Semiconductors will enable the low latency, high bandwidth, pixel-heavy world soon to be spawned by the widespread deployment of 5G, but it will require a series of industry resets involving new architectures, business models, and materials. The central challenge is to process huge volumes of data a lot faster using a much lower power draw per bit stored, processed, and moved.
The company’s latest report, ‘Tech, Media, & Telecom Trends 2020 – Thematic Research’, reveals how the data from cars, robots, drones, and smart appliances will increasingly be processed in-device which will help reduce network congestion and cyber threats.
Listed below are the top technology trends in semiconductors, as identified by GlobalData.
Last year proved grisly after the surging growth of the previous two years. The main problems are best understood in the context of uncertainty caused by the US-China trade war, rattling overcapacity in the memory sector, lacklustre demand for processors at the world’s data centres, and flattening smartphone sales.
Overall, the industry will do well to grow by more than 4% in 2020. The outlook for advanced processors is not encouraging either as data centre spending is only likely to show modest near-term growth.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and algorithmic chips
AI systems need to process massive amounts of data quickly. While the performance of general-purpose chips has improved sufficiently to kick-start a new generation of AI technology, they cannot keep up with the exponential increase in the volume of data that AI systems process. This has given rise to the advent of hardware-based acceleration via algorithmic-specific chips.
There is a high degree of specialisation among acceleration chip architectures.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The tsunami of real time data that will be spewed out by the IoT is driving significant research into new chip architectures, and materials, along with areas like silicon photonics. An increasing number of IoT devices will be armed with their own microcontrollers and analytics to make them less vulnerable.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs)
Modern vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems features are networked supercomputers on wheels. Semiconductors will deliver 80% of the innovation required to move the industry to fully autonomous Level 5 vehicles. The next couple of years will see competition intensify for design wins among key original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
The RISC-V Foundation now has over 300 active members, which are exploring the scope for developing open-source, license fee and royalty payment-free RISC processor templates for a wide range of applications.
The next two years will see the brisk adoption of RISCV, especially in China. Alibaba’s RISC-V based developments in IoT and inferential chips were accomplished before the block on US exports to Huawei.
The deployment of IoT devices significantly expands the potential attack surface for increasingly sophisticated state and private cyber attackers. The Meltdown and Spectre scandals of 2018 exposed chips’ weaknesses to cyberattack. Telecom companies could benefit from the association of 5G and virtual reality (VR).
Over the next two years GlobalData expects only marginal progress. The industry must tighten security across the supply chain, including testing and packaging services, foundries, equipment makers and electronic design automation (EDA) suppliers.
In-house chip design
The tech giants are under increasing pressure to differentiate. Consequently, they are abandoning traditional suppliers in favour of their own proprietary designs. The world will continue to move from general purpose processors to specific, precisely tailored hardware focused on software and algorithm optimisation. The tech giants will increasingly design chips in-house.
Independent foundries will receive a boost from the profusion of design-only companies and from the tech giants designing their own chips. There is a big question on what China can achieve in advanced chip making over the next five years.
The world is expected to spend $50bn on new foundry projects over the next couple of years, with half earmarked for China. Foundries will continue to be challenged by the shrinking size of transistors, the increasing height of 3D stacked architectures deployed beyond Flash memories, and standard functional chiplets being designed into application-specific chip sets.