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New semiconductor push is different: Father Of the Pentium Chip

Vinod Dham, better known as the “Father Of The Pentium Chip”, spearheaded a team of engineers at Intel in 1993 to develop its first microprocessor with a name. The engineer, entrepreneur and venture capitalist has joined the government’s advisory committee to drive its ambitious project to make India a global semiconductor hub. Dham sat down with DH’s Reshab Shaw to explain how India’s latest attempt to win chipmakers is different and when the global chip shortage might ease.

How has the launch of the Semicon India conference helped us?
It’s a historic launch for digitising India and completing the entire ecosystem of their digitisation by going all the way down to designing, building and packaging chips. So, we are trying to create the entire semiconductor ecosystem which has not been done before, or was previously done in bits and pieces. We’ve been doing things, but nobody thought of it in a comprehensive way. And that’s coalescing with this particular launch.

India has mostly failed to woo chipmakers in the past two decades due to poor infrastructure, unreliable power and red tape. What’s different this time?

So, the previous attempts of bringing in the ecosystem have been individuals involved through some context with the chief minister or some cabinet minister trying to bring their idea of setting a fab, which I think was a wonderful idea.

But to build and bring in a project of this complexity, magnitude and capital intensive requirement of $10 billion today, and another $5 billion more in the coming five years, this is not a thing that could be done bottom up. The idea of bringing it top down from the Prime Minister, the IT Minister and the junior IT Minister and the entire cabinet including, the CDAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), nano centres and the various universities and bringing partners from outside like Microns and Intels of the world to set up their own centres, that is what will make it real this time, as opposed to why it didn’t happen last time.

When do you expect the global chip shortage to ease?
If I hear and read what Sanjay Mehrotra (the chief executive officer of Micron Technology) and Pat Gelsinger (CEO of Intel) are saying, they are talking about at least another 24 months before we have ample supply for all the chips. So I think that’s how long the experts are saying the shortage will last.

The semiconductor industry is an energy guzzler and India is facing trouble on that front. How do you see this playing out?
India’s electrical supply is now pretty much, much more stable than ever before. And clearly, in the semiconductor industry you cannot have too much variability of power supply, too much fluctuation, too many spikes. But I am assured that is not an issue to be even discussed because we have already taken charge of it.

Apart from ISMC inking a MoU to set up a $3 billion chip plant in Karnataka, we haven’t seen a lot come out of Semicon India 2022. Should we be worried?

I think all of the media needs to realise and catch up to the facts and not compare (with) the old stuff because that was really never being done from top down. This is the first time everything is being thought through comprehensively and being put in place. There’s a new excitement and I think we should ride that bus and it’s our job not to just criticise and stand and point fingers but make it happen. It takes a few good men to make these things happen. We have to all collectively join this effort to make it happen.

Where is Bengaluru placed in the chip marathon?
I do not know honestly where Bengaluru is placed vis-a-vis the semiconductor ecosystem. Bengaluru is clearly the Silicon Valley of India. It is the hub where all the talent, knowhow, knowledge and the ecosystems already exist. I won’t be surprised if some part of it will be here but if it’s not, that won’t surprise me either.

I think it should be where there’s both talent, but more importantly all the infrastructure like you said, power, water etc, (where) all those inputs can be given sustainably because these facilities have to run 24/365 (at any time, all year round). Deccan Herald

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