San Diego, USA based Ethertronics Inc., enabling innovative antenna and RF solutions to deliver the best connected experience, has launched Ether 1.3.1, a phone adaptive antenna solution. Ready for integration with smartphones or other classes of phones, the Ether 1.3.1 can realize design benefits such as 50 percent reduction in antenna volume, yet maintain compliant performance.
According to Laurent Desclos, president and CEO, Ether 1.3.1 allows an antenna system to dynamically tune itself for optimum performance. Phone form factors are constantly changing throughout the design cycle.
“Current solutions, using passive antennas, require the antenna to be re-tuned with each change to the phone form factor, lengthening the time to market. Ether 1.3.1′s advanced active circuitry is able to adapt to changes in the form factor, reducing the need for lengthy antenna redesigns.”
In addition, Ether 1.3.1 can be designed to take up less volume than other antennas (up to a 50-percent reduction), providing more space for other components, and yet, still remain specification compliant.
Is this solution only suitable for smartphones then? Desclos said that Ether 1.3.1 is not limited to just smartphones. It can be integrated into all tiers of devices such as feature phones and tablets supporting 2G, 3G, and 4G mobile device designs. Ether 1.3.1 is said to be ready for commercial deployment. Several design references have been accomplished to date. Products from OEMs will be announced in the future.
It is said that Ether 1.3.1 allows more freedom in antenna structure design. Elaborating, Desclos said: “Ether 1.3.1 allows more freedom in antenna structure design in a few core areas: size, placement and ability to meet performance specifications. Through the use of active impedance matching techniques, smaller volume antennas can be achieved.”
This is especially important as phone form factors shrink, while more components are added to phones for increased functionality (cameras, GPS, etc.). Ether 1.3.1 can additionally be used to achieve compliance as the antenna system can be dynamically tuned for known challenge areas in specification compliance.
Finally, how can the Ether 1.3.1 solution be tuned for tougher challenges by toning down the antenna size?
Typically, when the antenna’s size is decreased, performance suffers since there is less volume area to cover the required bandwidth. The beauty of active impedance matching is that the technique allows for the antenna volume to be reduced by as much as 50 percent and still maintain compliant performance. As a result, active impedance matching allows for a wide range of designs, since the technique is applicable to a broad range of form factors.
However, post the meeting, to my horror, I misplaced my notes and only managed to locate them last week. My apologies to Infineon for being late with this blog post.
I was able to discuss Infineon’s wireless strategy with Dr Ludwig and also managed a peek at Infineon’s range of microcontrollers during my discussion with Peter Schaefer. First, let’s have a look at the company’s wireless strategy.
Dr Matthias Ludwig said: “We are good in RF and baseband. There are about 1.5 billion RF transceivers out there globally, from Infineon.” He added that one third of the market falls in the low cost mobile phone segment.
Infineon’s wireless strategy is two fold — low cost solutions and the smartphone platform — where the company is focusing on the modem and the RF side, respectively. Infineon’s Android based smartphone platform uses an ARM 11 baseband. “Customers can come up with their own application processor,” Dr Ludwig said. “Our strategy gives us a lot of flexibility.”
He mentioned that Infineon receives a lot of requests from customers for smartphones at $100 solutions. “We believe that we can manage our single core Android platform in the $100 segment.”
Thanks to Dr Ludwig, I had a first hand experience of some of the smartphones that Infineon is currently working on. Actually, think about it! A $100 dollar (and even sub $100) smartphone may be just the thing Indians would love to have.
As for Infineon’s India strategy — part of the focus is on low cost. “We know that there is tough competition out there,” noted Dr. Ludwig. One other aspect that Infineon is focusing on is: how to develop and build an ecosystem in the country.
Of course, Infineon is also looking beyond the Indian market when it is developing solutions. In that respect, Dr Ludwig added that one of Infineon’s focus is to find the sweet spots that are not only of interest to India. “There is a certain drive to have low end products. Safety and reliability of the products are also important,” he concluded.
I will add a separate post on the conversation with Peter Schaefer, VP & GM, Head Microcontrollers, Infineon.
Here is the concluding part of my discussion with Sam Fuller, CTO, Analog Devices. We discussed the technology aspects of Moore’s Law and
‘More than Moore’, among other things.
