x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Intel chips in on high-tech skills

Intel plans to boost research and development in the Middle East as part of a plan to build up a high-tech skills base in the region.

Justin Rattner, the chief technology officer at Intel, is loooking at ways of establishing an R&D presence in the region.
Justin Rattner, the chief technology officer at Intel, is loooking at ways of establishing an R&D presence in the region.

Intel plans to boost research and development in the Middle East as part of a plan to build up a high-tech skills base in the region.

The US chip maker spends US$6 billion (Dh22.03bn) a year on research and development (R&D) and says it is looking to direct more investment to the Middle East.

"We're trying to figure out what's the best way to establish an R&D presence in the region," said Justin Rattner, the chief technology officer at Intel, on a visit to Abu Dhabi.

Mr Rattner said there was already some research activity in the region but said the company was aiming to boost that as it did in the emerging markets of China and India.

"The opportunity we see going forward is to really expand that significantly. You can look to the other geographies.

"We had a modest effort in India, now we're closing on 3,000 people in Bangalore. In China, after a decade, we're in multiple locations," he said.

"As those geographies have matured, attention has shifted to the Middle East."

The company has several research initiatives in the Gulf region, including the Centre of Excellence for Wireless Applications, in conjunction with the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

Mr Rattner pointed to the Middle East Energy Efficiency Research Project, a scheme in which university and postgraduate students from the region are sent on placements to work for Intel in the US.

He said that was a "first step" in creating more expertise in the region.

"It's not really sufficient for us just to be training students and saying, 'well, go back to the region and good luck.' We want to look beyond just that, and [see] how we establish a presence in the region, so not only is the region benefiting from that investment but we're benefiting from that investment in the region."

Samir al Schamma, Intel's general manager in the Middle East, said it was too early to say whether an expanded R&D presence in the region would lead to the establishment of Intel chip-making factories or other facilities there.

"We want to build those competencies to make the region more attractive for Intel and others … You're trying to create momentum on the research capability," said Mr al Schamma.

"Every year, we evaluate countries everywhere for our facilities. At this stage, we're not looking at anything [in the region]."

Mr Rattner said the company was taking a long-term view.

"We want to be very informed about the region before we start committing both the human resources and the financial resources to develop it," he said.

"Maybe a year from now we'll have something to say about the next step. We will not be a stranger to these parts." Rising demand for high-tech products means the semiconductor foundry industry will be worth $26.8bn this year, according to the technology research firm IC Insights.

Interest in the region's semiconductor business was given a boost earlier this year after Abu Dhabi's Advanced Technology Investment Company said it would spend up to $7bn building a microchip manufacturing plant in the capital.

Ranjit Rajan, the software research director at IDC Middle East, Turkey and Africa, told The National earlier this year the skills gap was a "huge concern" in the launch of such high-tech ventures.

 

bflanagan@thenational.ae