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View from India: The semiconductor is the new oil in this digital age

Data will be fuel for the global economy, driving the tech revolution and the semiconductors that lie at the heart of it.

Today’s economy is based on data, or rather data-driven artificial intelligence (AI). Semiconductors enable advances in communication, transportation, education and electronic devices. “The semiconductor industry is projected to be $1tn by 2030 and the data economy could be the driving force. Data is stored and processed and memory storage is central to it. Data-driven mobile could be characterised by 5G networks, complex 3D designs, advanced AI and intelligence edge,” said Sanjay Mehrotra of Micron Technology at Semicon India 2022.

Data memory and storage may be tapped by the auto industry, given that electric vehicles are increasing the advanced driver safety features as well as infotainment options. Data memory and storage could be used to improve agricultural productivity. Memory and storage are leading the semiconductor industry and it requires bright minds to whet opportunities emerging from it. At a glance, data memory and storage could increase the power of semiconductors, provide high-definition products and enable complex packaging.

We are at an inflection point for the global semiconductor industry. The semiconductor is the new oil in this digital age, fueling economic growth worldwide. Semiconductors could be live in almost all verticals from autonomous vehicles and AI to disrupt climate change. “Now is the time to invest in Indian semiconductors as India has a strong backing in science and engineering. Other than that, India is a digital powerhouse and may be ready to take strides in this direction. Indian semiconductor manufacturing industry calls for a collaborative approach in the form of labs for interdisciplinary work, collaborative research and scholarships,” said Randhir Thakur of Intel Foundry Services, Intel.

Moving forward, new semiconductor designs could offer a solution to unsolved issues relating to healthcare and automotive. 5G, edge networking, AI and auto could unleash new opportunities for the Indian IT industry and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). 5G and AI could be seen as disruptions in the data economy because of data and computing resources; 5G, with its low latency, enables cloud-based scale. “In the future, about 75 per cent of the data may be generated outside the data centres, wherein smartphone, automobile and communication could be growth drivers. 5G applications could be leveraged to bridge the rural-urban healthcare divide,” added Mehrotra.

Looking back, post-Independent India, the country developed into an industrial nation and, later, the IT industry established the country as a trusted supply chain partner. India has a footprint in intellectual property design, OEM and system manufacturing. It could be possible that the country needs to reinforce its position in the semiconductor scenario; This could happen by partnering with tech companies, scaling-up the infrastructure and nurturing talent. Apart from that, business regulations and ease of trade may attract green-field talent. “When we talk of Intel and semiconductors, the name of Vinod Dham stands out as someone who did a seminal contribution to the industry. Our largest design center outside the US is in India. We network with over 70 startups and have assigned a fund of $1bn towards their promotion,” highlighted Thakur.

From Charka (spinning wheel) to Chip, India has come a long way. Domestic semiconductors and chip manufacturing can contribute towards the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat, or Self-Reliant India. “India could take lead in chip design through skilling initiatives, using supercomputers, and engaging in more applications. The chip design stack could be built into AI processors and CPUs. Software 2.0 is the future of computing. Semiconductors are finding their way into all sorts of devices. How the architecture opens up becomes interesting and could be worth pursuing in terms of employment prospects,” explained Jim Keller at Tenstorrent.

To a large extent, whether it’s the startups or companies, they are supported by friendly government policies and auto-renewal of licenses that favor the ease of doing business. Above all, digitisation is bringing speed and transparency to the regulatory framework; The aim is to make India a trusted partner in terms of digital broadband services and talent, something that became a focal point at Semicon India 2022 when Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed at the event. A case in point is the partnership between C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing) and Qualcomm to target semiconductor design startups in line with the objectives of the production-linked incentive scheme.

Applied Materials, a material engineering solutions and semiconductor display equipment manufacturer, has announced that it will invest Rs 1,800 crore (Rs 18bn, or approximately £189m) in India. The company has recently invested $50m to purchase land in Bangalore to expand its engineering infrastructure. Such collaborations and MoUs could go a long way in promoting the semiconductor industry.

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