Are we at the end of Moore’s Law?
First, I asked Fuller that as Gordon Moore suggested – are we about to reach the end of Moore’s Law? What will it mean for personal computing?
Fuller replied: “There is definitely still life left in Moore’s law, but we’re leaving the golden age after the wonderful ride that we have had for the last 40 years. We will continue to make chips denser, but it is becoming difficult to continue to improve the performance as well as lower the power and cost.
“Therefore, as Moore’s law goes forward, more innovation is required with each new generation. As we move from Planer CMOS to FinFET (a new technology for multi-gate architecture of transistors); from silicon to more advanced materials Moore’s law will still have life for the next decade, but we are definitely moving into its final stages.
“For personal computing, there is still a lot of innovation left before we begin to run out of ideas. There will continue to be great advances in smart phones, mobile computing and tablets because software applications are really just beginning to take advantage of the phenomenal power and capacity of today’s semiconductors. The whole concept of ‘Internet of things’ will also throw up plenty of new opportunities.
“As we put more and more sensors in our personal gadgets, in factories, in industries, in infrastructures, in hospitals, and in homes and in vehicles, it will open up a completely new set of applications. The huge amount of data generated out of these sensors and wirelessly connected to the Internet will feed into the big data and analytics. This would create a plethora of application innovations.”
What’s happening in the plane?
The plane opportunity – 90nm – 65nm – 45nm – 22nm – 20nm – 14/18nm – is starting to get difficult and probably won’t work at 12nm, for purely physics reasons. What is Analog Devices’ take on this?
Fuller said: “You are right! We have been going from 45 nm down to lower nodes, it’ll probably go down to 10 nm, but we are beginning to run into some fundamental physics issues here. After all, it’s a relatively finite number of atoms that make up the channels in these transistors. So, you’re going to have to look at innovations beyond simply going down to finer dimensions.
“There are FinFETS and other ways that can help move you into the third dimension. We’re getting to a point where we can put a lot of complexity and a number of functions on a single die. We have moved beyond purely digital design to having more analog and mixed signal components in the same chip. There are also options such as stacked dies and multiple dies.
“Beyond integration on a single chip, Analog Devices leads in advanced packaging technologies for System in a Package (SiP) where sensors, digital and analog/mixed signal components are all in a single package as the individual components would typically use different technology nodes and it might not be practical to do such integration on a single die.
“So, the challenge often gets described as “More than Moore”, which is going beyond Moore’s law, bringing those capabilities to do analog processing as well as digital and then integrating sensors for temperature sensing, pressure sensing, motion sensing and a whole range of sensors integrated for enabling the ‘Internet of Things’.
“At Analog Devices, we have the capability in analog as well as digital, and having worked for over 20 years on MEMS devices, we are particularly well positioned as we get into ‘More than Moore’.”
I recently met Sam Fuller, CTO, Analog Devices, and had an interesting conversation. First, I asked him about the state of the global semicon industry in 2013.
Industry in 2013
He said: “Due to the uncertainties in the global economy in the last couple of years, the state of the global semiconductor industry has been quite modest growth. Because of the modest growth, there has been a buildup in demand. As the global economies begin to be more robust going forward, we expect to see more growth.”
Industry in 2014?
How does Analog Devices see the industry going forward in 2014? What are the five key trends?
He added: “I would talk about the trends more from an eco-system and applications perspective. Increased capability on a single chip: Given all the advances to Moore’s law, the capability of a chip has increased considerably in all dimensions and not just performance, be it the horsepower we see in today’s smartphones or the miniaturization and power consumption of wearable gadgets that were on show this year at CES.
“In Analog Devices’ case, as we are focused on high performance signal processing, we can put more of the entire signal chain on a single die. For our customers, the challenge is to provide their customers a more capable product which means a more complex product, but with a simpler interface.
“A classic example is our AD9361 chip, which is a single chip wideband radio transceiver for Software Defined Radio (SDR). It is a very capable ASSP (Application Specific Standard Products) as well as RF front end with a wide operating frequency of 70 MHz to 6 GHz.
