Innovations in the 'More than Moore' era

by Ren Penning de Vries, Chief Technology Officer, NXP , TechOnline India - June 30, 2009

For decades semiconductor developments have been driven by Moore's Law productivity gains. This led to extremely fast digital processors, increases in bandwidth and huge memories that boost the productivity of PCs, mobile phones and other applications demanding heavy data traffic and storage. However, the economics of the IC industry as well as developments in society, are creating a paradigm-shift in the semiconductor world.

For decades semiconductor developments have been driven by Moore's Law productivity gains. This led to extremely fast digital processors, increases in bandwidth and huge memories that boost the productivity of PCs, mobile phones and other applications demanding heavy data traffic and storage. However, the economics of the IC industry as well as developments in society, are creating a paradigm-shift in the semiconductor world.

Our industry is confronted with sky-rocketing cost levels for system-on-chip development in advanced CMOS technology, whereas, ongoing shrinking of physical dimensions will eventually cause Moore's Law to come to an end.

At the same time, the added value perceived by consumer demand points away from ever more productive consumer electronics and into new smart products. A globally ageing population demands innovation in medical devices and food safety. Raising environmental awareness demands smart "green" solutions. And in transportation IC innovations help to bring safety, to overcome traffic congestion, and to deliver real-time information, entertainment and services to people on the move.

Collaborative R&D models to change

These and many more applications are typically realized by integration of existing CMOS technologies with so-called "More-than-Moore" technologies, such as analog/mixed-signal, high-voltage, and ultra-low-power.

This shift towards multiple-technology devices will also affect development in design and architecture methodologies, modeling and characterization, and system architecture. Ultimately, current models for collaborative R&D will change, and new ecosystems will arise.

The paradigm shift from generic CMOS-driven technology convergence towards technology diversification provides semiconductor manufacturers with new means for differentiation and " much welcomed " new business initiatives.

Companies with experience in multi-technology product development, and known ecosystem drivers, such as NXP, are well-positioned to take their share of new emerging markets. As a relatively young industry, the drive for semiconductor device manufacturers has historically been on productivity gain, since Moore's Law first predicted the number of transistors on a given area of silicon would double every 18 months. This law has held true ever since and the productivity ratio has also driven transistor costs down, to a point where an affordable system-on-chip for consumer applications today may contain hundreds of millions of transistors. This tremendous productivity gain has also led to the wealth of electronic applications that we see around us.

Are we now witnessing the end of Moore's Law? The answer to that must be no, but just as transistor density in production has increased, so too has the cost of developing the process that enables it. The result is that the most cost-effective IC solution today is no longer by default based on the smallest " and most expensive " CMOS technology available.

A parallel in aviation mirrors this shift from performance- to economics-driven development. After decades of speed increases for planes the revolutionary Concorde failed to become the new standard for passenger transportation through the air, despite its record-breaking top speed of around 2000 kilometers per hour.

The ability to travel from Paris to New York in only three hours was expected to turn the Concorde into the new standard. But it appeared that economic rules prevailed over sheer performance: extreme fuel consumption caused fares to rise to unacceptable levels, and Concorde has ended up in the museum.

The average speed in aviation found its economic equilibrium at around 1000 kilometers per hour and has remained unchanged for many years now.

But did it mean the end of innovation in aviation? On the contrary, the scope of innovation was redirected to add other value to passengers, crew, and airlines than just speed. Planes became safer, more comfortable, more cost effective, more fuel efficient, and less noisy. NXP foresees a similar process to take place in the semiconductor industry, where the scope of innovation will shift from productivity to quality-of-life gains. As in aviation, there's more to life than speed.

So, Moore's Law, which dominated process technology in semiconductors for decades, will remain the driver in a limited number of high volume areas. But it may cease to exist the moment the boundaries of physical ability or economical feasibility are achieved.

Trends in society all create significant market opportunities for companies who provide state-of-the-art ICs in areas such as energy-saving in consumer electronics and lighting, medical diagnostics equipment, food safety, and traffic management systems.

Growth of these markets is not hindered by the economic downturn, since most of the chip innovations offer great return-on-investment; the product costs are often earned back easily on energy saving, less costs for medical care, less economic damage through traffic congestion. This way, real need-driven innovations in semiconductors can often pay for themselves. {pagebreak}Today increasingly sophisticated markets demand solutions optimized for specific applications. This requires more intensive cooperation between OEMs, their semiconductor vendors, and a wider ecosystem of players.

