Q&A with GloFo CEO: ‘IoT Is No Mystical Animal’

SHANGHAI — PC shipments are going down all over the world. The smartphone market is losing steam. The chip industry is expecting a down year in 2016. Practically every chip vendor in the world is groping for growth drivers for the semiconductor market.

Sanjay Jha
(Photo: EE Times)

Sanjay Jha
(Photo: EE Times)

Globalfoundries’ CEO Sanjay Jha came to Shanghai this week and said that mobility and pervasive computing will continue to drive the industry. But he emphasized that many applications expected to drive the industry’s growth – which includes mass market smartphones, M2M, IoT and automotive – “don’t require the cost and complexity of FinFET.”

Lu Jun
China's Big Fund manager
(Photo: EE Times)

Lu Jun
China's Big Fund manager
(Photo: EE Times)

Instead, Jha pitched FD-SOI and RF-SOI as “the right technology at the right time,” in his keynote speech at the Shanghai FD-SOI Forum. The Forum audience was invitation-only, ranging from chip company executives who had traveled from Silicon Valley, Europe and Japan, to local fabless, research institutes and investors in China. Most notably, Lu Jun, a man who manages China’s Big Fund, was sitting in the front row.

As he queued up a slide illustrating the downward growth trajectory in smartphone shipments, Jha cautioned the audience: “Those days of 13 to 14 percent annual growth may be over.”

In his opinion, what will drive the chip industry forward are “emerging markets – the next 2 billion subscribers, 5G, social, machine-to-machine interaction, and content consumption.” The question, then, is what semiconductor companies can do about all this.

Jha said “cost, performance equivalent to today’s high-end smartphones and power consumption” are the three things semiconductors need to deliver. “I am not talking about sub-spec smartphones. I am talking about smartphones whose performance is equivalent to today’s high-end smartphones, which are, however, priced at less than $100 or $80. For that, you can’t afford FinFET,” he added.

IOT ‘no mystical animal’
The Globalfoundries’ CEO also touched upon IoT. Although everyone in the industry today talks about the Internet of Things as if it’s a mystical animal, Jha stressed “it is not. But first, we need to define it.”

He defined IoT as all devices “used in a sensorial environment, connected and share their sensor state with the Internet to optimize computing.”

For IoT, “Ultra-low power consumption isn’t an incidental fact,” said Jha. It’s the first and foremost requirement for semiconductors to make IoT happen.

Comparing IoT devices to a PC “which typically needs the power of 20k watts per hour, running 3 to 4 hours” and a smartphone “that demands 2k watts per hour energy, operating 24 hours,” Jha said, “IoT requires energy of 200 milliwatts per hour and it must last 2 years.” Equally important is its cost. “We are talking about an average selling price equivalent to $1.”

So, why FD-SOI and RF-SOI are the right technologies at the right time?

Jha, in his keynote, unequivocally stated that Globalfoundries’ 22nm FDSOI platform provides “14-nm FinFET-like performance at 28nm equivalent gate cost.” It offers ultra-low power, high performance “at 0.4V operating voltage.” Designers can also use software-controlled transistor body-biasing for further optimization, he added.

Growing number of switches
Globalfoundries which completed the acquisition of IBM Microelectronics' business in July is also banking on RF-SOI technology. RF-SOI was one of the strongholds of IBM’s chip businesses. 

Jha, who pitched RF-SOI as the best way to deliver cost-effective front-end modules, said, “Look no further than Apple’s new iPhone 6s.”

As smartphones are designed to connect to multiple cellular modems, the number of bands a smartphone’s front-end module must support are growing exponentially. The iPhone 6s, for example, supports not 12, but “24 bands,” Jha noted. More bands means more switches in the front-end module. The good news for Globalfoundries is that a majority of switches today are built on RF-SOI.

Jha said, “At a time when the average selling price (ASP) of an application processor is declining, the front-end module RF is the only ASP that’s increasing in a smartphone.”

After the keynote, Jha sat down with EE Times to answer questions on Globalfoundries’ business including both FD-SOI and FinFET. Following are excerpts.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.


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