Sanjay Gupta, Vice President and India Country Manager, NXP Semiconductors talks about secure connectivity solutions and trends in the semiconductor industry. Excerpts:
Q. When you say ‘secure connectivity solutions for embedded applications’, can you amplify on this differentiation and what are the threat scenarios right now and the panacea you are providing?
In the current era, there are billions of devices that we can connect to, whether they are IoT devices, handheld devices, health devices, V2X connectivity or infrastructural connectivity devices, the point is, the whole world is connected in some way or another. Connectivity is going to be an enabler for every industry, be it banking, automotive, government etc, which brings us to the realization that security is a cardinal element for growth of any ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for connectivity to be adequately secure because if we have great connectivity then there is always a risk of security breach. Security is going to be the basic enabler for any connectivity solution which must be established as a default standard. Hence whatever NXP is doing in the marketplace whether it is an IoT application or an automotive application, secure connectivity is crucial, and all the businesses thrive on that.
For example, if we go deeper into one of the verticals, within automotive, the world is talking about driverless cars. Connectivity plays a crucial role in driverless technology as the cars sense the data with the help of camera and radar. Whether the task is to connect with GPS through telematics or to connect with the outside radio stations with the help of advanced D-ram based applications, connectivity exists everywhere. These connected vehicles also bring into play several ECC key pairs that authenticate the messages the vehicle broadcasts. This vehicle identity (ECC private key) can be extracted and hacked and used to send false message to other cars, which might seem to be valid as the key that was used to sign the message, is valid. As such, it may be possible to disrupt traffic or takeover an identity and its associated permissions.
Most security hacks, whether targeted to cars or consumer goods like smartphones, link several smaller exploits. Therefore, the future of automation is all about how secure your transactions are. It is going to be based on domain controllers, hence rather than having a mushroom control architecture to micro control architecture you will have different domains for different applications and each one of them will be having a gateway or firewall to talk to and again the whole architecture will be enabled through secure connectivity.
Q. You offer solutions on 3 areas: Secure connected vehicle, Smart connected solutions, End-to-end security and privacy – what is your play on these 3 domains?
In the secure connected vehicle space, NXP currently offers both mid-range and long functional automotive radar systems. These radar systems can constantly sense the distance between vehicles in real-time which improves driving efficiency and safety with enhanced collision-avoidance and emergency braking systems. The existing surround view camera systems make maneuvering much easier and safer, but the vision systems can also enable features such as traffic sign recognition. ADAS’ key components are radar systems that constantly sense the distance between vehicles in real-time, improving driving efficiency and safety. Automotive radar systems are used for early detection of potentially hazardous situations like collision detection, warning and mitigation, coupled with blind spot monitoring and detection. Lane change assistance and lane departure warning systems also form a part of this system and NXP offers scalable solutions to its customers depending on their individual requirements.
Further, as the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) drives innovation to connect more and more of our everyday things, from smart devices and smart appliances to industrial equipment and network infrastructure. Reliable, secure and fast connections are key to delivering on the promise of the IoT and depend on the set of connections between the interfacing edge nodes, the gateways and the cloud. NXP brings together these building blocks, including hardware, software, connectivity, security and cloud services, to address the design challenges involved with the compatibility and seamless interoperability of these connected things.
However, this emerging world of interconnectivity and Internet of Things (IoT) is not without risk. IoT is still in its early stages and must still overcome significant challenges in security, safety, reliability, and privacy. Just imagine what would happen if hackers gained control of autonomous vehicles, or attacked the systems in a smart factory. More connections mean more openness, thus more exposure to malfunction and potential attack. With that in view, NXP is offering authentication and anti-counterfeit solutions for protecting manufacturers and consumers from fraudulent products. For instance, the company’s Secure Authenticator offers a best-in-class anti-counterfeiting and anti-hacking technology—featuring the highest performance and smallest footprint in a low-power solution. It provides complete, end-to-end security, including common criteria-certified design environments/production facilities and trust provisioning.
Q. If you take a macro perspective, how has the semiconductor industry changed to the new normal nexus of emerging tech forces and how NXP is reinventing/reimagining to this emerging tech landscape?
The semiconductor industry transformed about 50 years ago when the first transistor was introduced. Transistors can be categorized into four spaces, one is the semiconductor technology itself, which is nothing but the length of the transistor. For example, when I started the first project, I worked on the 250-nanometer technology, which means the length of the transistor was 250 nanometers. The momentum has moved on to shrinking geometries because every time we move to the next semiconductor node; the size of the transistor gets smaller and along with it the size of the chip also gets smaller.
Another example of the evolution of the semiconductor technology is the mobile phone. The mobile phone has now shrunk into a very small size with an increase in memory size. But if we look at it fundamentally, the chip is very small even though the memory is way larger than before.
