Excellent news and exciting applications made headlines at the recent FD-SOI and RF-SOI events in Shanghai. During the FD-SOI day, Amazon/Blink and Intellifusion shared news about their new chips, and we got updates from GF and Samsung. The RF-SOI day featured a great talk with details about China Mobile’s 5G plans, and peeks at Nokia’s groundbreaking approach and Qorvo’s outlook.
The hall was absolutely full – with over 300 people attending each day. The FD-SOI event was by invitation only, and there were far more people wanting to attend than there was room for, even given the big room in which the events were held.
The events got excellent coverage in the China tech press. For example, EEWorld started with an overview article and added five supporting pieces zooming in on key presentations and companies: one on GlobalFoundries, one on Samsung, one on Verisilicon, and two on Soitec (CEO and top exec interviews). These pieces are in Chinese, but just open the links through your favorite translation site. Many of the key slides are captured in these articles, so if you can’t wait for the ppts to be posted on the SOI Consortium website, you can get some quick previews now.
The Verisilicon PR folks also wrote up highlights of the FD-SOI event in real time with lots of great pictures – you can read that here. Many thanks to that team, too, for flagging the coverage in the China press and posting it on their WeChat account. On the RF-SOI side, the Simgui folks wrote that up – you can read it here. They also sponsored a gala dinner with awards given to Qorvo and SmarterMicro – you can read about that here.
Most of the presentations will be posted on the SOI Consortium website over the next few weeks, at which point we’ll cover them in-depth here at ASN. But for now, here’s a quick round-up of some of the highlights.
Boston-area based Blink, which makes very popular home security systems, was recently bought by Amazon (see their current product page here). They just taped out a new chip on Samsung’s 28FDS FD-SOI technology, and they’re really happy about it. “I believe for battery powered devices at home, FD-SOI is the way to go,” said Yantoa Jia, Head of ASIC & China Ops at Blink.
Their goal in the move from 55nm bulk to 28nm FD-SOI was to double battery life, add features and control costs: and they did it. Even adding two more CPU cores and lots more features, “The power drop is fantastic,” he said. Design was no problem, he continued, and there was plenty of IP. Once the new generation is officially announced, he promised to sit down with ASN and give us more details.
Attendees also heard about a new chipset from Intellifusion, which is putting its face recognition technology onto GlobalFoundries’ 22FDX FD-SOI with design house Verisilicon. CEO Nin Chen gave an impromptu talk about how their technology is used to find missing people and property. The new chip, which is especially designed for use in cities, is network-to-cloud leveraging AI.
For his part Thomas Morgenstern, GlobalFoundries SVP and GM of the Dresden Fab 1, said they’re seeing high yields and increasing capacity for 22FDX. The marketing and manufacturing ecosystem has been built around the fab in Europe. Now, he said, the key is to build an FD-SOI ecosystem in China. The market needs of China largely parallel those of Europe, he noted, for performance and efficiency at the right cost point. The ecosystem enables fast time-to-market and 1st-time-right.
Samsung SVP Gitae Jeong sees their FD-SOI technology as the right solution for the 4th Revolution, which includes everything from energy harvesting to self-driving cars. They’ve just taped out their first 5G mmWave cellular chip on 28FDS, he revealed. eMRAM is looking very good, only requiring three additional masks and getting stable yields from -40o to 105oC. 18FDS is on schedule, with PDK 0.5 now being released, and 1.0 on track for release in March 2019. They expect a very fast ramp, and are looking at a 35% area reduction, power cut in half and performance up 22% compared to 28FDS.
When China Mobile talks, the world listens. Project Manager Danni Song presented again this year (she gave a great talk last year, too). China has a very ambitious 5G project underway, and under two years in which to roll it out. The biggest challenges are power consumption and cost (a problem made worse by the additional power amplifiers needed for MIMO). Can RF-SOI help solve these challenges, she asked? One thing she did clarify during the panel discussion was with respect to the mmWave part of the 5G puzzle. Their initial 2020 rollout will only focus on sub-6GHz, with mmWave following a year or two later.
Michael Reiha, Head of RFIC R&D at Nokia Mobile Networks clarified the worldwide 5G rollout during the panel discussion. Different locations on the planet have different histories and needs, so will rollout 5G in different ways. For historical reasons (and a lack of choice), the US will lead with mmWave, he said. Europe, meanwhile, will focus on 24GHz to meet the needs of automotive radar.
In his presentation, Reiha described Nokia’s approach to power amplifiers (PA), which is very different from what others are doing. With RF-SOI, he said, you can add sensors and logic for a level of preventative care, so you can gauge and protect your equipment using AI. He believes this disruptive approach will put them two years ahead of the industry, enabling massive MIMO to be deployed in dense urban areas with 60% lower power consumption and 50% savings in material costs. Go read about their Reefshark tech, he urged, which he says will beat GaAs. “The future is very bright with RF-SOI,” he concluded. “I can state that with confidence.”
Julio Costa, Director of Technology Development at Qorvo sees it differently. Traditionally a GaAs house, all their RF-SOI work is fabless. While RF front end modules (FEMs) are loaded with RF-SOI, he said, and are a big winner for antenna tuning, Qorvo still sees GaAs for high-efficiency amplifiers and envelope tracking. But, he said, it will be a battle. GaAs wins in terms of area and power consumption he contends, but adds that SOI wins in terms of cost. Power levels, he predicts, will be the determining factor.
So that’s the quick overview – we’ll drill down into the presentations as they’re posted, so stay tuned!