“This chip, coupled with an all-purpose FPGA, can build a very flexible SDR operating across different radio protocols, wide frequency range and bandwidth requirements all controlled via software configuration. It finds a number of applications in wireless communication infrastructure, small cell Base stations as well as a whole range of custom radios in the industrial and aerospace businesses.”
Now, let’s see the trends for 2014!
More collaboration with customers: There is a greater emphasis on understanding customers’ end applications to provide a complete signal chain, all in a System on a Chip (SoC) or a System in a package (SiP). The relationship with our customers is changing as we move more towards ASSPs focused with few lead customers for target markets and target applications. While this has already been ongoing in the consumer industry with PCs and laptops, customers in other vertical markets like healthcare, automotive and industrial are and will collaborate more with semiconductor companies like Analog Devices to innovate at a solutions level.
More complete products: We have evolved from delivering just the silicon at a component level to delivering more complete products with more advanced packaging for various 3D chips or multi-die within a package. Our solutions now have typically much more software that makes it easier to configure or program the chips. It is a solution that is a combination of more advanced silicon, advanced packaging and more appropriate software.
With providing the complete solution, the products are more application specific and hence, the need for more collaboration with customers. For example, there may be one focused on Software Defined Radio, one for motor control, and one for vital signs monitoring for consumer health that we have launched recently.
We need it to be generic enough that multiple customers can use it, but it needs to be as tailored as possible to the customers’ needs for specific market segments. While because of the volume and standardization, availability of complete reference designs in the consumer world has been the norm, other market segments are demanding more complete products not-withstanding the huge variation in protocols and applications.
Truly global industry: The semiconductor and electronics industry has become truly global, so multiple design sites around the globe collaborate to create products. For example for Analog Devices, one of our premier design sites is our Bangalore product design center where we quite literally developed our most complex and capable chips. At the same time our customers are also global.
We see large multinational companies like GE, Honeywell, Cisco, Juniper, ABB, Schneider and many of our top strategic customers globally doing substantial system design work in Bangalore along with a multitude of India design houses. Our fastest growing region is in Asia, but we have substantial engagement with customers in North America and Europe. And our competition is also global, which means that the industry is ever moving faster as the competition is global.
Smarter design tools: The final trend worth talking about is the need for smarter design tools. As our products and our customers’ products become more complex and capable, there have to be rapidly developing design tools, for us to design them.
This cannot be done by brute force but by designing smarter and better tools. There is a lot of innovation that goes on in developing better tool suites. There is also ever more capable software that caters to a market moving from 100s of transistors to literally billions of transistors for an application.
Following a host of forecasts for 2014, it is now the turn of Applied Materials with its forecast for the year. First, I asked Om Nalamasu, senior VP, CTO, Applied Materials regarding the outlook for the global semicon industry in 2014.
Semicon outlook 2014
He said that Gartner expects the semiconductor industry to grow in mid-single digits to over $330 billion in 2014.
“In our industry – the semiconductor wafer fab equipment sector – we are at the beginning of major technology transitions, driven by FinFET and 3D NAND, and based a wide range of analyst projections, wafer fab equipment investment is expected to be up 10-20 percent in 2014. We expect to see a year-over-year increase in foundry, NAND, and DRAM investment, with logic and other spending flat to down.”
Five trends for 2014
Next, what are the top five trends likely to rule the industry in 2014?
Nalamasu said that the key trends continuing to drive technology in 2014 and beyond include 3D transistors, 3D NAND, and 3D packaging. 3D remains a central theme. In logic, foundries will ramp to 20nm production and begin early transition stages to3D finFET transistors.
With respect to 3D NAND, some products will be commercially available, but most memory manufacturers plan to crossover from planar NAND to vertical NAND starting this year. In wafer level packaging, critical mechanical and electrical characterization work is bringing the manufacturability of 3D-integrated stacked chips closer to reality.
These device architecture inflections require significant advances in precision materials engineering. This spans such critical steps as precision film deposition, precision materials removal, materials modification and interface engineering. Smaller features and atomic-level thin films also make interface engineering and process integration more critical than ever.
