The engineering profession
Wright: In North America, we constantly hear about the amount of new electronics engineers that are graduating in China, India, and other regions. What are the most prevalent interest of new design engineers in your region – IC design, power, software, control systems, microcontrollers?
Watanabe: Ultimately it depends on personal interest. I suspect that new design engineers are most interested in software and how to design LSIs.
Prophet: Graduating engineers in Europe have interests that span the complete product development cycle, but if there is a trend it is towards being concerned with product design at the higher levels; system specification, and architectural-level design.
Wright: What portion of the new engineering graduates in your region stay and work in the regions compared to the portion that move elsewhere around the globe to work?
Prophet: Most engineers stay within their country of origin. Indeed, remarkably so, given the freedom to work throughout Europe that comes with belonging to an EU-member country. If engineers elect to work outside their home country, it is more often a transfer to a different continent than a more local move.
Chakraborty: I do not have a figure offhand. However, the brain drain used to be quite high a few years back. However, things have started to change of late. Some people have started returning to India. This is being called reverse brain drain in several quarters. Also, with nearly all of leading players having established design and/or development centers in India, they provide excellent opportunities to the fresh engineering graduates.
Watanabe: Most graduating engineers want to work in domestic companies in Japan. The language barrier is a big problem.