A question of Europe

September 01, 2014 // By ICONIC INSIGHTS: In conversation with Hanns Windele
A question of Europe
Sir Peter Bonfield sits on the board and has advisory roles in many international companies and universities. With more than 45 years of experience in electronics, computers and communications, here he discusses the role Europe can play on the world semiconductor stage.

Hanns Windele: European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes wants Europe to produce 20% of the world’s semiconductor devices, while Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to make a million electric cars by 2020. Is this only political wishful thinking?

Peter Bonfield:
I believe that to have a big vision is useful. For Kroes and Merkel to be ambitious is generally the right thing to do, except they focus too much on manufacturing. To focus on market share in the manufacture of chips is too restrictive. We need to ask where is the big push to make sure that Europe stays competitive in the whole eco-system of technology. This should include education, R&D, patents: all of these. Europe is more competitive than they think, but needs to do more.

HW: What do you think should be the mechanism for promoting these visions?

PB: I’m not sure that governments need to be involved in the details; they should focus big on eco systems.  The European car industry is currently very vibrant in electronics, not just in control systems, but in communications too. Manufacturers such as BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar are leading the world in terms of electronics in cars.

This is an area where we can be extremely proud and keep pushing. In terms of electric cars, per se, if you have an overall approach, that will start to become a focus in itself. If you look at the congestion charge in London it is cheaper for hybrid vehicles to come into the city. So electric car use goes up. Can governments make tax allowances to kick-start this? Absolutely. But in the longer term they need to make sure that there is outstanding education focused on engineering, science and technology in Europe, to build a long term competitive advantage.

HW: Where are the European companies when it comes to smartphones today? Have they all disappeared?

PB: Maybe in terms of the handsets themselves. But when it comes to what goes into the handsets, Europe is still pretty good at that. ARM is in 98% of all handsets. Yes, maybe we’ve missed out on the actual hardware of the final unit, but we should not underestimate the value of the European contribution to what goes inside the product.

HW: Do you think that ARM could replace Intel at some point in time?

PB: I would think that they are going to give Intel a pretty good focus, because they have been particularly successful in anything to do with low power. I think that as the market moves into Cloud and the Internet of Things, the importance of low power will increase.

ARM has a significant advantage architecturally. Do I think they’ll exploit that? Yes. Do I think they’ll be successful? Yes, I do. How successful, I don’t know. But they have some smart people and the market place is going in their direction, rather than the previous Intel domination direction.

HW: Would you agree that being smart about power is more difficult than being smart about other things?

PB: Absolutely, because you have to look at the whole system. As we get more into Cloud computing where everything is networked together, the size of data centres is going to be massive and the biggest issue will be power. If you can reduce the power consumption by, say, 20% then you’ll save yourself a bundle of money. Do I think that’s going to be a trend going forward? Absolutely. It’s the same thing in wearables. It’s all about low power.

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