Driving technology innovations are mobility applications which need high performance, low power semiconductors. Smartphones, smart watches, tablets and wearable gadgets continue to propel industry growth. Our customers are engaged in a fierce battle for mobility leadership as they race to be the first to market with new products that improve the performance, battery-life, form-factor and user experience of mobile devices.
How is the global semiconductor industry managing the move to the sub 20nm era?
He said that extensive R&D work is underway to move the industry into the sub-20nm realm. For the 1x nodes, more complex architectures and structures as well as new higher performance materials will be required.
Some specific areas where changes and technology innovations are needed include new hard mask and channel materials, selective material deposition and removal, patterning, inspection, and advanced interface engineering. For the memory space, different memory architectures like MRAM are being explored.
FinFETs in 20nm!
By the way, have FinFETs gone to 20nm? Are those looking for power reduction now benefiting?
FinFET transistors are in production in the most advanced 2x designs by a leading IDM, while the foundries are in limited R&D production. In addition to the disruptive 3D architecture, finFET transistors in corporate new materials such as high-k metal gate (HKMG) that help to drastically reduce power leakage.
Based on public statements, HKMG FinFET designs are expected to deliver more than a 20 percent improvement in speed and a 30 percent reduction in power consumption compared to28nm devices. These are significant advantages for mobile applications.
Status of 3D ICs
Finally, what’s the status with 3D ICs? How is Applied helping with true 3D stacking integration?
Nalamasu replied that vertically stacked 3D ICs are expected to enter into production first for niche applications. This is due primarily to the higher cost associated with building 3D wafer-level-packaged (WLP) devices. While such applications are limited today, Applied Materials expects greater utilization and demand to grow in the future.
Applied is an industry leader in WLP, having spear-headed the industry’s development of through silicon via (TSV) technology. Applied offers a suite of systems that enable customers to implement a variety of packaging techniques, from bumping to redistribution layer (RDL) to TSV. Because of work in this area, Applied is strongly positioned to support customers as they begin to adopt this technology.
To manufacture a robust integrated 3D stack, several fundamental innovations are needed. These include improving defect density and developing new materials such as low warpage laminates and less hygroscopic dielectrics.
Another essential requirement is supporting finer copper line/spacing. Important considerations here are maintaining good adhesion while watching out for corrosion. Finally, for creating the necessary smaller vias, the industry needs high quality laser etching to replace mechanical drilling techniques.
The year 2014 is expected to be a major year for the global semiconductor industry. The industry will and continue to innovate!
Apparently, there are huge expectations from certain segments such as the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable electronics. There will likely be focus on the connected car. Executives have been stating there could be third parties writing apps that can help cars. Intel expects that technology will be inspiring optimism for healthcare in future. As per a survey, 57 percent of people believe traditional hospitals will be obsolete in the future.
Some other entries from 2013 include Qualcomm, who introduced the Snapdragon 410 chipset with integrated 4G LTE world mode for high-volume smartphones. STMicroelectronics joined ARM mbed project that will enable developers to create smart products with ARM-based industry-leading STM32 microcontrollers and accelerate the Internet of Things.
A look at the industry itself is interesting! The World Semiconductor Trade Statistics Inc. (WSTS) is forecasting the global semiconductor market to be $304 billion in 2013, up 4.4 percent from 2012. The market is expected to recover throughout 2013, driven mainly by double digit growth of Memory product category. By region, all regions except Japan will grow from 2012. Japan market is forecasted to decline from 2012 in US dollar basis due to steep Japanese Yen depreciation compared to 2012.
WSTS estimates that the worldwide semiconductor market is predicted to grow further in 2014 and 2015. According to WSTS, the global semiconductor market is forecasted to be up 4.1 percent to $317 billion in 2014, surpassing historical high of $300 billion registered in 2011. For 2015, it is forecasted to be $328 billion, up 3.4 percent.
All product categories and regions are forecasted to grow positively in each year, with the assumption of macro economy recovery throughout the forecast period. By end market, wireless and automotive are expected to grow faster than total market, while consumer and computer are assumed to remain stagnant.
Now, all of this remains to be seen!
Earlier, while speaking with Dr. Wally Rhines of Mentor, and Jaswinder Ahuja of Cadence, both emphasized the industry’s move to 14/16nm. Xilinx estimates that 28nm will have a very long life. It also shipped the 20nm device in early Nov. 2013.