In turn this will promote the pace of innovation, providing OEMs with more opportunity for differentiation. Early collaboration also ensures flawless integration of the IC in OEMs products, shortening development time and costs, and enabling early market access.

A good example of this approach was the joint development of the latest generation of hearing aids by Phonak, based on NXP's ultra-low power wireless technology. This magnetic-induction based technology is not only low-power, but also does not cause interaction with body tissue " unlike more conventional RF radios. The short product development time and easy market access was only possible as a result of collaborative R&D by Phonak and NXP.

With continuously shrinking margins in a highly competitive market place, a semiconductor company no longer needs to invest over 20 percent of sales revenue into R&D. However, putting innovation on hold for cost reasons is not an option.

Realizing that innovation continues to fuel our industry, either in advanced CMOS SOCs, or in the upcoming More-than-Moore applications, we are now being challenged to adapt our innovation strategies to the changed economic realities.

The industry will have to innovate smarter. Rather than following straight lines in CMOS roadmaps, innovation will be determined by the creativity to combine existing and new technologies into smart customer-tailored solutions. The trend towards multitechnology (More-than-Moore) applications helps in this respect, as it does not require the extremely expensive advanced CMOS development costs.

Smarter innovation also means that by working with customers we can create tailored solutions, cost reduction and improvements in time to market. Smarter innovation also means that we need to step up collaboration with a wide ecosystem, including institutes, universities, governments and standardization bodies.

Innovation will continue to be the fundamental prerequisite for success in semiconductors, but it is no longer a single track path. Those companies that embrace this and free themselves from the endless pursuit of speed without consideration for cost or power limits have the opportunity to create technology that will be lucrative for themselves and which will, ultimately, enhance society. {pagebreak}More-than-Moore innovations by NXP NXP is already very active in the development and sales of More-than-Moore components and ICs. To make this more specific, let's turn to some examples of how a More-than-Moore approach is already delivering technology developments that offer interesting business opportunities and are adding value to people's daily life.

Power Supply Efficiency in consumer electronics

Vast amounts of energy is being wasted globally by power supply units in consumer electronics like TVs, notebooks and desktop PCs " both in operations and stand-by modes.

To address this, legislation is being introduced in many parts of the world to require AC mains power blocks to operate at high efficiency at all times, including low power consumption in standby , effectively banning classical transformer supplies. To achieve these savings at an economic cost, special technologies must be deployed where there is intelligence in the operating mode as well as intrinsically high efficiency in customized power devices. The NXP "GreenChip" family is a good example of this, meeting the Energy Star targets and reducing losses in power supplies by up to a factor of two. This is realized for all modes from full power to standby by a combination of optimized architecture and design together with special semiconductor technology. Integration of features in one IC, as typified in Moore's law applications, is not applicable here. Different IC technologies are employed to achieve optimized overall performance: integrated High-Voltage devices on the primary controller and power factor correction, and high density and high speed low voltage control intelligence interfacing with the high voltage devices.

And finally, by low to medium voltage technology for the output controllers to control the synchronous rectifiers in the high current secondaries. The unique NXP technology solutions have led to absolute record breaking transformation efficiencies, well above global legislation levels.

Lighting

Switching from incandescent lamps to compact fluorescent (CFL) or tube light (TL) can save up to 80% of the electricity used for lighting, and now some forward-thinking countries are contemplating a complete ban on the sale of incandescent lamps.

Traditionally, the drive electronics for CFL and TL have used discrete power components, but several pressures are ushering in integrated solutions. For the professional market, efficiency and cost are obvious imperatives, but there is also a need for intelligent control in each fitting, linking ambient illumination and occupancy detection, with wireless communication and control becoming important. In the low cost CFL market, IC technology is attractive for reducing waste, smaller size and lifetime. An IC driver can also bring enhanced features such as glow phase control, frequency control, power factor correction and compatibility with conventional phase-cut dimmer controls. NXP's CFL driver is made in a High Voltage SOI (Silicon on Insulator) technology. Two power transistors are applied in half-bridge configuration. This type of technology can simplify design and time-to-market making it easy to integrate complex management circuits with mains power control without the risk of latch-up.

