Three mega-trends for a post-Covid world, and how they affect users of memory technology

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Around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the strict lockdowns which governments have imposed to try to control the spread of infection, have brought short-term upheaval to every aspect of people's lives.

But looking ahead at the months and years to follow once the immediate crisis has passed, which changes in ordinary life are likely to endure? And how does a memory IC manufacturer such as Winbond ensure that it is ready to meet the changed requirements of electronics device OEMs?

Winbond has worked hard to adapt its strategic product and technology plans in the light of the changed circumstances that it is now forecasting. This is the company's broad assessment of how the post-Covid world is going to shape up, and of the demands that this will place on suppliers to the memory IC market.

Home working and home entertainment will become the new normal

When governments imposed pandemic lockdowns, citizens were told that those who could work from home, should work from home. Companies scrambled to put in place new systems and processes which would allow for all or most workers to work from home.

What was originally intended to be a short-term fix has turned out to be an efficient way of working. To most people's surprise, home working is one of the few positive changes to emerge from the pandemic. It turns out that people like it, and so do companies - it is a win-win. People save the time that they would otherwise have spent commuting, so have more time to spend with their families, or on leisure activities.

And companies are now exploring the scope to save money on the provision of work spaces, particularly for office staff. They are also keen to make savings on business travel. Workers have discovered that they can achieve on video conference calls made on platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype almost as much as they could in a face-to-face meeting, but without the cost, time and energy involved in business travel.

For the sake both of people and of the organisations which employ them, home working is here to stay. And this means that there will be a surge in demand for the technologies which enable computing and communications equipment to work efficiently and effectively. Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and Wi-Fi 6 routers will be particularly popular to meet the home worker's need for high internet bandwidth. We will also see higher demand for computing equipment for home use. As so often before, predictions of the death of the PC are set to be proved wrong. We also expect to see strong growth in the market for the peripheral devices which make home working more comfortable or efficient, and for high-performance smartphones.

Many home computing and communications devices depend on robust NOR or NAND Flash for boot code storage. Winbond's investment in developing QspiNAND Flash technology is important in this context: the QspiNAND Flash devices are lower-cost alternatives to conventional NOR Flash for storing code bigger than 512Mbits. The QspiNAND Flash products provide high-speed Read and Write performance sufficient for Code Shadowing operation, and have a small package size and low pin count, enabling OEMs to reduce the size and cost of the board. Board and cost savings are also a benefit of low pin-count HyperRAM memory devices for use in space-constrained computing peripherals such as wireless headsets or True Wireless earbuds.

Another lockdown phenomenon which looks set to continue post-Covid is the use of advanced technology for home entertainment. Streaming video services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are now even more popular than before. But another effect that Winbond forecasts is the emergence of demand for 8K TVs for the ultimate home cinema experience. Here, Winbond's Low-Power DDR3 (LPDDR3) DRAM products are the ideal choice: in the T-CON module in an 8K TV, a single LPDDR3 replaces multiple alternative components to offer a substantial space and cost saving.

Societies will accept greater intrusion into private lives in the name of disease prevention

Accepted practice will differ from country to country. But the general trend that we can already see around the world is that citizens will grant permission to the authorities to acquire and keep data about their movement and their contact with actually or potentially infected people, provided that this intrusion into privacy is required to limit the spread of Covid-19 or other infectious diseases.

This trend has already led to the use of smartphone radio technologies and apps to work out who has been close to known infected people. In future, we can expect to see greater deployment of potentially even more intrusive technologies, such as IP cameras in public places, and camera drones monitoring compliance with social distancing regulations in public spaces.

But while citizens might accept the acquisition and use of personal data for strictly medical purposes, they will not accept misuse or mishandling of the data. This looks set to boost demand for proven security components which can protect electronics devices such as cameras from tampering or hacking attack.

Security and encryption are commonly regarded as functions to be implemented in a high-end digital system such as a microcontroller, Secure Element or microprocessor. But system designs in which boot code and/or personal data are stored in an external memory also need to take account of security requirements. Winbond anticipated this requirement for secure code storage with the development of its TrustME family of Secure Flash Memory products. The latest TrustME memory product, the W77Q is "Security by Design" to prevent IoT devices from remote software attack. The W77Q provides hardware root-of-trust and secure, encrypted data-storage and data-transfer capabilities. By ensuring robust, end-to-end security in IoT devices it enables:
* Secure code updates, including over-the-air updates, via an end-to-end secure channel between an update authority and the W77Q even when the host processor or SoC has been compromised.
* Secure boot and root-of-trust
* Authenticated and encrypted data transfer between the Flash device and the host
* Execute-in-Place (XiP) of boot and application code
* System resilience, featured by the key security functions of protection, detection and recovery

DRAM development also puts Winbond in prime position to meet the emerging needs of manufacturers of IP cameras and camera drones for surveillance and people tracking. As in 8K TVs, so in these video devices the latest LPDDR3 DRAM will provide the high bandwidth which high-resolution video systems require, while offering easier integration into end product designs than the LPDDR4 or LPDDR5 generations of DRAM technology.

Robots and AI will replace human workers at an accelerating pace

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated how vulnerable some companies are to the suspension of operations when workers become unavailable. In future, companies will be looking to implement more resilient systems which rely less on the physical presence of human workers in a specific location.

In addition, by reducing the number of human workers required to operate on any given site, organisations will make it easier to maintain social distancing in the workplace.

This trend for the adoption of robotics, backed by increasingly sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, will lead to rapid growth in demand for fast microprocessors (MPUs) and graphics processors (GPUs). The sophisticated and complex software which these devices execute will in turn drive the market for high-density, high-bandwidth code storage devices.

Winbond's long-range strategic planning enabled it to detect this emerging requirement before the current market conditions caused interest in AI and robotics to flourish. One result was the development of its OctalNAND Flash memory.

The first OctalNAND Flash device, the 1Gbit W35N01JW, sets a new benchmark for the Read performance of NAND Flash technology: a maximum Continuous Read throughput of 240Mbytes/s, three times faster than Winbond's earlier high-performance W25N-JW QspiNAND Flash family, and almost 10 times faster than general QspiNAND Flash products on the market.

At this level of performance, OctalNAND Flash can replace Octal NOR Flash with limited loss of Read performance, and at a lower cost-per-bit at densities higher than 512Mbits. Winbond's OctalNAND Flash is thus an ideal replacement for Octal NOR Flash for storing large code bases, such as those of robots and other systems which take advantage of the capabilities of AI and machine learning.

Anticipating the memory requirements arising from mega-trends

While the world's focus in 2020 is rightly on the immediate medical emergency of Covid-19, it is right to be looking forward to the changes in business practices and technology operations which the pandemic is likely to cause. By carefully analysing market requirements and understanding end user behaviour, Winbond puts itself in an excellent position to develop the memory products which will help its customers succeed in a post-Covid world. From QspiNAND Flash to TrustME Secure Flash memory to LPDDR DRAM, Winbond has memory products which are ready for the future, whatever it might bring.

(Note: Johnson Chen is executive sales director at Winbond Electronics.)

Three mega-trends for a post-Covid world

Three mega-trends for a post-Covid world

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