In a 2013 survey, carried out by KPMG, applications markets identified as most important by at least 55 percent of the respondents were: Mobile technology – 69 percent; Consumer – 66 percent; Computing – 63 percent; Alternative/Renewal Energy – 63 percent; Industrial – 62 percent; Automotive – 60 percent; Medical – 55 percent; Wireline Communications – 55 percent.
Do understand that there is always a line between hope and forecasts, and what the end result actually turns out to be! In the meantime, all of us continue to live with the hope that the global semiconductor will carry on flourishing in the years to come. As Brian Fuller, Cadence, says, ‘the future’s in our hands; let’s not blow it!’
Early this month, I caught up with Jaswnder Ahuja, corporate VP and MD, Cadence Desiign Systems India. With the global semiconductor industry having entered the sub-20nm era, there are a lot of things happening, and Cadence is sure to be present.
Performance in sub-2onm era
First, let’s see how’s the global semiconductor industry performing after entering the sub-20nm era.
Ahuja replied: “Increased demand for faster, smaller, low-power chips continues to drive the geometry shrink as one of the ways to manage the low-power, higher performance goals in smaller form factors—in other words, PPA is driving the move to advanced node design.
“At Cadence, we are seeing a lot of interest in the wireless space, which includes smartphones, tablets, and consumer devices. In this market, you must support different standards, the device must be really fast, it must have Internet access, and all this must be done at lower power so the that it does not drain the battery. We’re also seeing interest for advanced nodes in other segments such as computing and graphics processors.”
When speaking of advanced nodes, let’s also try and find out what Cadence is doing in helping achieve 10X faster power integrity analysis and signoff.
Cadence Voltus IC power integrity Solution is a full-chip, cell-level power signoff tool that provides accurate, fast, and high-capacity analysis and optimization technologies to designers for debugging, verifying, and fixing IC chip power consumption, IR drop, and electromigration (EM) constraints and violations.
The Voltus solution includes innovative technologies such as massively parallel execution, hierarchical architecture, and physically aware power grid analysis and optimization. Beneficial as a standalone power signoff tool, Voltus IC Power Integrity Solution delivers even more significant productivity gains when used in a highly integrated flow with other key Cadence products, providing the industry’s fastest design closure technology.
Developed with advanced algorithms and a new power integrity analysis engine with massively parallel execution, Voltus IC Power Integrity solution:
* Performs 10X faster than other solutions on the market.
* Supports very large designs—up to one billion instances—with its hierarchical architecture.
* Delivers SPICE-level accuracy.
* Enhances physical implementation quality via physically aware power integrity optimization.
Supported by major foundries and intellectual property (IP) providers, Voltus IC Power Integrity Solution has been validated and certified on advanced nodes processes such as 16nm FinFET and included in reference design flows such as for 3D-IC technology. Backed by Cadence’s rigorous quality control and product release procedures, the Voltus solution delivers best-in-class signoff quality on accuracy and stability for all process nodes and design technologies.
FinFETs to 20nm – are folks benefiting?
It is common news that FinFETs have gone to 20nm and perhaps, lower. Therefore, are those folks looking for power reduction now benefiting?
Ahuja replied that FinFETs allow semiconductor and systems companies to continue to develop commercially viable chips for the mobile devices that are dominating the consumer market. FinFETs enable new generations of high-density, high-performance, and ultra-low-power systems on chip (SoCs) for future smart phones, tablets, and other advanced mobile devices. Anyone who adopts FinFET technology will reap the benefits.
Foundry support for FinFETs will begin at 16nm and 14nm. In April of this year, Cadence announced a collaboration with ARM to implement the industry’s first ARM Cortex-A57 processor on TSMC’s 16nm FinFET manufacturing process. At ARM TechCon 2012, Cadence announced a 14nm test chip tapeout using an ARM Cortex-M0 processor and IBM’s FinFET process technology.
ARM calls the spirit of innovation as collective intelligence at every level. It is within devices, between people, through tech and across the world. We are still pushing boundaries of mobile devices.
Speaking at the ARM Summit in Bangalore, Dr Mark Brass, corporate VP, Operations, ARM, said that the first challenge was the number of people on the planet. Technology development and innovation also pose challenges.
