TOKYO – Ikuya Kawasaki, CEO of Renesas Mobile Corp., doesn’t just contradict the stereotype of the reticent, retiring and inscrutable Japanese executive. He knocks it clean off the shelf and then kicks it around the office.
Although Renesas Mobile, Japan’s mobile chip vendor, is only six months old, it’s already making noise — a lot of which comes straight from Kawasaki’s mouth. He is outspoken in his ambition to turn Renesas Mobile (whose current share in the global mobile handset market remains negligible) into a credible competitor against Qualcomm with a 20 to 30 percent share in the next few years.
He says the catalyst to this boom will be LTE. Armed with a proven and trusted LTE protocol stack Renesas gained from Nokia, Kawasaki likes his odds.
The company, created as a result of Renesas Electronic’s acquisition of Nokia’s modem business, already has 1,900 employees, of which only 550 are Japanese nationals.
While no market analyst dares yet to regard Renesas Mobile in the same class with Qualcomm today, none is underestimating Kawasaki, the architect behind Rensas - Nokia’s modem business merger. That deal literally surprised everyone, and put Kawasaki on the industry’s radar.
But there’s a long way to go. In the rankings of top-tier cellular chip vendors in 2010 revenue, Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, estimated Renesas with a three percent share. Forward Concepts will formally release the rankings on June 1st.
Strauss said, “There's no question that Qualcomm is the number one in modems for 3G, HSPA+ (and CDMA); TI is the number two in 3G & HSPA (thanks to Nokia); and Renesas should take over much of that after 2012, but not much before then.”
In LTE, Samsung is number 1, ahead of Qualcomm and LG Electronics, he added. The LTE market landscape, however, remains fluid. “A single big order (like HTC's Thunderbolt) can change that LTE ranking,” he noted, because LTE is still in its infancy. While there are 19 vendors who have announced LTE baseband chips, Strauss said, “only a few are actually shipping.”
The 2010 total cellphone chip market was $55 billion, including the second-tier companies that make Bluetooth, GPS, power management chips, etc. (most not included in this chart)
Click on image to enlarge.
Source: Forward Concepts
By choosing Nokia’s modem business as its acquisition target, Renesas, in a way, let the cat out of the bag, according to an executive working at a Japanese semiconductor company. “Renesas, in essence, told the whole world that NTT Docomo – while still the most important client/partner in the Japanese mobile world – is no longer a partner Renesas can depend on to advance and execute its own global strategy,” he noted.
Kawasaki, not afraid of defying Japan’s common wisdom, is a smart, bold, straightforward and even playful 53-year-old top executive (young by Japanese standards).
An EE with degrees from Tokyo University and Washington State University, Kawasaki joined Hitachi in 1982 as a microcontroller designer. He led several microprocessor development projects such as TRON, SH and SH-Mobile. After a brief stint at NTT Docomo to lead the overseas handset business team in 2008, Kawasaki transferred back to Renesas Electronics and became a corporate executive.
Unlike your classic stodgy Japanese senior executive — who responds to direct questions by sucking air through his teeth, cocking his head, and saying “Oh, that’s a tough one to answer” or “Well, we’re still studying that” (both of which mean “No way, José” in Japanese) — Kawasaki is happy to come right out with a straight answer. Even when he disagrees, he doesn’t quibble.
EE Times this week caught up with Kawasaki in an exclusive interview in Tokyo where Renesas Mobile is headquartered.