[China] Marvell aims to be China chip leader


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.


Marvell bets on LTE for mobile strategy


 EE Times: With all due respect, Marvell didn’t get into the mobile business in China until 2008. Why did you decide not to buy a company who had already developed TD-SCDMA or acquire anyone who had IPs?


Lee: We actually did look at all the IP options and potential acquisition targets. And we decided that we can do better if we do it ourselves.


 Of course, at that time, many people told us that we were already too late to the market. They also advised us that we should purchase some IPs, and we should be using protocol stacks that have matured.


EE Times: Who already had TD-SCDMA solutions on the market in 2008 -- when you decided to join the baseband fray?


Lee: Spreadtrum, Leadcore, MediaTek (after their acquisition of ADI’s modem team), etc. The cost for these solutions was high; and we found them integrated poorly. As we were coming from nowhere, we thought we should develop an architecture that scales for the future.


EE Times: Speaking of architecture that scales for the future, are you referring to TD-LTE?


Lee: We are currently working on a TD-LTE modem. The TD-LTE, as it turns out, needs to be not only multi-mode but also it must respond to multi-frequency bands.


 China Mobile recently announced the requirement for their TD-LTE. While it needs to be able to operate on TD-SCDMA and GSM inside China, it requires TD-LTE modem to offer roaming capability on 4G and FDD, not to mention 3G, WCDMA. 


 We’ll have a TD-LTE modem by the end of 2012, which meets all the requirements set forth by China Mobile.


EE Times: My understanding is that to design a truly multi-mode, multi-frequency LTE with every baseband flavor in it – including TD-SCDMA – is not easy to do, even for Qulacomm. Is that right?


Lee: True, because not everyone has a complete solution. But at Marvell, we do. Our coming LTE solution will be universal – not only applicable for China Mobile but for the worldwide market.


EE Times: I see Marvell betting on LTE for the company’s mobile strategy. But what about the growing mid- to entry-level smart phone market? Some say Marvell took its eyes off on that segment. Meanwhile, companies like MediaTek are eating your lunch.


Lee: I wouldn’t call it us taking our eyes off. We’ve done very well with our PXA920, dominating China’s TD-SCDMA-based smartphone market. But we do understand that the multi-core solutions are becoming very important, and our competitors have done very well. Our plan is to roll out over the next two to three quarters a family of TD-SCDMA-based chips – integrated with dual core, quad core and GPU. 


 EE Times: You say your group is not about “light product development” focused more on customer support – which a lot of multinationals have been doing.


Lee: Ye. We have quite a bit of autonomy here. We execute R&D, product development here in China.


EE Times: Are you at all concerned at all about IP theft or employee retention?


Lee: I understand that IP theft happened in the past. But at Marvell, I must say we’ve been lucky. We take IP protection very seriously, and we have put our IP policies in place. I think a lot of problems can be alleviated if we check our IP mechanism carefully, train our employees right.


EE Times: What about employee retention?


Lee: Our employees in China are young, and young people tend to move more often. But our work force has been pretty stable. Part of the reason is that we are one of the very few companies doing hardcore development work. That’s not very common in China. Our engineering team is well-trained and very specialized.


Source: EETimes