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We are living through a "disruptive" transition in which a PC-driven market is giving way to a mobile-driven market, according to Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer for device solutions at Samsung Electronics. In a keynote speech March 12, 2013 at the CDNLive Silicon Valley conference, Sohn talked about Samsung's vision of a mobile future and the semiconductor design challenges that lie ahead.
Held in multiple locations throughout the year, CDNLive is the Cadence user conference. CDNLive Silicon Valley ran March 12-13, and it drew over 800 attendees for around 100 technical sessions. Keynote speeches were given by Lip-Bu Tan, Cadence president and CEO (blog post here); Young Sohn; and Martin Lund, vice president of R&D for the Cadence SoC Realization Group (blog post here).
Sohn started out with some background about Samsung Electronics. He noted that the company had $188 billion USD revenues in 2012, growing by 32 billion year-over-year, and that most of this growth was driven by mobile products. Samsung Semiconductor had $33 billion USD in revenues. Looking forward, "we want to really be an innovator," Sohn said. "You'll see much more aggressiveness in innovating products and taking risks in new technology."
Living in "Disruptive" Times
"I think we are living in a very disruptive time," Sohn said. "If you think about the past 30 years, it was really a PC-driven market around Wintel. But if you look at 2011 and beyond, you can see now that mobile players are very critical." One sign that we're in a "post-PC era," he said, is that a dramatic shift is taking place in the licensing of operating systems. Wintel dominated overwhelmingly for two decades, but now Apple iOS and Android are surging.
Samsung's vision, he said, is a seamless sharing of information among mobile devices, including phones, tablets, and the "Internet of things." In this vision every appliance is connected, and media contents are available anywhere, any time. This will result, Sohn said, in "a whole bunch of opportunities" for semiconductors.
Sohn showed a short video that depicted a mobile device that can pinpoint hidden health problems, as well as robot nanocapsules that can attack cancer cells. "We're not there yet," he commented afterwards, "but this is why we're living in a very disruptive time, when what is possible is up to our imagination. There is a big transition going on and you can see it happening. If you look at the next 20 years a whole new wave of opportunity is coming."
Some Challenges Remain
But there are some challenges to be solved, Sohn noted. One is power, which takes on a lot of importance because batteries only improve 10% per year, he said. Another challenge is affordability - IC design at 20nm and below is very expensive. Sohn observed that device scaling will continue to be technically challenging, and noted that it calls for new (and expensive) technologies like strain engineering, high-k metal gates (HKMG), double patterning, and triple patterning.
Sohn related how Cadence, ARM, and Samsung collaborated to tape out a 14nm FinFET test chip (discussed in previous blog post here). Much of the challenge, he said, was double patterning - but partnership resulted in success. "We jointly taped out a 14nm chip with FinFETs and improved the ecosystem," he said. "So here we have an IP company, a tools company, and a chip company. This shows how we have to work together to improve progress."
Sohn observed that 3D-ICs are a "very critical area" and that IC packaging is crucial, since it may cost as much as a system-on-chip (SoC). "Size really matters, form factor really matters. SiP [system in package] is becoming an important part of that and you will see us working in this area as well."
Innovation is becoming very expensive, Sohn said, and huge investments are required to take advantage of next-generation process technology. 65% of semiconductor capital spending comes from just three companies, he noted. "Because of the very high barrier, most people realize they have to focus on what they're good at, instead of inventing everything in house." Sohn said this will lead to greater investments in third-party IP.
Sohn said that Samsung Electronics is funding startups "to invest in areas we think are critical. VCs may not do it, but a company like us can do it." Moreover, "we need to innovate from outside Korea and embrace Silicon Valley more." To this end, Samsung is building a 10-story building in San Jose. It's all part of a "global platform for disruptive innovation" that will lead Samsung into the post-PC future.
For blogs, tweets, pictures and reports from the conference, see the CDNLive Multimedia page.
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Lip-Bu Tan at CDNLive 2013: Opportunities and Challenges for Electronics, and How Cadence Can Help
Martin Lund CDNLive Keynote: Why SoCs Need "Application Optimized" IP