Thursday, August 20, 2020

Karachi's NED University Alum's Startup Has Raised $190 Million to Challenge ARM's Dominance

Silicon Valley based SiFive, a technology startup headed by NED University alumnus Dr. Naveed Sherwani, has raised $60 million in series E round, bringing the total raised to $190 million to date. This round is led by SK Hynix, joined by new investor Prosperity7 Ventures, with additional funding from existing investors, Sutter Hill Ventures, Western Digital Capital, Qualcomm Ventures, Intel Capital, Osage University Partners, and Spark Capital. The Silicon Valley company offers open-source RISC V processor core designs for custom and semi-custom chips used in a broad range of applications from smartphones and communications chips to IoT (Internet of Things), data centers and cloud computing. This market currently is dominated by proprietary Intel and Advanced RISC Machines (ARM) architectures. Availability of open-source processor architecture like RISC V has gained particular significance now because of the ongoing US-China technology war.

Dr. Naveed Sherwani
SiFive was originally founded by Andrew Waterman, Krste Asanovic and Yunsup Leethe of the University of California at Berkeley. Their team developed open-source instruction set architecture (ISA) for Reduced Instruction Set Computing V (RISC V). RISC V design is freely available under Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) that was first introduced for Berkeley's open source UNIX operating system and open software tools. BSD license permits development of derivative intellectual property (IP) and products. It offers the advantage of having a large open-source community contribute to its continuous development and innovation.

ARM architecture is owned and controlled by ARM Holdings which charges license fees for its use. RISC V architecture, on the other hand, is available as open-source and royalty-free. While the use of RISC V specifications and instruction set architecture (ISA) can be used by companies for in-house designs royalty-free,  SiFive sells is its core design and IP (intellectual property) based on this architecture. The company's IP Cores are the most widely deployed RISC-V cores in the world. SiFive Core IP is verified and delivered in Verilog for custom SoC (System on Chip) designs.

Availability of open-source processor architecture has gained significance because of the ongoing US-China technology war. RISC-V can be used freely by anyone in the world, and Chinese companies are particularly interested in it because it is a potential alternative to Intel and ARM. Kevin Wolf, former assistant secretary of the US Department of Commerce, said that technology that has been published for anyone to use is not regulated by the US Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and is not subject to the entity list, according to a report in SemiMedia.

In the midst of the US-China trade war, Dr. Naveed Sherwani sees a huge opportunity for SiFive business in China. He has been quoted in the media as saying: “We plan to expand the Chinese market significantly. The trade war has convinced China to build more chips inside China, and we have helped and benefited a lot. About 3-4 years ago, we realized that the trade war will be inevitable, so we decided to set up a completely independent company in China."

To seize this opportunity, Dr. Sherwani has set up Shanghai SaiFang Technology Company as an independent company in China.  SiFive holds less than 20% of this company's shares. If SiFive is completely blocked by US government in the future, SiFive China can still serve Chinese customers. SiFive will release a 5G chip based on RISC-V architecture in the near future. Although these chips cannot be directly exported to China, the design can be transferred to SiFive China, and the local team is responsible for building chips in China, according to SemiMedia.

Dr. Naveed Sherwani is a serial entrepreneur with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Karachi's NED Engineering University in 1983. He has a Ph.D. in computer engineering from University of Nebraska. He has taught at Western Michigan University and authored four books and over 100 papers. Sherwani headed Intel's ASIC division before starting Open Silicon, a fabless semiconductor company that offered turn-key custom ASIC solutions. He was the CEO of Peernova before joining SiFive as its chief executive officer.

NED University alumni Idris Kothari and Saeed Kazmi are among the early pioneering duo in the world of technology startups in Silicon Valley. Since 1980s, they have started, built and sold several technology companies, including VPNet, Silicon Design and VIA Technology. They are currently running Vertical Systems Inc. which has a development center in Pakistan.

Dr. Naveed Sherwani is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of Pakistani origin in Silicon Valley. His startups have solved real pain points faced by buyers of computer and communication chips. Naveed and his wife Sabahat Rafiq also volunteer time for and contribute to Silicon Valley community and support education in Pakistan. Other successful NED alumni in Silicon Valley include Raghib Husain (Cavium/Marvel)Safwan Shah (PayActiv), Ashraf Habibullah (CSI), Rehan Jalil ( and Khalid Raza (Viptela). They all serve to inspire NEDians and Pakistanis everywhere.

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Riaz Haq said...

Shivaram Venkatesh Nellaiappan, Sr. Marketing Engineer at SiFive—November 14, 2019

Our SiFive Tech Symposiums in Pakistan Drew Over 2,500 Attendees!

