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Vinod Dham, Paulraj call for urgent action on semiconductor & electronics tech

Two of the most prominent Indian-Americans in technology have warned that if India does not act now to build its semiconductor and core ICT (information and communications technology) capabilities, it could be left far behind by other major powers. They indicated this could make India’s economy, society and security highly vulnerable, especially in the new geopolitical environment.

“It’s time for India to make big, bold commitments,” said Vinod Dham, often called the father of the Pentium chip for his contribution to the development of Intel’s Pentium microprocessor.

“It’s time to get real and not just keep talking,” said Arogyaswami Paulraj, who has made pioneering contributions to wireless technology and who has won such prestigious awards as IEEE’s Alexander Graham Bell Medal and the Marconi Prize, and last year was inducted into the US Patent Trademark Office’s National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Speaking at the annual summit of the India Electronics & Semiconductor Association (IESA) last week, both noted that chips are at the heart of everything around us – smartphones, PCs, cars, watches, agriculture, drones, medical devices. And yet, India is nowhere in this ecosystem, and is heavily dependent on imports. India has enormous chip design talent, but almost all of that resides in the India centres of global companies like Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, AMD, Micron, Texas Instruments, and Nvidia. Paulraj said many of the technologies of these companies remain under the control of the governments of countries where they are headquartered – for national security and other reasons.

Dham said the Indian government should launch a fully independent and fully autonomous National Electronics Commission , something along the lines of ISRO, C-DAC or C-DOT, directly reporting to the PM’s office. “That will help to cut through delays,” he said.

Paulraj said India should create a new apex body to frame and implement policy that will effectively support the core ICT economy. “This apex body must have a thorough understanding of the global ICT ecosystem – patterns of IP ownership, barriers to entry including patents and technology transfer, kind of investments needed, structure of global venture capital.Washington, Beijing have such bodies,” he said.

The creation of companies in this space requires substantial capital. And VCs prefer to fund software ventures, especially those focused on the consumer market. Dham said the government must supply the critical seed capital. “I recommend $500 million per year be invested side by side with other VCs in product and chip design startups. I suggest another $500 million per year as investment as limited partner into domestic VCs dedicated to investing in chip, product and intellectual property based startups,” he said.

Dham also said he had been against building a grand fab in India. “But now that Moore’s law is coming to an end, I think India can afford to jump into this race. A level field is opening up. Invest in advanced silicon technologies,” he said.

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