R&D steered to lowering power consumption: Broadcom

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Broadcom Corporation is a fabless semiconductor company in the wireless and broadband communication business. Headquartered in Irvine, California, its presence in India is defined by R&D centres in Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

Rajiv Kapur- MD, Sunny Padacheril- director IC Design, and Sandeep Bhatia- senior director IC Engineering, speaks to Dilin Anand of EFY about the company’s R&D operations in India.


EFY: What are the products in each vertical that Broadcom India focuses on?

Broadcom has got 3 major verticals as a company. One is Broadband Communication Group, which works on connectivity and media solutions for the home, then there is Enterprise Networking group that works on Ethernet solutions ranging from small and medium business, all the way to data centres at a corporate level and lastly there is the Mobile/ Wireless group, which focuses on everything on the go.

This results in about 20+ products fitting into these 3 business units. The teams in India touch all three equally. The engineers tend to work on specific projects targeted towards those 3 markets and product lines. The diversity of what they do varies from chip design, architecture, software, system engineering, etc. About 10 per cent of Broadcom’s global R&D is in India.

EFY: Does the Indian R&D centre work independently or is it part of the global network?

Essentially, we are a global team so we work together with other R&D centres across the globe. When you build a chip, there are several aspects to it and the work pertaining to each of these aspects would not be done at one site.

EFY: Did the Indian R&D have a hand in developing the 802.11ac solution that was recently launched by your company?

The way we work is that almost every chip tends to have global footprint. The way Broadcom operates is you create expertise centres in various domains. For instance, if we have an expert in RF we start tapping into that expertise of one person or team of people for every chip. We can easily say that the R&D centres in Bengaluru and Hyderabad contribute to almost every program. The level of contribution would vary from a module or expertise contributes to a larger project, or it could be end-to-end with post silicon bring up.

To answer the question, the 11ac was not a chip executed completely out of India. A lot of the handset-centric Wi-Fi development work is handled out of here.

EFY: What initiatives has Broadcom taken to improve the energy efficiency of its products?

In the wireless space, one of the key metrics here is battery life. Our power management strategies are now steered toward improving the the power profile and so about 40 per cent of our R&D efforts are steered towards getting the lowest power.

Wireless is perhaps the most pressed in terms of power, but we invest in improving efficiency even for our plugged in devices. The reasons are different: here it is not battery life but power optimisation leads to a smaller, cheaper and more efficient power supply or a product with lower number of heat sinks. When we architect our solutions we are thinking very carefully of what can be shut off. We typically have a leadership position is power consumption on the better side in every area.

EFY: Could you elaborate on a technical challenge that you faced while improving the power profile of these wireless devices?

Well, the EDA tools for this is not completely available, the lower power design methodology should be part of your development and the EDA tools have not fully matured yet. Unified Power Format is one of the IEEE standards relating to this and as these standards evolve EDA companies are including these methodologies into their tools. There are a lot of low power techniques – the simplest one says that you shut of the chip when you are not using it. Most of your chip is either shut off or put into sleep mode by reducing the voltage and underclock it. So you have to selectively shut of the chip and then wake-up and get it back to work is what needs to be done. How to do this efficiently and reliably is pretty tricky and is one of the high level challenges.

EFY: What led to Broadcom releasing the 802.11ac solution ahead of ratification by IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance?

The ecosystem is committed to building interoperable solutions based on the Wi-Fi Alliance certification program. The standard that the Wi-Fi Alliance is using for the certification is fairly complete and very stable. The program should launch by Q1’2013. The strategy to design chipsets based on draft specifications late in the ratification process is common practice, and we’re confident of being compatible with the Wi-Fi Alliance certification program when it launches.

EFY: Who are your major solution providers for EDA tools?

As a company, the answer varies across groups so it would be unfair to name one versus the other. If one were to cumulatively look across all groups like Mentor, Synopsis and Cadence, the three major vendors of EDA tools all supply into Broadcom.

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