The DSOA is aware that buildings and infrastructure alone won't attract high-tech investment. The lack of corporate and personal income taxes helps, as does Dubai's geographical "hub" location with respect to North Africa, Europe and southern Asia; the emirate is within seven hours' flying time of two-thirds of the world. And there are more subtle attractions and support structures being put in place.
For one, Dubai is focused on ensuring IP protection. And since it's hard for a tech hub to get off the ground without a university system to provide fundamental research and a steady supply of highly qualified grads who stay in the region, the DSO is about to sign a partnership deal with the Rochester Institute of Technology to have six masters' degree programs and three certificate courses start in September. A doctorate offering will follow.
"The degree they get from RIT Dubai will be identical to [the degree offered by] RIT in the United States," said Abdulla. "The academic staff coming from RIT are all senior professors--doctorate level-- and are coming to start their courses over here."
According to Kiwan, the RIT campus will grow to between 10,000 and 15,000 students over the next 10 years.
RIT will join three universities currently in operation--but those are only the start of what's being called Academic City. "There will be more than 100 universities in the next 10 to 15 years," Kiwan rosily predicted.
To overcome the high cost of real estate, the DSO will offer engineers subsidized housing, to the tune of 60 percent of the cost. For example, a one-bedroom apartment that costs $28,000 per year to rent would "go down to $12,000," said Kiwan. He expects salaries to range from $24,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on skill sets and qualifications.
Low-cost housing, zero taxes and full repatriation of profits make for an attractive proposition at both the personal and the corporate level. "Tech companies willing to invest in research and development here will find a paradise," said Kiwan. "They'll be treated like kings. I mean it!"
Who's ready to reign?
If it is to succeed, the DSO must carefully choose the technology areas on which to focus. The emphasis is on IC design, R&D, software development and, later, semiconductor manufacturing. While there's no plan to build its own wafer fab, said Kiwan, the DSO hopes to attract investment from foundries such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC).
Attracting pedigreed companies is difficult, however, when there's no precedent for advanced development. "Decision makers are conservative," said Rich Goldman, vice president of corporate marketing and strategic market development at Synopsys Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.). "They need to design right the first time and so are reluctant to be the first goers. There's risk there."
The answer is to get references on past design projects in Dubai, to break what Goldman called the "zero cycle."
Proof of concept
To that end, the DSOA partnered with Synopsys and put together the Dubai Circuit Design (DCD) center, an advanced IC design team plucked from places such as Morocco, Egypt, India and Tunisia, and from companies such as Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronis and Qualcomm. Led by Ramzi Kuhail, manager of design consulting at Synopsys, and with Kiwan as manager, the team has just virtually taped out its first design: an advanced encryption engine called SMC. The device is designed in a low-power, 65-nanometer TSMC process with 22 million transistors in an area measuring 3.45 x 3.45 mm. It runs at 333 MHz/100 MHz and took four months to develop.
While Kuhail acknowledged that SMC is more of a proof-of-capabilities design than a real-world IC, he said it has served two purposes: "It proved the capabilities of the DCD team, and it helped 'pipe clean' the Pilot design-flow environment."
Pilot is an advanced design flow used internally at Synopsys. According to Kiwan, the DCD may subcontract its services to Synopsys.
For all future DCD customers, the servers at DCD are fully Synopsys compatible, "so teams from around the world can access and update the designs in real time," said Kuhail.
The Pilot program also proves the DCD effort is "not held down by legacy methodologies; it can go to the newer and most innovative" practices, said Goldman of Synopsys.
To meet the DCD team and hear more about their work, watch Team DCD.