Every time you use the 5G capabilities or click a photo using a Samsung Galaxy phone you will be relying on the years of work done by engineers in the Korean giant’s Bangalore R&D facility. But even as Samsung celebrates its 25th year in India, very few people know how the company has always had this strong research and development facility in the county, evolving with the requirements and the technology of the times.
There is one person who knows all about it, Dipesh Shah, MD at the Samsung Research Institute, Bengaluru and one of the first employees of the company in India, joining even before the India operations started. “I cannot forget the day I landed for the first time in Korea, in June 1994. The person who had come to pick me at the airport was speaking to someone from the car on a wireless phone. I called my mom that night and told her about what I had seen,” Shah remembers the time he understood the opportunities that Samsung can bring to my own career. But that was at least a year before Samsung set shop in India.
“We too started like most other multinational companies. Our main thing was to hire talented manpower here, led by a project or technical lead in Korea. So, there was lots of travelling by these people to understand what it takes to make a global product in terms of quality, performance and innovation benchmarks,” Shah tells indianexpress.com about the first phase of Samsung’s R&D operations in India.
Now, Samsung has at least three R&D centres in India — one in Bengaluru and two in the national capital region — making Indian the second largest software R&D hub outside India. But it has been a long journey getting there and Samsung has, as Shah puts it, “grown with India”.
“Many of our engineers developed telephone exchange software as it was mostly PBX then. ISDN development was done out of Bangalore, and we worked on solutions to connect computer telephony with PBX,” he says, adding how the local service company ecosystem helped a lot in taking these projects to scale. Shah says the four years of working with global teams was followed by the solution-oriented R&D phase that lasted about 14 years from 2000.
Shah remembers how this phase was marked by two big trends — the onset of global standard bodies like 3G and open source. “So the Samsung’s Voice Over LTE technology was first developed out of Bangalore by using one of these standards documents. And Samsung’s first internet browser based on open source was developed out of Bangalore. Even today, on all Samsung Galaxy phones, we use the same browser engine,” he lists the achievement of the India R&D team.
Then there was a “rebuilding phase” when the team changed its orientation to become a research centre. This is when the name of the organisation was changed from Samsung India Software Operations to Samsung Research India, Bangalore. “Till then, it was all about someone defining what we need to develop and our engineers using the right tools and techniques to develop what was needed. With the reorientation we built the capacity for what we should do and why we should do so,” he says on how this was when engineering and the research aspects were combined. “We built the capacity by hiring very high quality talent from India, from the top 50 universities especially IITs, as well as a significant number of returning Indians, who had spent 10 plus years in the US working on product innovation.
Because of this legacy, among Samsung’s 30 R&D centres, Bangalore has emerged as the centre of excellence for wireless communications, multimedia and image processing, artificial intelligence in vision, voice and text technologies and Internet of Things. “Globally, they think Bangalore is the place where these four technology talents are available.”
Now his team is working on 5G and IoT solutions, working closely with local startups in what Shah calls ‘open innovation’. “We have invested in some of them who basically bring content and services to our consumers to our products,” he says, adding that Samsung is also involving professors from leading universities and students in new projects. “In one of our programmes, we work with about 150 colleges in India, where students get to work on current active projects of Samsung and contribute and create patents with us.” Shah firmly believes India is poised for a big leap and that Samsung has done its part in powering Digital India.
“Throughout the 25 years, what has kept me totally excited is the three keywords: technology, innovation, consumer focus. So being very closely connected to consumers and customers, we understand their pain points and their pleasure points. We use technology to solve their problems. And then we do innovation to take these solutions into their hands through various channels,” says Shah. “Now technology has changed, tools have changed, programming techniques have changed from embedded systems to cloud computing. Samsung has always been on the top of these technology, market, consumer and lifestyle trends.”
He is proud of the significant contribution the India team has made to Samsung’s growth too. “Both the Samsung smartphone and the Samsung network had significant contributions from Bangalore. Samsung Galaxy phones are supposed to have the best cameras and a significant contribution in this image processing is from Bangalore engineers especially,” Shah says, adding how every time you take a picture with a Galaxy camera there is an AI module written by Bangalore engineers understanding the scene around you.
Shah is also excited by how his team has contributed to the Make in India efforts. “Before 2015, mostly European products we used to come and be localised. From 2015 onwards, very unique Indian consumer insight based product development, software development, user experience development was done out of India.”
Even as he picks talent from the best institutes in the country, Shah underlines why continuous learning is the “unique reason somebody should join Samsung R&D in India”. He elaborates: “There are regular training programmes, very high end… there is a lot of emphasis on continuous learning as programming languages have changed, processes have changed and software development life cycles have changed.”
For the future, Shah is confident the India team has it in them to lead the AI/ML world. “I have very high confidence in AI, because our engineers are very good in math. AI is basically fundamentally based on math, and then a lot of AI is open source. So that gives a great opportunity for us to be at the same level as any expert anywhere in the globe.”
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