LEDs promise lighting solutions that are small, adaptable, energy-saving, controllable in both color and intensity, and with a long life-time. The widespread adoption of LED lighting is determined by the quality of low-cost, highly integrated driver electronics.

LED lamps have similar efficiency gains as incandescent lamps, but operate at relatively low voltages, placing new demands on efficient AC/DC conversion, and include features such as output and colour balance control.

Today, dimming of LEDs through standard TRIAC dimmers is already available. Further developments in LED drivers and controllers are aimed at ongoing energy consumption reduction, reduced heat generation allowing smaller form factors, and power factor correction for harmonic distortion regulation at powers more than 25W.

Other application areas that NXP is successful in is LED flash lights for mobile applications, and LED backlight dimming techniques in LCD-TV, enabling huge energy saving (>50%).

Intelligent Car Keys

Today's car keys allow for immobilization and for remote access through one-way communication. The latest developments have turned car keys into systems combining many functions and features. Equipped with LEDs or a display and two-way communication functionality, within the operating range the car owner can remotely check the status of the vehicle, e.g. locked or unlocked.

A standardized interface in the key compliant to Near-Field Communication technology will enable further functionality. For example, the car location, fuel level or tyre pressure can be displayed by NFC mobile phones. If the device includes a GPS receiver, it can even lead the user back to the car. The same standardized interface can also allow for payments via the car key when a secure element (like NXP SmartMX) is added.

The options for extending car key features further are numerous, and can be realized by smart integration of existing technologies in mature CMOS, high-voltage, analog, RF, MEMS and advanced packaging.

The Cold Chain: food safety and sustainability

The global annual waste of perishable products totals US$35 Billion. That includes food, drinks, flowers, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, blood, and chemicals.

The cold chain represents the refrigerated and controlled supply chain of these products from production, transportation, and storage to the end-user.

By smart tagging of products, a great deal of waste can be avoided. RFID tags on the products and containers include sensors for e.g. temperature, humidity, O2/CO2 concentration, Ph, or light intensity. Real-time monitoring of these values will allow for alarm triggers upon any deviations from safe values. Early notification of nearing expiration dates secures product safety and will avoid waste. Smart tagging also makes logistic more cost efficient, also reducing storage space.

{pagebreak}Near-Field Communication (NFC) as a technology has been gaining prominence over the past few years, with an increasing number of organisations from banks, transport operators and handset manufacturers wanting to integrate the technology within their businesses. But lack of standards within the industry has held back the global mass roll out of the technology at both a handset manufacturer and mobile operator level.

Since NXP co-invented the technology, the company has been at the forefront of driving standard and creating an eco-system of industry players to drive standards and increase adoption. Recognising that as society becoming increasing complex the end-users need devices with multiple functions to help simplify their lives, NXP has recently launched the first standardised chip to really stimulate the market.

This new chip is set to tackle some of the problems holding the technology back by making the SIM the key part of the NFC device by securing the contactless transaction and housing the NFC application. But at NXP, we don't just believe that NFC should be confined to the handset, we are also working with key OEMs to integrate the technology much more widely into devices such as laptops and digital photo frame to improve peer-to-peer sharing of a variety of media.

NFC has been a technology which has been on the periphery until recently, but the next 12-months are going to be an exciting time for the technology as it truly starts to realise its potential.

Ultra-Low-Power for medical applications

Medical electronics is one of the fastest growing areas of semiconductor development. NXP's ultra-low-power solutions, based on magnetic induction radio technology and CoolFlux DSP, form the basis of the latest hearing aid products. Our chip supports a data rate of up to 298 kbps and bi-directional communication, enabling novel applications such as stereo audio streaming and binaural processing. Use of a hub allows easy and wireless connectivity of an MP3 player or mobile phone to the hearing aid. Also, on short range (<50 cm) the magnetic induction radio signal is much more energy efficient than an RF signal. It travels through the body tissue with low degradation of the signal strength. Magnetic induction radio signals also interact far less with human tissue than conventional RF signals, and hence cause less risk of tissue damage.