SiFive’s Tech Symposiums in Pakistan were a huge success, with the participation of more than 2,500 people from across the country. One of the symposiums was held at the NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi, and the other took place at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore. We are grateful to both of these universities for co-hosting these events with us, and to Lampro Mellon for partnering with us. All three were instrumental in making these symposiums world-class events. Attendees included students and professors, as well as delegations from federal and state governments of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The policy-making officials from the IT and education ministry also participated very actively in the symposiums. Everyone was extremely motivated and enthusiastic to learn more about the RISC-V ISA and the latest innovations. There were informative and engaging presentations by Naveed Sherwani (President & CEO), Krste Asanovic (Co-Founder & Chief Architect), Yunsup Lee (Co-Founder & CTO), Thomas Xu (CEO, SiFive China), Shafy Eltoukhy (SVP, Silicon BU), Anand Bariya (VP, Engineering), Muhammad Ahmed (Architect) and many others.

The symposium witnessed the first and formal adoption of RISC-V as the architecture of choice for all public universities in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. An MOU was signed in the presence of HE Sardar Usman Buzdar (Chief Minister of Punjab), Mr. Raja Humayun (Minister of Higher Education, Punjab Province), Krste Asanovic (SiFive), Naveed Sherwani (SiFive), Sabahat Rafiq (CEO, Lampro Mellon), Thomas Xu (SiFive China), Dr. Shafy Elthouky (SiFive), Chairman of Punjab Planning Division, Chairman of Punjab Higher Education Commission, Vice Chancellor of UET Lahore, Mr. Farooq Arshad (PTI Information Secretary), among other distinguished guests in Lahore.

Riaz Haq said...

#Nvidia to buy ARM Holdings from #SoftBank for $40 billion. ARM embedded processor cores are widely used in custom SOCs. #SiliconValley chip giant projected about 46% growth in revenue for the third quarter in its last earnings report. #semiconductor

SoftBank will sell Arm to Nvidia in a $40 billion deal, the companies announced Sunday night

Arm designs the architecture for mobile chips used in almost every mobile device in the world, from the iPhone to just practically every Android device.

SoftBank bought Arm for $31.4 billion in 2016, and the sale is seen as a move to raise much-needed cash as it has recently lost a significant amount of money in its high-profile investments in companies like WeWork and Uber.

Chipmaker Nvidia has agreed to buy Arm Holdings, a designer of chips for mobile phones, from SoftBank in a deal worth $40 billion, the companies announced Sunday. The deal will include $21.5 billion in Nvidia stock and $12 billion in cash, including $2 billion payable at signing.

Softbank acquired Arm in 2016 for $31.4 billion in 2016 in one of its largest acquisitions ever. Arm is best known as the designer of an architecture used in chips in most mobile phones, including the Qualcomm chips used in most Android phones, as well as Apple’s iPhone. Apple is also planning to shift its Mac computers from Intel chips to an Arm-based design.

Nvidia, whose chips are widely used to support graphics and artificial intelligence applications, including for self-driving vehicles, pledged that it would “continue Arm’s open-licensing model and customer neutrality.”

SoftBank bought Arm as an investment in the so-called Internet of Things -- the idea that wireless connectivity among everyday items such as refrigerators, cars and other devices would lead to useful new scenarios.

At the time, Softbank Chairman Masayoshi Son told reporters, “This is a company I always admired for the last 10 years...This is the company I wanted to make part of SofBbank. I am so happy.”

However, SoftBank’s finances have deteriorated this year as the company has lost money on investments in companies like WeWork and Uber. More recently, the company’s shares lost value as it was reported that it had taken some large stakes in tech giants, which have suffered a loss in stock market value in early September. It’s unclear how much money SoftBank will actually make on the sale, since it has likely invested a lot in Arm since the acquisition.

The company is also looking for cash to help start-ups it invested in through its Vision Fund, many of which have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Earlier this summer it announced it would sell up to $21 billion of its stake in T-Mobile.

Meanwhile, Nvidia is on an absolute tear, thanks in part to a boom in video games due to the pandemic. This week, it will launch a new graphics card for PCs that shows promising performance for PC gamers. The company projected about 46% growth in revenue for the third quarter in its last earnings report.

Riaz Haq said...

#China's #Huawei develops plan for chip plant to help beat #American sanctions. #Chinese fab will initially experiment with making low-end 45nm chips, a #technology global leaders in chipmaking like #TSMC & #Intel started using 15 years ago. #SiliconValley

Huawei is working on plans for a dedicated chip plant in Shanghai that would not use American technology, enabling it to secure supplies for its core telecom infrastructure business despite U.S. sanctions.

Two people briefed on the project said the plant would be run by a partner, Shanghai IC R&D Center, a chip research company backed by the Shanghai municipal government.

Industry experts said the project could help Huawei, which has no experience in fabricating chips, chart a path to long-term survival.

U.S. export controls imposed in May and tightened in August leverage American companies’ dominance of certain chip-manufacturing equipment and chip-design software to block semiconductor supplies to Huawei.

