PARIS After going private two years ago and having recently sold off its wireless group to STMicroelectronics, NXP Semiconductors, now a skeleton of its former self, faces formidable challenges in redefining itself as a going concern.
More importantly, the company also needs to convince private investors, customers, the press and its own employees why it needs to exist for, say, another 50 years.
In speaking to EE Times today, Rene Penning de Vries, NXP's chief technology officer, endeavored to do just that.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the company will convince the market to transform the semiconductor industry race from a battle over productivity efficiency often represented in faster, smaller and denser chips with more memory to that of more focused, value-added application-specific solutions in areas such as security, safety, green and bio sensors for health.
Over the last 50 years, NXP, formerly Philips Semiconductors, and Texas Instruments are the only two companies consistently among the top ten semiconductor companies, in lists put together by various market research firms.
De Vries acknowledged that his company "will not maintain" its top ten ranking after the sale of its wireless group.
But he stressed that such coveted top-ten listings are "no longer a proxy to the quality of companies at large."
The hard reality for many semiconductor companies today is that only a handful of companies can afford to bet hugely on next-generation technologies such as LTE (Long Term Evolution), CPU, flash memory and DRAM.
De Vries said that while Moore's Law still rules, the "areas where it dominates or its economic consequence will change."
Over the next 50 years, he predicted that its impact will shift from productivity and efficiency gains to "all kinds of applications, personalized functions and features that help people's quality of life."
De Vries rattled off such examples as security enabled by RFID-enabled e-passports, biometrics and enhanced cryptography; safe automotive traffic made possible by RF, signal processing and sensors; green chips to boost power efficiency in laptops; bio sensors that open up personalized diagnostic capabilities; and a "cool chain" that records temperature history for perishable food items from the supply chain to the fridge.
De Vries conceded, however, that these application-specific solutions are what NXP and perhaps many of its competitors such as TI, Analog Devices and STMicroelectronics have been already working on over the last decade. What's changed? What's new?
What's different, said de Vries, is timing. "Now is the right time. Technologies, applications and acceptance of them are taking off now."
De Vries acknowledged that NXP has been working on application-specific technologies over the last decade. "They have been always present in our company. But they were less prominent." More specifically, he said, "Our thunder was always stolen by the next- generation node or the next-generation technology."
NXP today is "more focused," and "paying more attentions to value added applications and services," he explained. With its fab-lite technology and no stake in the wireless, CPU or memory businesses, NXP today has no other choice but to calibrate the company's ambitions, redefine its mission and redirect its focus.
Indeed, NXP is now banking on "a paradigm shift in the industry." Given that shift, the company believes it still has a shot at being a player. In that new game, said de Vries, "We are very well positioned with our IPs and key competencies."