According to him, mobile phones are forecast to grow 7.3 percent in 2013 driven by 1 billion smartphones. Mobile data will ramp up 12 times between now and 2018. Mobile and connectivity are creating further innovation.
August, a compamy, has introduced an electronic lock for doors, controlled by the smartphone. Another one is Proteus, which looks at healthcare. The smartphone is becoming the center of our world. All sorts of sensors are also getting into smartphones. Next, mobile and connectivity are growing in automobiles. Companies like TomTom are competing with automobile companies. Connectivity is also transforming infrastructure and data centers. They are now building off the mobile experience.
As per ARM, an IoT survey done has revealed that 76 percent of companies are dealing with IoT. As more things own information, there will be much more data. The IoT runs on ARM.
“There’s more going on than just what you think. IoT is not just about things. Skills development should not be an afterthought. Co-operation is critical. Solutions will emerge. All sorts of things are going to happen. Three years from now, only 4 percent of companies won’t have IoT in the business at all,” Dr. Brass added.
IoT will be present in industrial, especially motors, transportation, energy, and healthcare. Smart meters are coming in to help with energy management. There is a move to Big Data from Little Data.
Challenges in 2020 would be in transportation, energy, healthcare and education. ARM and the ARM partnership is addressing those. “We are delivering an unmatched diversity of solutions. We are scaling from sensors to servers, connecting our world,” Dr. Brass concluded.
Texas Instruments has been a leader in DLP or digital light processing, a type of projector technology that uses a digital micromirror device. Kent Novak, senior VP, DLP Products, Texas Instruments (TI) mentioned that DLP became the no. 1 supplier of MEMS technology in 2004.
The DLP pico projectors business started in 2009. Now, pico is going into gaming systems, etc. In 2011, it went into the cinema industry. In India, out of 10,000 screens, close to 7,000 are now digital. In 2012, new DLP development kit was launched allowing developers to embed the DLP chip into non-traditional applications in new markets. In 2013, TI started working on DLP automotive chips.
He said: “DLP is an array of millions of digital micromirrors. We ship around 45 million devices. We see India as a growth opportunity for cimemas. In DLP front projection business, we have 60 percent share in India. Only 5 percent of Indian classrooms have projectors, making room for growth.”
In low power pico projection, TI has 95 percent market share in India for standalone pico projection. A phone with pico projection was launched in India with iBall at 35 lumen.
DLP technology is available in India in:
Industrial: Machine vision can improve quality control in the Indian manufacturing sector.
Medical: Intelligent illumination systems for cost effective blood analysis.
Safety: Cost effective, accurate chemical analysis of food and industrial.
Automotive: Infotainment and safety solution being qualified.
DLP in automotive displays has several applications, such as wide field of view head up display (HUD) – app available by 2016, free shape interactive active console – app available by 2017, and smart headlights. Some other features include:
* High image quality: consistent contrast, brightness over lamp.
* Full, deep, accurate cover over lifetime.
* Easily enlarges larger display areas.
* High power efficiency.
* DLP technology automatically reduces reflection.
New market opportunities
There are said to be several new opportunities for DLP. These are in:
Industrial: Machine vision, spectroscopy, interactive display, 3D printing, intelligent lighting, digital light exposure.
Infotainment: Mobile phones, tablets, camcorders, laptops, mobile projection, ultra slim TVs.
Gaming: Dual console gaming, interactive gaming, near eye display.
Digital signage: Interactive surface, storefront interactive, retail engagement.
Automotive: Head up display, interactive display, intelligent lighting.
Medical: Spectroscopy, 3D printing, intelligent lighting.
TI has DLP LightCrafter family of evaluation modules. It enables faster development cycles for end equipment requiring smalll form factor, lower cost and intelligent, high-speed pattern display. The DLP LightCrafter 4500 features the 0.45 WXGA chipset. The DLP chip can enable new and innovative intelligent display apps. If your solution uses, programs or senses light, DLP could be a fit.
DLP catalog offers programmable, ultra-high speed pattern. “DLP is light source agnostic. We use whatever’s most efficient for brightness,” he added.