Industry experts said the planned local facility would be a potential new source for semiconductors after stocks of imported chips Huawei has been accumulating since last year ran out.

The fabrication plant will initially experiment with making low-end 45nm chips, a technology global leaders in chipmaking started using 15 years ago.

But Huawei wants to make more advanced 28nm chips by the end of next year, according to chip industry engineers and executives familiar with the project. Such a plan would allow Huawei to make smart TVs and other “internet of things” devices.

Huawei then aims to produce 20nm chips by late 2022, which could be used to make most of its 5G telecoms equipment and allow that business to continue even with the U.S. sanctions.
“The planned new production line will not help with the smartphone business since chipsets needed for smartphones need to be produced at more advanced technology nodes,” said a semiconductor industry executive briefed on the plans.

“But if it succeeds, it can become a bridge to a sustainable future for their infrastructure business, in combination with the inventory they have built and which should last for two years or so,” he said.

“They possibly can do it, in maybe two years,” said Mark Li, a semiconductor analyst at Bernstein in Hong Kong.

He added that although the chips Huawei needed for making mobile network base stations would ideally be made on 14nm or more advanced process technology, using 28nm was possible.

“Huawei can make up for the shortcomings on the software and system side,” he said. Chinese producers could tolerate higher costs and operational inefficiencies than their offshore competitors.

The project, first reported by Chinese newspaper Caixin last month, could also jump-start China’s ambitions to shake off its dependency on foreign chip technology, particularly from the U.S., which wants to slow China’s development as a technology power.

Huawei has already been investing in the domestic semiconductor sector, especially among smaller operators, a chip industry executive said.

“Huawei has strong abilities in chip design, and we are very happy to help a trustworthy supply chain develop its capabilities in chip manufacturing, equipment and materials. Helping them is helping ourselves,” rotating chairman Guo Ping told journalists in September.

Riaz Haq said...

The White House released a report on Tuesday that offers a solemn assessment of American companies prioritizing profits over national security and long-term sustainability. “A focus on maximizing short-term capital returns has led to the private sector’s underinvestment in long-term resilience,” the 250-page report states. The United States has a competitive advantage over China in the production of semiconductor manufacturing equipment (SME), which provides a chokepoint that can limit “advanced semiconductor capabilities in countries of concern.”

The report details the findings and recommendations of the Administration’s 100-day supply chain review required by President Biden’s executive order from February that directed the review of four key industries: semiconductors, large capacity batteries, critical minerals and pharmaceuticals. The report states that the Chinese government’s “massive subsidy campaign [as much as $200 billion over the past eight years] to develop its domestic semiconductor capability” has exploited “gray areas” in international trade rules and avoided World Trade Organization (WTO) oversight. The Chinese government has propped up key tech industries, including semiconductors manufacturing and SME production, through a “novel subsidy strategy” meant to avoid “transparency requirements of the WTO subsidy regime.” Essentially, government subsidies are booked as “investments” to avoid WTO disclosure rules.

This one of many “innovation mercantilist” tactics that Chinese state has practiced for years, according to a recent report and event by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation which details China’s deleterious impact on competitive international ecosystems for semiconductors, telecommunications equipment, biopharmaceuticals, solar photovoltaics, and high-speed rail. Co-author Stephen Ezell estimates that the US loses out on some 5000 semiconductors patents annually because of this predation.

The Chinese Communist Party has made a concerted effort to dominate the semiconductor market. The Made in China 2025 plan aims to produce 70 percent of China’s chip demand indigenously and pledges as much as $1.4 trillion of investment into China’s semiconductor industries.

Memory chips are the “most mature” of these efforts. Yangtze Memory Technologies (YMTC), which has received $24 billion in state subsidies, has emerged as a “national champion memory chip producer.” A report by James Mulvenon this year identifies ties between YMTC and the People’s Liberation Army.

“It’s not just YMTC,” cautioned Emily de La Bruy√®re, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, during a China Tech Threat roundtable forum this week. “Changxin Memory Technologies [CXMT] is equally propped up and potentially equally connected to the [People’s Liberation Army].” The roundtable titled "Let the Chips Fall?" explored the theme of how the next Undersecretary for the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) should address semiconductor policy.

The White House report appears to be a de facto roadmap for the next BIS chief and is notable for naming leading Chinese fabs with military connections which have yet to be designated as Military End Users or on the Entity List. In no uncertain words, the bipartisan United State China Commission issued a report earlier this month, Unfinished Business: Export Control and Foreign Investment Reforms which critiqued BIS for failing to issue the lists of foundational and emerging technologies as required by the 2018 Export Reform and Control Act. Such a publication would likely trigger action against the Chinese fabs.

“While the United States no longer leads the world in semiconductor manufacturing capabilities,” it has a competitive advantage over China in semiconductor manufacturing equipment (SME), the White House report adds.