Other ultra-low power medical applications are implanted sensors monitoring vital body functions, devices for applications in neurostimulation and pain management, and cardiac rhythm management devices. These are all good examples of More-than-Moore technologies enabling living better, rather than living faster.

Smart electricity metering

In the last decade electro-mechanical meters for measuring electricity, gas, water and heat consumption in houses are starting to be replaced by fully digital electronic meters. More often these meters have communication capabilities to link them to so-called Smart metering networks like Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) or Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) networks; systems refered to as Smart metering.

The main driver of this market is electricity metering. AMR/AMI allows electricity suppliers to reduce the cost of billing and to better manage the peak load of the grid, a key driver of cost and capax of the industry.

Demand for electronic gas, water and heat meters has also started to grow. Governments stimulate the implementation of smart metering because 'it makes consumers more aware of their energy consumption patterns, which has been shown to lead to a reduction of energy consumption. Also a better utilization of existing power generation capacity contributes to reduction of CO2 emission.

In the coming years, the Smart meter will evolve into a home gateway for building control, connecting all in-house meters (for gas, water, heat and electricity) and also offering other services like security or alarm via 2-way communication.

NXP is offering key semiconductor components for this growing marked, from dedicated e-meter Microcontrollers to Real time Clocks and Display Drivers to Standard Products like Logic ICs and Discrete Components, also offering Contact and Contactless Card reader ICs for pre-paid e-meter solutions and IMS band transceivers for low range wireless communication.

Telematics

Intelligent Traffic Systems strongly contribute to improved mobility, reduced congestion and more sustainability. Europe shows a strong drive to introduce road pricing and taxing systems. The expected revenue streams for the governments are highly attractive, especially during challenging economic times and the road pricing infrastructure can be also used to tackle mobility and eco-driving challenges.

Increasing safety requirements led to the need for faster response in case of emergencies. The European Emergency Call (eCall) is a well known initiative of the European government to drive eCall as required function for all cars sold in the EU. These developments require low-cost Telematics solutions. To achieve minimum system cost, a new architecture with minimal form factors is required. To address this NXP has designed its first generation Automotive Onboard Unit Platform solution called ATOP 2.5G. This is a multi-core turnkey solution for Telematics applications combining GSM/GPRS, GPS, SRAM and Flash memory, an ARM7 based Microcontroller offering CAN, USB and multiple serial interprocessor busses, a security controller SmartMX based on Banking Standards accepted security levels and a RFID interface based on NFC standards. All this comes in a BGA package of 31x31mm with less than 3mm height.

The device is optimized on cost, form-factor, in-car connectivity and power-consumption. It comes with completely integrated standard software and will guarantee GSM certification, while meeting automotive industry standards and quality requirements in compliance with governmental requirements.

Base Stations

Mobile communications serve a basic human need to be able to communicate, whereever, whenever. This is reflected by the tremendous growth in the number of hand-held mobile phones not only used for voice but increasingly also for mobile internet. This growth is matched by a rapid expansion of the wireless infrastructure world-wide. Base stations have to increase the data stream capacity to the customers (cell capacity). This leads to more complex signal modulation as used in 3G and 4G systems which require higher output powers.

The increasing concern in society on energy consumption and CO2 emission requires base stations to become more energy efficient. This is, however, in conflict with the trends towards more complex signal modulation and subsequently higher output powers.

To meet such contrasting requirements NXP is developing components for use in the RF sections of the base station, ranging from data converters (DAC and ADC), via small signal blocks (mixer, LNA, VGA, ) to RF power transistors. NXP's RF-LDMOS technology used in power amplifiers provide best-in-class performance in advanced complex signal modulation applications like 3G, LTE and 4G, and hold the record in energy efficiency. This will be enhanced further by NXP's introduction of GaN technology with even more superior performance.

Furthermore NXP is investing in power amplifier architectures to reduce the energy consumption even further. An example of this is the "integrated Doherty", an advanced, integrated amplifier that will shortly be introduced by NXP as a first in the field of RF Power.

On the long term base station cell capacity will further increase dramatically, driven by bandwidth hungry applications such as internet and mobile television on demand. This will require even more advanced systems like phased array base stations. NXP is studying high performance building blocks that enable such base stations. Having all advanced technologies in house enables NXP to keep playing a leading role in the base stations of the future.

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