Throughout the past decade, you would be hard-pressed to find a single piece of technology more disruptive than the smartphone. As we all know, smartphones have come to dominate the daily lives of people the world over. But despite smartphones still being a major revenue driver for the $1.715 trillion electronics market, their growth is starting to slow to single digits, and other technologies are beginning to gain ground in the hardware space.
Today, we are seeing the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the migration to the cloud, big data and data analytics. Again, this new technology is changing the way in which people live, work, play and even communicate. Not only that, the IoT could be the driving force for technology development during the next 20 to 30 years. Along with this new era will come billions of new sensors that will contain built-in intelligence and be connected to a variety of devices and things. While data centers and networks will form the backbone of the cloud infrastructure that will handle much of the data, there is still much discussion in the chip space about what specific hardware will enable the many sensors and gateways.
At the core of this discussion is the debate between specific packaging technologies that will house and enable the billions of connected devices in the near future. While system-on-a-chip (SoC) has dominated the smartphone era, it may not necessarily be the driving force in the era of the IoT.
What Do We Need?
Decade after decade, chip makers have pushed to create smaller and more powerful components to keep up with the rapidly evolving ecosystem. Although this will continue, the Internet of Things presents much different needs than previous technologies. When the connected device in question performs a relatively simple task as part of a larger ecosystem involving Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and more, the most advanced nodes and technology are not actually necessary.
On the contrary, for one of the first times in history, device manufacturers might very well be looking backward to less advanced nodes to find a more-affordable, less-sophisticated solution. This means the coming wave of devices could be built on less-advanced, legacy technology.
What Are the Options?
As we continue to push forward, companies looking to build devices for the Internet of Things have a few options available to them. As mentioned above, SoC has been around for a while and is used in a variety of different applications—specifically with more-advanced, higher-priced wearables. But at the same time, it can be cost-prohibitive. While large wearable companies can invest more than $150 million into the development of an SoC, many companies making smaller devices won’t have the ROI to justify such an investment.
Instead, more companies are starting to look at options such as system-in-a-package (SiP). This can be defined as a package or module that contains a functional electronic system or subsystem that is integrated and miniaturized through IC assembly technologies. Essentially, the subsystems are made up of individual dies that are manufactured separately, each using the most cost-effective node. With it, companies can achieve necessary functionalities in a miniaturized package for the system end user in an effective way.
Not only is SiP a cost-effective alternative to SoC, but many companies are finding that its benefits run much deeper. Some specific benefits that will directly impact the IoT include the ability to develop smaller and simplified system boards, improved signal integrity, reduced power consumption and decreased component size and thickness.
In the end, we cannot accurately predict how the Internet of Things will evolve during the coming years, but we can know that things will continue to become more connected. Whether it’s the potential for connected cities, or the variety of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMs) and sensors already being installed in vehicles, the push toward the IoT is coming. We believe that push will ride on the backs of technologies such as SiP.
William (Bill) Chen currently holds the position of ASE Fellow and senior technical advisor at ASE Group. Bill also chairs SEMI’s Advanced Packaging Committee and the newly formed Heterogeneous Integration Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, an initiative addressing technologies for the IoT, IoE and cloud-computing era, jointly sponsored by IEEE CPMT, SEMI and EDS.