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Russia's fabless firms seek lifeline

February 18, 2007 //

IC design seen as an “unexploited strength” but companies need a more global outlook. Russia has the homegrown engineering talent and a tradition of scientific research and education that could promote the growth of a fabless industry. But it has produced few IC design firms.


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IC design seen as an 'unexploited strength' but companies need a more global outlook. Russia has the homegrown engineering talent and a tradition of scientific research and education that could promote the growth of a fabless industry. But it has produced few IC design firms.

Denis Adamov, COO of UniqueICs LLC estimates that 20 to 30 indigenous IC design companies exist in the Moscow area, with maybe another dozen sprinkled around Russia. The fate of some of these companies hinges on one product.

"No Russian IC design house has significant profits and IC volume, Adamov said. With 350 employees, UniqueICs is Russia's biggest IC design house. The main problem is that Russia has few customers. A fabless house must seek technology partners and customers outside the country to compete in the chip industry. But setting up an international sales and marketing structure is beyond the resources of many small companies.

UniqueICs is one example of a Russian company working almost entirely outside the country. Based in Zelenograd, near Moscow, the company designs a range of silicon sensors and develops chipsets for DVD recorders and HDTVs. Aside from design work, everything is done in the Far East.

Although two domestic wafer fabs, Mikron and Angstrem, are just down the road in Zelenograd, the company's foundry partners include Malaysia's Silterra and Japan's Elpida. Most of their customers are in China and Taiwan. "UniqueICs is trying to succeed by selling its CMOS sensors on the Asian market, Adamov said.

IDM Ltd., another fabless company in Zelenograd, has been in business for 15 years. It has found work with foreign partners such as Xilinx Inc. to design RF ICs. The 25-person company is developing novel computing architectures and reconfigurable systems, which promise performance benefits well beyond current architectures, said Vladimir Kozlov, director. He's constantly on the lookout for foreign partners. "It's very hard [for a fabless company] to survive in Russia without foreign customers, Kozlov said. "It's not so easy to do. We spend a lot of time on it and have had a good track record.

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