Today, we operate portable computers, the performance of the computer which we measure in terms of the clock speed, used to be a kilohertz design 20 years ago. Now, the computer has a gigahertz design or a multi gigahertz design which runs a million times faster as compared to 20 years ago. Another factor that can be considered as an evolution is the increase in memory space along. The first computer that was available to the masses had a very small memory of some kilobytes and the disk drives had a very limited storage capacity, but if we look at it today, the storage space disk has evolved to tera drives on our disk which features less than our stem sized storage.
There is a tremendous increase in the density of memory that today we have in our phones and computers, which is again a million times more than what it used to be. The last thing that gives evidence of evolution is the size of the chip itself. As the Moore’s law says, the number of transistors in our chips gets doubled every 18 months and that has never stopped, which means that if our first chip had 10,000 transistors, today we have more than 1 billion transistors in our chips. Therefore, 1 chip is now equivalent to 100 chips of 20 years ago.
The semiconductor industry is four dimensional and there are many more second order effects which have taken place in the journey but overall it has been a tremendous revolution in the semiconductor technology.
Q. There is lot of talk about AI and Automation and Robotics – how do you see this development and how it will impact your business portfolio and enterprises at large?
The age of intelligent machines is dawning. Whether it’s for automation of cars, improved monitoring of smart grids or predictive maintenance of industrial facilities, artificial intelligence harbors great potential. Although, in recent years we have made tremendous progress in the space of AI and robotics, especially in areas such as data analysis, voice recognition and image recognition, the development of real Artificial intelligence is still in the initial development.
Artificial Intelligence will be a major driver of driver of silicon demand in the next decade with more than $60 billion (nearly 20%) of semiconductor revenue driven by AI by 2025. This implies that AI-driven semiconductors will grow 5-times faster than the rest of the semiconductor market and the growth will be driven primarily by storage on account of rising data. To capture this value in AI, NXP is developing a holistic ecosystem around hardware that will enable the company to gain mindshare of developers and be innovative leaders. Further, NXP is driving step-change in innovation and pursuing specific verticals that pose larger opportunity, such as Public and Social Sector, Retail, Healthcare, Banking, automotive and Industrials. Internally, NXP is organizing itself around micro-verticals with centralized common functions, such as R&D.
Q. You are in an industry which is at the cutting edge of technology and an enabler of all things electronics – right sourcing of skills hence becomes paramount – so how do you see the ESDM skills in India, and what is your appraisal of the quality of skills available and your talent sourcing and engagement strategy?
The ESDM industry started to evolve in India in early 1990s with assembling skills on electronic components. Though the sector is still in its nascent stages in India, the skillset available in this industry is growing rapidly. Today we have adequate engineering skills for electronic, system and semiconductor designs, which is also the heart of the system. A simpler way to understand the concentration of ESDM skills in India is by observing the different levels of abstractions. The first level of abstraction is the base transistor design for semiconductors. Though this domain is primarily dominated by MNCs, there is also a lot of investment in Indian market that contributes significantly in developing basic circuits from transistors. The next level of abstraction includes building an IP repository. There are numerous companies in India that work on both standalone IP as well as multi-mode platform IP designs. The third level abstraction focuses on chip design. Today, several SoC companies in India are directing their resources on designing a semiconductor chip. The fourth and final level of abstraction is system design, where multiple chips are added along with a mold software and board to achieve the final product – the embedded system design.
The Indian market offers a range of skill sets across all the four-domains. Further, development of ESDM skills has received great attention from the government as well, primarily because it directly aligns to the government mission of reducing the dependency on oil import and compensating it by electronic manufacturing in India. This will also prevent the government from facing a snag in the fiscal balance of the country. Like mentioned earlier, the age of engineers in India might still be younger compared to US or Europe, however, when it comes to innovation for high-end electronic system designs, I would rate them at par or better than many mature markets.
At NXP, our talent sourcing strategy revolves around sourcing, training and retaining. We strive to foster an environment where innovation can flourish and young minds are motivated and engaged in activities, such as patents filing, team building workshops, conflict resolution workshops and innovation workshops, that fulfill their appetite for engineering and technology.
Q. Can you talk about Indian design centers?
NXP started its operations in India in 1990 with a mission of turning India into a centre of excellence in SoC Integration & IP design and has scaled new heights over the years. The company has become a vital part of the global network of design teams, which form the core of its business operations and is one of the largest design centers outside of Netherlands and US.
Subsequently, the company set up its product development units at Noida, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Within a decade these R&D centres were self-sufficient with a hi-tech lab and varied functional expertise in digital networking and software and integrated circuit(IC) design, including architecture design, IP development, SoC Design, verification, Functional and Analog validation and testing. The company’s ICs were manufactured across the world including, US, Europe, Singapore, China and Taiwan, while the final silicon validation was carried out in India.