India plans semiconductor research institute to rival the world's finest

And gives itself five years to build silicon photonics cores

India's government has endorsed two massive investments in semiconductors as it seeks to propel the nation into the top ranks of manufacturing and research.

Last Friday the Semiconductor R&D Committee delivered a report recommending the creation of the India Semiconductor Research Center (ISRC) to minister for electronics & IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who welcomed the idea.

"This institution will be a core institution in India's growing capabilities in semiconductors," Chandrasekhar boasted, describing it as India's equivalent to famed silicon labs such as the US government's MIT Lincoln Laboratory Microelectronics Laboratory, Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute or Europe's Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre

That ambition is yet to be backed by any firm commitment to establish the Center, but the report describes the org as working on "semiconductor processes, advanced packaging, compound semiconductors and fabless design and electronic design automation tools." The Committee wants the Center to direct collaboration between industry, academia, and government, and "facilitate seamless transfer from lab to fab, bridging the gap between research and manufacturing."

The language used to announce the report suggests India may realize it can't achieve-world-leading tech in a hurry – proposing instead that investments focus on "achievable technology nodes."

However, on the same day as the delivery of the report, India's Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology announced plans to pursue a very advanced technology – silicon photonic processor cores – and to deliver them under half a decade.

To get there, ministry secretary S Krishnan inaugurated a Center for Programmable Photonic Integrated Circuit and Systems (CPPICS).

With a VP from Intel's Silicon Photonics Product Division looking on – and according to the Ministry showing "keen interest in the technology" – officials outlined the Center's mission to "achieve self-sufficiency, drive product commercialization through startups, and provide essential training to bolster the future ecosystem of PIC manufacturing in India."

The Center's goal is to "deliver state-of-the-art System-in-Package solutions for silicon photonic processor cores" and to get that done within five years.

That would be quite a coup – even Intel is years away from delivering that sort of thing, having delivered a prototype in September 2023 without suggesting when it could go on sale.

The somewhat nebulous nature of the two announcements invites skepticism, especially given India's current semiconductor efforts are yet to produce results. Yet the ambition to attract top-tier electronics manufacturing has quickly been achieved, with the likes of Dell, Apple, HPE, Cisco and Google all signing up to make their kit locally – testament to India's argument that its colossal domestic market presents an opportunity too good to ignore, and a useful way to diversify manufacturing operations beyond China. ®

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