Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and semiconductor solutions provider Texas Instruments recently celebrated 20 years of its existence in India. Doug Rasor, VP and manager of worldwide strategic marketing at the company visited Bangalore to participate in the TI annual developer conference. He spoke to Priya Padmanabhan of CyberMedia News about TI's focus areas, the DaVinci platform and the company's plans for the India market.
What kind of areas are you focusing on at present?
Digital Signal Processing for the several decades has been the company's focus. I spend a lot of time understanding what is the next big application area for DSP. The analog circuitry that surrounds DSP is both a great business opportunity as well as a source of challenge for our customers. So we help them with the analog and the DSP part and try to build a better relationship with customers at the system level. With large companies, it is sometimes difficult to be entrepreneurial and react quickly and create new products.
I try to incubate new ideas based on interactions with big companies, universities, start-ups and people who watch the market. Products like DSL modems and cable modems, MP3 player chips, digital camera chips and our Open Multimedia Applications Platform (OMAP) wireless platform were incubated using these ideas.
I work with third party companies in the ecosystem at our developer conferences. Even for big customers, TI does not have all the pieces they need. So we work with them to help them with the missing pieces. It is like getting Legos to build from everywhere.
What are the technologies that TI is currently working on?
We are betting big on convergence between entertainment and communications. In Asia, and other countries, phones are no longer for just talking. Camera phones are becoming common and also a lot of new applications like video and multimedia. We are making investments to take it to higher levels. We are adding video and software with analog functions, power and battery management for smaller phones. There is convergence in communications and entertainment in areas like the IP set-up box and entertainment services using broadband networks.
Our DaVinci platform is aimed at addressing video and support communications and the rest of the interfaces. As far as mobile TV goes, we are investing in tuner chip to receive signals for DVDH.
Healthcare is another area that is using communications and video imaging. Heath care costs are growing exponentially around the world and with the increase in aging population, technologies like Ultrasound, need to go for $1 million machines to $100,000 machines to serve communities across the world.
What is the roadmap for your DaVinci technology?
DaVinci is our chip architecture /platform for imaging and what we need to do next is to deliver the specific DaVinci devices. You will see that happen aggressively over the next year. We have already painted a broad target about the applications-video, IP security cameras, IP set top boxes, camcorders and wherever there is multi-format digital video.
Right now we don't have any plans for any specific DaVinci device for medical imaging. But I think that medical systems vendors will look at DaVinci and think of replacing their multiple DSPs with one DaVinci chip. We would expect medical applications and others like machines for industrial control to use similar DaVinci devices. But right now, there are no plans to do specific chips for medical systems.
What are your plans for the ultra low-cost mobile (ULC) chipset?
We have been planning a lot around ULC chip-sets. There is a lot of buzz about high-end phones. But if you look at the number of subscribers - 1.6 billion subscribers, the number is small compared to the four-six billion people who can be reached with cellular — who can make their first phone calls in their lives on a cell phone.
I think emerging markets are a big opportunity and we will target those as well. They are not sexy technologies but they will provide us a lot of value and capabilities. The bottomline is that this market is about cost. So we have developed a single-chip phone - so that all the analog processing, digital processing and the radio rest on a single device. We are actively engaged with handset-makers and also some of them in India to create those handsets. The first phones will be out in 2006. They are being tested now.
With other companies like Motorola and Infineon also announcing their plans for the ULC mobile market, isn't the field becoming highly competitive even before the phones are out?
This is a big market and no one company can cover the whole market. To be successful, certain factors are necessary. One factor is to integrate the technology with a single chip; to my knowledge, a lot of people have announced their intentions to do it, but are not there yet. The acid test is when the phones come out.
Secondly, it is important to have no margin for error. You cannot afford to have the die size too large or a package too expensive. We think that the ability to own your own fabrication facility without having to depend on other foundries is important.
We think we are well positioned since we are experienced and have the technology in place to build chips in TI factories.
For TI, India has been more a development base than a market. But since the last few years, this is changing. How does the company view this evolution?
Yes, TI has been in India for 20 years. We have done valuable development out of here. Because of the growth of the consumer economy in India, many of our customers are coming here. We are now helping them in development and support. Gradually, there are indigenous companies like Ittiam and Sasken, which are investing in wireless and RFID. This will be an on-going process and something we are committed to and will invest in.
My personal observation is that in India you don't have people who have learnt “from-the-school-of-hard-knocks” experience unlike US Silicon Valley. That will come eventually.
With more and more functionalities getting added on smart phones, when do you think these phones could match the processing power of PCs?
We like to admire companies like Intel who we compete against. But they have been on the MHz/GHz treadmill forever. Now you see them retrench and lower their clock speeds and talk about multiple cores. If you look at our OMAP platform, we have been shipping multiple cores for about five years. We focus more on system performance, which includes battery life and applications and not just how fast they run. I think there will be an overlap of portable computer and smart phones in areas of performance and capability.
In a couple of years, it is going to be very difficult to tell the difference between the two.