ST's Bozotti on 'back-to-silicon' differentiation

November 18, 2016 // By Peter Clarke
Carlo Bozotti, CEO of STMicroelectronics NV, has presided over a difficult period in the chip company's history as he first put together the ST-Ericsson mobile processors joint venture and then had to engineer ST's exit from what had became an ill-fated project. But now the write-offs, reorganizations and product phase outs are just about behind the company and it is starting to resume growth. EE Times Europe interviewed Bozotti at a bustling Electronica in Munich.

"The market is on an upturn, despite an IMF revision taking down global GDP forecast," said Bozotti. "We saw a good trend in bookings in Q3 and this continued in October and the upturn is broad."

But an examination of the numbers shows ST's main business group revenues were still marginally down in Q3 compared with a year before. The overall revenue increase was largely down to success with a time-of-flight ranging image sensor that, for now, is part of the "others" product group (see ToF sensor success lifts ST's third quarter).

"In Q3 distribution sales were up 12.2 percent and the book-to-bill ratio was well above one. In the second half all the product groups will contribute to year-on-year sales growth. The year-on-year is expected to be up 11.2 percent fourth quarter over fourth quarter," said Bozotti attributing this to strong smartphone, automotive and industrial demand.

"MCUs, automotive, speciality image sensors are all contributing to growth," he said. But what about MEMS, which has been a stalwart part of the ST product portfolio during the ST-Ericsson transition? It would appear that ST's strategy of extending from success with MEMS in smartphones and consumer applications to automotive and industrial applications is proving more difficult to execute than market leader Bosch's migration in the other direction; from automotive to consumer.

Bozotti answered: "We are certainly growing in MEMS. In automotive we need to do more; both in sales and design wins. So yes consumer is the biggest part [of MEMS sales] but it is much more variegated than before. Before it was one customer one product. Now it is multiple sensor types spread over many products."

And Bozotti was also positive about ST's success with microcontrollers. "We were the first to enter the distribution market with ARM microcontrollers. We have 700 different microcontroller types and 40,000 customers. We want to do more but a very strong ecosystem has developed. The Nucleo boards provide a lego approach to supporting other products through a standard physical interface and form factors."

Bozotti added: "Silicon technology is an imperative differentiator for MCUs. We are on 40nm and the next step is FDSOI at 28nm with some form of embedded flash." FDSOI stands for fully depleted silicon-on-insulator, a manufacturing process said to provide advantages in terms of low power and simpler manufacturing over FinFET technologies but at the expense of requiring an engineered wafer containing a buried oxide layer.

However, Bozotti declined to comment on whether ST would go beyond its ARM license with the addition of support for machine learning, a particularly hot topic at present.

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