Micron aims to be ahead of the curve before widespread 5G adoption.
TORONTO — The coming of 5G is a chicken-and-egg scenario for smartphones and those that provide the memory content — do device makers proactively release new hardware that’s ready for faster networks or wait for broad adoption?
Memory makers such as Micron Technology are opting to be ahead of the curve. It recently began sampling a universal flash storage (UFS) multichip package (uMCP) with low-power DDR5 (LPDDR5) DRAM. Designed to fit on slim and compact midrange smartphone designs, the company’s uMCP provides the high-density and low-power storage that will allow users to benefit from the applications and capabilities that come with 5G, including augmented and virtual reality.
MCPs combine DRAM with NAND and an onboard controller. They’re common in today’s smartphones because they reduce power consumption and the overall footprint of the memory, thereby enabling smaller devices. Micron’s uMCP5 uses advanced 10 nm DRAM process technology and a 512 Gb 96L 3D NAND die. The 297-ball grid array (BGA) package supports two-channel LPDDR5 with speeds up to 6,400 Mbps, a 50 percent performance increase over the previous-generation interface, according to Christopher Moore, vice president of marketing for Micron’s mobile business unit. Storage and density-wise, the uMCP provides 256 GB and 12 GB, respectively, while using 40 percent less space than a two-chip solution.
Moore compares this milestone to the release of Windows 95 in that users could truly multitask on a PC with multiple applications open at the same time with cutting and pasting between them. “You can kind of do that today on a phone. But with the larger screens that are coming out, foldable phones, and the ability to have multiple apps open on the screen, the same screen is going to require both faster and larger content from your DRAM.”
LPDDR5 is a critical part of delivering that required performance, Moore said, especially given the new camera modules that are being put into the average smartphone — there’s as many as five or six cameras on the back of the phone — so that encoding of a photo and writing it to storage is quick and seamless. Combine that with 5G speed capabilities and AI applications, and smartphones are going to be doing more and more things in parallel, he said, whether it’s for business or entertainment use. There are also going to be new applications yet to be conceived because of 5G. “We’re going to see some really interesting things, and our job is to enable the hardware to allow that to happen.”
Michael Yang, director at IHS Markit, said the world switched over to NAND and DRAM MCPs in the middle of the last decade and they’ve since become the norm in smartphones with more than 50 percent of the market. Micron’s uMCP is in line with roadmap expectations and meeting the current and emerging needs of smartphones, including 5G, he said. “It needs faster DRAM, and it needs lower power consumption because now you’re doing much more data manipulation.”
While uMCP advances do help with multitasking, other device efficiency characteristics contribute as well, said Yang. “Apple has always been better at maximizing efficiency. When you look into the Apple iOS phone, they have less DRAM content than a similar Android phone.” LPDDR5 does improve performance bandwidth over its predecessor, he said, but it’s also the design that allows you to be more efficient to use the available bandwidth and power.
LPDDR5 and uMCPs that contain it are aimed towards providing and supporting all the capabilities eventually 5G will have, said Yang. “It’s a little bit of chicken and egg because you’ve got to have the hardware to support the capability, and then you’re going to have the software applications and usage models that will eventually come in and take advantage of the hardware.”