Dr. Sailesh Chittipeddi, Executive VP & GM of Renesas’ IoT and Infrastructure Business Unit talks mega trends, market opportunities and product roadmaps with Neil Tyler.

Appointed Executive VP and General Manager of Renesas’ IoT and Infrastructure Business Unit back in July 2019, Dr. Sailesh Chittipeddi has responsibility for the company’s IoT, industrial and infrastructure business at a time when the industry is not only having to handle the impact of Covid-19, but having to adapt rapidly to address new opportunities - such as the increased need for telecommuting solutions, remote healthcare, greater environmental awareness and e-AI.

Then there are the mega trends that are driving growth, whether that’s data centre disaggregation, the ramping up of 5G or the accelerating movement of intelligence to the edge.

“On top of all of that Renesas has changed significantly in the past few years,” says Dr Chittipeddi. “I joined when Renesas acquired IDT back in 2018, two years after the acquisition of Intersil. In two short years the company has been restructured and we’ve been pretty successful in accelerating product development across the entire portfolio.”

Acquisitions, particularly, those by large Japanese companies, haven’t always had a great track record but Renesas appears to have bucked that trend.

“We made the decision to split the business into automotive and non-auto, for which I have responsibility. In general the non-auto business moves a lot quicker and our customers’ design cycles are certainly shorter. The new structure has provided a sound platform enabling us to react to market trends much more quickly,” says Dr Chittipeddi.

“From a R&D and business perspective we’ve successfully repositioned our portfolio to address an increasingly data centric world. There are still issues that need to be addressed - the supply chain is still centralised and we’re using internal factories for our MCU, MPU and analogue devices. We need to look at using external foundries as new technologies are developed and if we want to continue to drive design-in momentum.”

The challenges associated with the clash between the US and China is another issue. Dr Chittipeddi makes the point that Renesas’ R&D efforts are well distributed globally, although he concedes that some divisions – power and analogue, for example – are more exposed than others.

“In the UK we have a big presence, in terms of R&D, in both analogue and power and are likely to increase investment there. But we have a strong presence globally and our focus has to be on serving our customers.”

Dr Chittipeddi accepts that international politics and trade disputes are challenging. “I have to hope that this is a phase that we’re going through and that things will become more settled in the years ahead.

“China is a very important market and has made significant advances in artificial intelligence – it would be a shame that the global market ended up fragmenting.”

Global technology trends

When it comes to technology trends, Dr Chittipeddi identifies three key ones.

“When it comes to data centres there’s a growing realisation that it’s not just CPU performance or memory that’s the limiting factor, it’s actually the interconnect that is becoming more important. The break up and the virtualisation of the network is accelerating and is now a firmly established trend. That’s going to lead memory pooling, as well as processor and storage clusters, so the role of the interconnect is becoming more important.”

From the company’s perspective that trend works to its advantage as Renesas is all about “timing and interconnect technologies.”

“We are seeing the move from DDR4 to DDR5 and looking beyond that, to the CPU and GPU break-up. You are going to have to adjust data centre workloads in future - that will become more critical going forward. Chip architectures will also have to be quite different depending on the sector and the associated workloads.

“Another area of interest is memory and there’s an emerging new class that now plays between DRAM and NAND Flash. People are looking for a compromise between these two and I believe that once the software support has been developed to a point when there will be enough momentum, then that is a trend that will gain more traction in terms of the data centre.”

When it comes to 5G Dr Chittipeddi argues that there are two major developments taking place.

“Today, 5G has taken hold, but primarily in the sub 6Ghz space. Despite the hype mmWave is still a couple of years from gaining a major hold in the market, in my opinion. In the UK, we work with Blu Wireless technology and seen some deployments with a company called CCS in central London – these are base-band modems.

“There is also a competing 5G environment with Open RAN and we are starting to see deployments using that architecture – I think it will be a similar trend to what we’re seeing with data centres. Hardware and software are decoupled and you work with an open and interoperable architecture.

“Whether you are talking proprietary or open architectures Renesas is well placed. We have developed a broad portfolio of solutions that are capable of addressing the needs of traditional telecom providers as well as this new class of emerging Open RAN solution providers.”

According to Dr Chittipeddi the restrictions that have been placed on Huawei are actually encouraging a move towards more open architectures and, while software will remain a major challenge, there are a growing number of innovative start-ups working aggressively in this space.

“We are seeing solid growth opportunities across 5G markets,” he says. The third key trend, according to the doctor, is intelligence moving to the edge and how we move inference algorithms to the edge will determine the success of the move from the core to the end point.

“To deliver more processing capability at the end point will mean that you need a measure of neural processing taking place there. Our dynamically reconfigurable technology (DRT) allows you to do processing at the end point.

“Voice and machine learning (ML), in terms of defect recognition where machines can provide greater levels of sensitivity, are big trends here.

“Replacing repetitive tasks is another important trend and where technology can do a better job than we can, we’ll see a move to processing at the end point. It’s certainly something we need to capitalise on. Even when it comes to motor control functions they can be handled locally or centrally.”

When it comes to exploiting these opportunities it’s not possible for a single company to do everything itself, concedes Dr Chittepeddi.

“We don’t have the system knowledge for all these areas, so from a partnership perspective we are working with design houses, start-ups, universities and the like and have developed a very strong and extensive ecosystem.

“That ecosystem is critical, especially when there is a convergence between different technologies such as sensors, MCUs and MPUs. Where we can we look at small tuck-in acquisitions that make sense, but we also invest in working with exciting new companies – like I said, no monolithic company can handle everything on its own.

“We are engaging with a lot of small businesses and start-ups who are taking technology to the next level – they are exceptionally creative and innovative.”

But there are limits, as Dr Chittepeddi explains. “There are plenty of markets that I’d like to go after, but you have to be realistic and resources are finite. However, all things being equal – there are three I’m very interested in developing.

“These include voice – especially in light of the impact of Covid-19, then I’d like to expand our expand e-AI portfolio and go after more verticals and, finally, target lighting which I believe is going to be a big area in the years to come.