The semiconductor industry has evolved significantly over the past two decades. A few key themes during this period have included: (1) the growth and importance of foundries, (2) the emergence of independent ASIC design houses, and (3) the increasing use (and reuse) of third party IP blocks.
At SemiCon West 2014, Gartner Group Research Vice President Dean Freeman noted that foundry semiconductor revenue has increased from roughly $4 billion in 1994 to over $40 billion in 2013 (a 13% compound annual growth rate), and has outpaced the 6% CAGR growth in the overall semiconductor market.
As well, Gartner analyst Ganesh Ramamoorthy noted in a “Gartner Survey Analysis” that annual growth in outsourced ASIC design services has exceeded 20% in recent years. Finally, design use of third party IP blocks in SoC designs has increased significantly, from approximately 20% in 2007 to an estimated 40% in 2014, also as forecasted by Gartner.
With fewer and fewer complex integrated circuits being sourced from integrated device manufacturers (IDMs), the need for a robust ecosystem of value chain partners has never been greater.
By their nature, fabless SoC companies have a complex value chain. In this chain, foundries and outsourced semiconductor assembly and test (OSAT) companies provide manufacturing, assembly, and testing services; third party IP houses provide critical IP blocks; and ASIC vendors provide design services and (in many cases) finished integrated circuits to customers. Increasingly short product lifecycles and demanding development schedules require tight coordination of value chain partners and strong, positive relationships with these companies.
The emerging presence of ecosystems is a critical evolution in our industry. With value chain disaggregation, many industry players have launched partner programs to enhance the value provided to their customers. For example, major foundries aggregate IP providers, OSAT companies, and ASIC design houses together to ensure rapid, low-cost development and production of complex SoCs. Some foundries have also formed formal alliances with peers in order to reduce new node development expenses and to help speed commercial availability of these nodes.
ASIC design firms have a range of partnerships that enable rapid, low-cost integrated circuit design and delivery. Industry-leading IP providers are partnering with foundries to quickly develop silicon-proven IP and enable efficient reuse of this IP. These same IP providers are working with peers to help promote complementary, interoperable IP blocks, and also with ASIC designers to efficiently transfer this technology and underlying know-how. Several IP providers also facilitate open communities, where users, designers, and other value-added third parties can collaborate to improve existing products and solutions.
Successful partnerships focus on jointly addressing major customer and industry needs, including lower SoC costs, faster chip performance, smaller IC footprints, and reduced system power. In today’s increasingly technical and performance-driven environment, a “silo mentality” that fails to include or collaborate with value chain peers is doomed to failure.
Not properly supporting an IP block provided to a foundry or ASIC designer is insufficient. Deep partner collaboration during IP development and rigorous, hands-on support during chip design and tapeout are critical to achieving ? and exceeding ? customer requirements. Successful foundries develop new nodes while concurrently partnering with IP providers to ensure the availability of robust, silicon-provide IP blocks. World-class ASIC designers utilize partnerships to gain deep knowledge of foundry processes and to develop expertise in bundling IP to achieve aggressive customer requirements.
To ensure you are putting together a successful partner program here are a few questions to think about:
* What partnerships (formal or informal) does your company have in place?
* How does your ecosystem compare to those adopted by your peers and competitors?
* What relationships does your company have in place to ensure you address customer (and industry) needs in an effective, collaborative manner?
Finally, consider expanding your web of partners to help improve the future answers to any of these questions. Companies across the semiconductor value chain are embracing the mutual benefits of partnerships and most (if not all) welcome the opportunity to explore a range of potential business relationships.
Ultimately the next cool device or electronic gadget that we “can’t live without” will be the result of brilliant technology, forward thinking, and an ecosystem of partners that can turn a vision into reality.
Joe Gullo , a Senior Director at Rambus , leads the Rambus Partner Program. In this role, Joe is focused on identifying and engaging with potential partners, creating mutually beneficial relationships, and effectively managing these partnerships. Joe held leadership roles at GE Lighting before joining Rambus in 2012.