India may have to wait a while before bleeding-edge chips from companies such as Intel, TSMC and Samsung are manufactured here. For now, the country’s journey in the semiconductor sector is more likely to start with assembly, testing, marking and packaging (ATMP) and specialty fabs.
India’s large mobile phone market has often been cited as the harbinger of a thriving semiconductor manufacturing base, but the lack of infrastructure and the absence of legacy in the business is keeping top players in the business away, according to industry experts.
“We recommended (to the government) that we need to really focus on the 28nm technology node,” said Rajeev Khushu, chairman of the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA).
The “right first step” for the country would be to go with semiconductor ATMP companies, which generate more employment and require less investment than full-fledged fabs, he said.
IESA had also urged the government to start with specialty fabs, which play a key role in sectors such as power, electric vehicles and medical devices, Khushu said.
“The advantage with specialty fabs is that it’s still a new thing and thus you are not far behind and can catch up. ATMPs will take off first, followed by specialty fabs and then high-tech fabs,” he said.
The government may have received up to 20 expressions of interest (EoIs) for this technology, according to a top executive from a semiconductor firm operating in India.
The government has received EoIs from global players and would come up with “concrete schemes” for semiconductor manufacturing in India in six months, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, secretary, ministry of electronics and information technology, had said at an industry event in May.
The Tata group and Vedanta group have reportedly been in talks to enter the space, though Vedanta may set up a display fabrication plant instead of a semiconductor plant. “Big names” in India have started recruiting talent for semiconductor ATMP, while others have started reaching out to global players to explore joint ventures, said the executive quoted above.
But the biggest semiconductor firms in the world are not considering India at all, experts said. “India has been trying to bring chip manufacturers into the country for many years, to reduce the reliance on imports and to have trusted partners for critical applications. But it always has been and still continues to be difficult to attract multinational companies to set up chip fabrication units in India,” said Gaurav Gupta, Research VP at Gartner.
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