The Big Data and 5G Effect on Mobile Design
An unprecedented explosion of data is driving the need for new innovations in memory design. Whether it’s the enterprise, cloud, IoT, or the upcoming 5G network, the requirements for memory in each of these areas are critical, accelerating, and evolving. The design of next-generation mobile devices must comprehend dramatically reduced lower power consumption, much smaller form factors, more manageable memory, and increased reliability, all without increasing power or the footprint.
While most in the mobile industry agree that bigger data, richer content and the promise of 5G is transforming the mobile experience, many handset manufacturers and ecosystem players may not fully understand what is required in hardware and software to take full advantage of this transformation.
High-Speed Multimedia and Video Drive Memory and Storage Requirements
Today’s mobile devices are not equipped to handle the upcoming barrage of memory and storage requirements that the next-generation of high-bandwidth multimedia and video will demand. For example, in the existing 4G/LTE environment, most users wouldn’t even consider streaming UHD content or attempt to share their immersive gaming session. However, with 5G’s promise of 3.6Gbps data speeds, these richer multimedia experiences become a reality. What users may not realize is that when streaming content, their mobile device is actually performing “file caching” in the background, temporarily buffering the video and reading/writing into memory. This scenario requires both increased memory size and improved storage performance; the device’s memory subsystem must have the ability to read and write as fast as the network, otherwise a performance bottleneck is created.
Wanted: More Sophisticated, Dedicated DRAM
Until as recently as 12 months ago, a typical mobile handset had 1 or 2GB of system RAM. Now, as the size of operating systems and display resolutions increases, many of the higher-end feature phones are including up to 4GB of RAM. Manufacturers understand that the more RAM the device has, the more of a performance buffer it creates, and the more applications and multimedia tasks can be “parked” as background processes. The trend towards higher resolutions and better pixels drives the need for dedicated RAM (for example, playing back native 4K content at 30fps requires a minimum of 3GB of RAM). And, as 5G delivers on its promise for real-time, multi-feed video collaboration, imaging applications will require dual-facing cameras and high-density pixel imagers that drive increased compute and storage requirements. Additionally, the global smartphone market has transformed into one where consumers at all price points expect a smartphone experience. For these reasons, the demand for LPDRAM is accelerating across all price points and market segments (Figure 2).
Overcoming the Flash Storage Bottleneck
Of course, the amount of accessible RAM is only half the challenge. Equipping mobile devices for richer content and to connect to an ultra-fast 5G network will inevitably create the need for faster and higher capacity storage. The “2D” planar NAND flash memory that is used in nearly every mobile device today is nearing its practical scaling limits, which poses a major storage challenge for the industry. As we move to 5G, the mobile industry needs flash technology solutions that scale with higher densities, performance, and reliability.
In 2015, Micron and Intel® jointly announced 3D NAND technology, a revolutionary memory innovation that stacks layers of data storage cells vertically with extraordinary precision to create storage devices with three times higher capacity than previous generation planar technologies. Because capacity is achieved by stacking cells vertically, the individual cell dimensions can be considerably larger. This enables more storage in a smaller die area, resulting in higher performance, more reliability and lower power usage for a wide range of mobile devices.
From a performance perspective, 3D NAND offers a significant boost in read/write bandwidth speeds, which is critical to keep up with potential faster data download speeds. 3D NAND memory combined with the Universal Flash Storage (UFS) interface delivers even more speed, significantly boosting device boot up times, offering even higher bandwidth for seamless HD streaming, and enhancing mobile camera performance when capturing bursts of photos or action shots.
Thinking Ahead: Emerging Memory Innovations
While adding RAM capacity and enabling new technologies like 3D NAND are critical in the short term, we’re continually working to apply our memory technology expertise to future, real-world industry challenges. One such innovation is 3D XPoint™ technology, which we developed jointly with Intel and announced in 2015.
3D XPoint technology is an entirely new class of non-volatile memory that can help turn immense amounts of data into valuable information in real time. With up to 1,000 times lower latency and exponentially greater endurance than NAND, 3D XPoint technology can deliver game-changing performance for a variety of mobile applications. Because 3D XPoint memory is byte addressable, there are possibilities for it to handle both data storage and near-processor execution workloads in a single persistent memory system, enabling entirely new architectures.
Micron believes that 3D XPoint can be a game changer for the mobile industry, but it will require significant ecosystem partnerships to ensure success. We welcome the chance to share our memory expertise and point of view on the possibilities for this new technology.
Re-Architecting for the Explosion of Data or Whatever Comes Next
It’s important to remember that for all of the exciting capabilities of next-generation multimedia content and the promise of 5G, there is still a lot of work to do within the mobile industry to make them a reality. Regardless of the timeline, the innovation in smartphone capabilities is not standing still. It is certain that resolutions will get higher, cameras will get better, and multimedia will become even more prominent in the handset. For this reason, it is critical that mobile devices employ a better, faster and more sophisticated memory and storage subsystem to enable the expected experience. At Micron, we’re here to help.
Gino Skulick is vice president of marketing for Micron’s Mobile Business Unit (MBU). He is responsible for managing MBU’s strategic, tactical and product marketing activities as well as business development and systems engineering.
Mr. Skulick brings more than 30 years of experience leading organizations in the semiconductor industry. Most recently, he served as vice president of worldwide IP sales at Cadence Design Systems and executive vice president of semiconductor solutions at eSilicon Corporation. Previously, Mr. Skulick founded and grew Aspen Technologies into a $65M component and medical instrumentation company, serving as president and CEO. He also held various executive and leadership roles at Hewlett-Packard and Hughes Aircraft Company now Raytheon.
Mr. Skulick earned a bachelor’s degree in administrative sciences from Pepperdine University and is an athletic alumnus from Boise State University.