W Power 2024

India has what it takes to become a global semiconductor powerhouse: Qualcomm's Rahul Patel

Rahul Patel, group general manager, connectivity, broadband & networking (CBN), Qualcomm, speaks about the company's new products, its India investments and building a semiconductor ecosystem

Naini Thaker
Published: Apr 12, 2024 03:41:59 PM IST
Updated: Apr 12, 2024 04:51:07 PM IST

The design centre will also actively contribute to Qualcomm's global Research and Development endeavours in 5G cellular technology; Image: ShutterstockThe design centre will also actively contribute to Qualcomm's global Research and Development endeavours in 5G cellular technology; Image: Shutterstock

Recently, Qualcomm inaugurated its new Chennai design centre, which will specialise in wireless connectivity solutions, with a focus on innovations that complement Wi-Fi technologies. Marking a crucial step forward in Qualcomm’s journey of innovation, this expansion entails an investment of Rs 177.27 crore. This investment will also open new doors for semiconductor design, to unlock growth opportunities for a strong indigenous design ecosystem.

The design centre will also actively contribute to Qualcomm's global Research and Development endeavours in 5G cellular technology. The new design centre is expected to generate jobs for up to 1,600 skilled technology professionals, further contributing to the development of India’s workforce. The company also announced its programme supporting 6G University Research in India in line with the government’s Bharat 6G Vision, encouraging academia research and leadership in emerging 6G technologies. On the back of these developments, Forbes India spoke to Rahul Patel, group general manager, connectivity, broadband & networking (CBN), Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. about the company’s India investments, its semiconductor ecosystem and more. Edited excerpts:

Q. What kind of investments has Qualcomm made in India?

Qualcomm has been committing a significant amount of investment in India for a very long time. In fact, Qualcomm's largest R&D outside of California is India right now. We do quite a bit of R&D in our centres in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Noida, and now Chennai as well.

Our commitment is for India to be self-sufficient in technology as well as many things that are associated with manufacturing of end products for not only the Indian market, but for also exporting outside of India.

We are also working with major operators in building India’s 5G capabilities, be it broadband or Wi-Fi. You will see a lot of products getting rolled out this year. Additionally, we are also working with various universities in newer technological areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cellular capabilities such as 6G so that the upcoming workforce is job ready when they enter the industry. So, there is a lot more happening beyond investment dollars from Qualcomm for India. 

Q. What are your thoughts on India’s semiconductor ecosystem?

One of the big capabilities for a semiconductor ecosystem is semiconductor design. And the Indian engineering talent pool in that area is tremendous, not only in terms of the volume, but also in terms of capabilities. Unfortunately, this was leveraged much faster by other geographies around the world to build out their semiconductor manufacturing capabilities. 

The second big thing is the world is looking for geodiversity in terms of manufacturing, and India presents that opportunity. And lastly, the government of India is highly motivated in supporting this budding ecosystem for semiconductors. Putting all these factors together, I think India has what it takes to become a global semiconductor powerhouse.

But semiconductors is not for beginners. It is a very complex engineering exercise, with deep amounts of physics and chemistry involved. For it to flourish in India, huge amount of capital expansions will be needed. Second, a lot of natural resources—especially water and electricity capabilities of a massive scale, that haven’t been experienced in any other industry. These could prove to be challenges. However, with the kind of support and understanding from the Indian government it will be much easier to overcome these challenges. 

Also read: Despite late start, can India make gains in global chip race?

Q. What kind of role do Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi solutions play in bridging India’s digital divide?

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated our use of the internet—be it work from home or education from home. And in this, wireless broadband has played a key role, more so because 5G is becoming even more accessible.

We have established capabilities through our engineering organisations and R&D capabilities in India, where we are designing products completely in India. Over the last decade, we have shipped over 7.5 billion Wi-Fi radios, and a majority of those radios have been designed or developed with the help of the Chennai design team. 

Wi-Fi is now very synonymous for the average consumer to what they call internet access. It is a technology that’s pervasive around the world—there are close to 15 to 20 billion active Wi-Fi radios, of which about 8 billion are coming from Qualcomm on an annual basis. So you can see the kind of impact that the Chennai design centre has not only on India, but around the world.

Q. What are your expansion plans for the India business…

Going forward we are definitely looking at India as an R&D centre for us and will continue investing going forward as well. We also see India becoming a large player in the semiconductor industry. It’s going to be a couple of years before we start seeing the first set of manufacturing. However, Qualcomm is committed to working with Indian semiconductor manufacturing and see how we can bring some of the chips that get manufactured in India, into the Qualcomm ecosystem. India is also a huge end-market for us, it might not be the same products that get used in the United States of other markets… but we are focussing on tailoring our capabilities to meet the Indian market’s needs.