SHANGHAI, China – No, Marvell Technology is not moving to China.
However, the U.S. fabless chip company based in Santa Clara, Calif., has a goal to become “the largest semiconductor company in China,” according to a Marvell executive here. With 1,900 people already employed in China and the number climbing, the California- based company is clearly committed to its China aspirations, and already sees some of its goals within reach.
Earlier this year during an interview with EE Times, Weili Dai, Marvell’s Shanghai-born co-founder, went on record saying: “It’s important for us to stay in Silicon Valley. That’s where the entire eco-system of great talent and technologies resides.”
But that isn’t stopping Marvell from stretching a tentacle across the Pacific.
In addition to the company’s main design/engineering site in Shanghai – which employs some 1,600 people, Marvell is in the process of adding its second campus in Nanjing. The company is not disclosing details, but it acknowledges that it’s working with the local government. The new site is intended to be of a substantial size.
Marvell’s Chinese investments require little explanation. “Technology is moving very fast and China is a very dynamic market,” said Ting Wei Li, vice president and general manager, responsible for Marvell’s China business. “Everyone knows that there is a huge opportunity here, but to convert that opportunity to a real business, you need to be here.”
That includes Marvell getting engaged with leading telecom and TV operators and strategic partners in the system and service businesses in the local market. The ecosystem the chip company needs to work with is becoming increasingly local, moving very fast, and integrated with services, Wei Li explained.
He believes Marvell is in a good position to leverage the best of the both worlds: As a Silicon Valley-company where U.S. technology still leads, while being a local semiconductor company in China capable of responding to local needs quickly.
Wei Li noted that one area where the Chinese are deficient is documentation. “They’re not used to it.” He said designers and engineers need to be present at more meetings, listening carefully to what decision makers are saying, and need to be aware of new requirements as they emerge. “You need to stay connected,” said Wei Li.
800 engineers focused on mobile
Marvell in China is working on a number of different product segments today. They include smart TVs, set-tops; Universal Passive Optical Network (UPON) technology, which Marvell claims is the world's only single-chip solution that supports all three fiber media protocols, including EPON, Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) and Active Ethernet; and mobile chips.
Of all these product lines, the mobile group commands the biggest presence in Marvell’s China operation, with 800 engineers now devoted to R&D in mobile products.
Although Marvell’s mobile chip business has had a great run and a slew of design-wins with Research In Motion’s Blackberry products, the chip company’s mobile momentum seems to have fizzled a little as RIM began getting squeezed out of the global smartphone market.
Mavell, however, claims that the company has a enough amunitions in reserve to regain its share. Driving the company’s renewed commitment in the mobile business are 800 engineers in China, 200 in the United States and 500 in Israel.
Following is an excerpt from a one-on-one interview EE Times conducted with Ivan Lee, vice president of mobile products at Marvell. He oversees development work both in China and in the United States.
EE Times: Why is Marvell’s mobile product team so spread out? And what’s the division of labor among those teams in different locations?
Ivan Lee: It’s largely for historical reasons. Our 500 people in Israel are largely coming from an Intel X-scale team that Marvell acquired in 2006. Their focus is on 3G, WCDMA development. Marvell’s success at getting design wins in RIM’s Blackberry was the work of our Israel team.
EE Times: What roles do your China and U.S. mobile teams play, then?
Lee: In China, our focus has been more on the TD-SCDMA work we started four years ago; and now more on TD-LTE development. Our mobile products team in China consists of: silicon designers; DSP designers; those who develop protocol stacks; software developers working on Android and other upper layers. Our 200 people in the U.S. include a SoC design team in Austin, Texas and a team in Calif.; software engineers and Android development in Mass.; and a silicon validation team in Chandler, Arizona.
EE Times: You said Marvell’s 800 people responsible for mobile products in China are engaged in R&D. I find some people use the term very loosely. How do you define R&D?
Lee: The team here did everything from conceptualization of TD-SCDMA to its architectural development and production. I describe 99.9 percent of these 800 people as engaged in R&D.