My first computer was a Commodore VIC-20 and the movie “Wargames” inspired me to save up and buy the VICMODEM to connect to the outside world. This 300-baud powerhouse was my first experience at connectivity. A few years later, I would have 25-foot Ethernet cables connecting my notebooks to the switch in my bedroom – giving a taste of real speed. 4G / LTE started the cord-cutting trend but with 5G and WiFi 6/6E, cable connections only make sense in a few scenarios for the average consumer.
5G and WiFi use Radio Frequency (RF) technologies to communicate. It would be a tall order for anyone to notice the difference between wired and modern wireless connections. 5G offers amazing performance.
One can wax poetic of the benefits and performance of 5G and WiFi 6/6E but that is the domain of other companies. At TSMC, our focus is on enhancing the underlying semiconductor technology that powers these 5G / WiFi 6/6E chips; and to make them better.
When you look at 5G or WiFi 6/6E at the semiconductor level, one of the key enabling technologies is the Radio or RF Transceiver (Transmitter / Receiver). To enable the performance and promises of 5G, the transceiver grew greatly in size and complexity; this also resulted in significantly higher power consumption.
Normally, chips get smaller over time but that assumes the same or similar workloads. 5G greatly increases the workload for transceivers over 4G as it takes advantage of more carrier aggregation and more frequency bands.
The increased size, complexity and power consumption of 5G transceivers present multiple challenges for battery-powered devices.
Active Power Consumption: When 5G is delivering full performance, the power consumption of the transceiver is greatly increased as it processes more channels with higher frequency for greater carrier aggregation. The processor, memory and storage subsystems are also challenged with 5G’s higher data throughput. Every milliwatt matters in a smartphone. As 5G and mmWave get broadly deployed, it is important to reduce the power consumption of key components such as the transceiver or consumers may see a significant reduction of battery life for their 5G devices.
Transceiver and Battery Size: At the risk of aging myself, when I first started building PCs in the 1980s, the mainboard that housed the CPU, memory and a few essential peripherals was over 100,000 mm2. Fast-forward 40 years, a modern smartphone is orders of magnitude more powerful and the motherboard may be well under 10,000 mm2.
As small as modern smartphone motherboards may be, each square millimeter matters. For every square millimeter you grow a motherboard, you take away from the battery. The smaller the battery, the shorter the battery life. It is important to reduce the size of the 5G RF transceivers, one of the large components on the board.
TSMC is announcing N6RF, our latest new advanced RF CMOS semiconductor technology designed to make 5G and WiFi 6/6E better. 5G offers amazing new levels of performance but it demands higher RF power consumption and larger RF silicon area to support its extraordinary data rate. Both impacts would significantly degrade the customer user experience of a space-conscious user equipment (UE) such as a cellphone, since any chip size increase would result in battery size reduction. TSMC’s N6RF, the most advanced RFCMOS technology, enables our customer’s products delivering full 5G/Wi-Fi 6 & 6E performance while maximizing battery life by leveraging its superior RF capability and digital PPA benefit.
Compared to TSMC’s own 16FFC RF technology, N6RF offers significant improvements:
RF semiconductor technologies can leverage the latest and greatest semiconductor CMOS or logic technologies. N6RF is based on TSMC’s award winning N7 technology. With well over a billion products shipped, 7nm provides a fast, dense, power efficient and mature foundation for N6RF. Customers can leverage many of the same EDA (Electronic Design Automation) tools for N6RF product design as they used for N7, greatly accelerating the design time and reducing the overall design cost.
TSMC is excited to see 5G and WiFi 6/6E gain momentum and offer great features and innovations for consumers and enterprises alike. With our N6RF technology, these features and performance can be realized with much better battery life.
Learn more about TSMC’s RF technologies at rf.tsmc.com