DELHI, India Electronics companies are embracing the philosophy that they must find partners to help conceive and design new products as quickly as possible. That's driving a wave of business in R&D services for a number of Indian companies.
"More and more people realize innovation is not just done in one company but with a network of companies," said Debashis Ghosh, a regional manager who oversees the telecom business for Tata Consulting Services (TCS), part of the giant Tata conglomerate. "Your best innovation comes when you are part of a good network," he added.
In tackling the opportunity, TCS has some 5,200 engineers, about 1,000 of them focused on hardware and 300 specifically on chip design. The group has developed expertise in areas such as cellular, WiMax and video compression, and serves a range of aerospace, automotive, telecom and consumer electronics customers including Toshiba and Bang & Olufsen.
Historically, development has centered on coding software and verifying chips and systems. But the current rise in embedded software development is leading toward more hardware work, some say.
"Hardware is the next front after embedded systems software," said Sharad Rao, head of the hardware services practice at Infosys, another India outsourcing giant.
"As for the chip companies, there will be an increasing trend in starting off with verification and validation of ASICs and other types of ICs. This will be followed in a few years with complete turnkey ASIC development," Rao said.
Infosys has about 180 hardware engineers running development labs, test centers and prototype manufacturing facilities serving a business started in 2000. It recently developed a digital real-time editing system for streaming voice and video that packa five FPGAs and gigabit network interfaces.
For its part, TCS has taken recent steps to increase its business in Japan and Europe. The company set up a $10 million embedded systems lab in Pune, India, that mirrors Japan's development processes to help win its business. In addition, it acquired a 90-person software R&D team from Nokia Siemens Networks that next year will begin serving multiple telecom customers.
Working with startups as part of their virtual design team is another key part of the business. TCS, for example, is working with one startup on femtocells, another in mobile WiMax chips and a third in voice-over-IP software.
"That's vital because it gets you access to the latest technology in the industry," said Amit Gupta, head of communications and networks solutions at TCS.
The group has a manager from its chief technologist's office stationed in Silicon Valley to work with venture capitalists and their startup clients. It also sponsors a network that regularly brings its staff together with VCs, university researchers and startups.
"We see our role increasingly in end-to-end product development, not just applications development and product testing," said Regu Ayyaswamy, who heads up all hardware engineering services at TCS. "Increasingly we are becoming and integral part of the development process"
"Companies sometimes lack the designers and bandwidth they need to put products into the market," Ayyaswamy said. "If I can help them deliver more product variations, that's a big, big differentiator," he added.