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Collaboration to develop single chip for NB-IoT and LTE-M

Steve Rogerson
July 20, 2017
A collaboration between California-based Globalfoundries and Chinese company VeriSilicon aims to deliver a single chip for LPWA NB-IoT and LTE-M networks.
Leveraging GF’s 22FDX FD-SoI technology, the companies plan to develop intellectual property that could enable a complete cellular modem module on a single chip, including integrated baseband, power management, RF radio and front-end module combining both NB-IoT and LTE-M capabilities. The approach is expected to deliver improvements in power, area and cost.
With the proliferation of connected devices for smart cities, homes and industrial applications, network providers are developing communications protocols that better meet the needs of emerging IoT standards. LPWA technology takes advantage of the existing LTE spectrum and mobile infrastructure, but focuses on delivering ultra-low power, extended range and much lower data rates for devices that transmit small amounts of infrequent data, such as connected water and gas meters.
LTE-M is expected to get traction in the US market, and NB-IoT is gaining ground in Europe and Asia. For example, the Chinese government has targeted NB-IoT for nationwide deployment over the coming year. The combination of these two technologies is expected to push cellular M2M module shipments to nearly half a billion by 2021, according to ABI Research.
GF and VeriSilicon are developing a suite of IP to create single chip cost- and power-optimised products for worldwide deployment, based on a dual-mode carrier-grade baseband modem with integrated RF front-end module.
“Started from more than five years ago, as a silicon platform as a service (SiPaaS) company, VeriSilicon has developed FD-SoI IPs and achieved first silicon success of many chips based on FD-SoI technologies,” said Wayne Dai, VeriSilicon CEO. “For IoT applications, besides cost advantages, integrated RF, body bias and embedded memory, such as MRAM, are the key benefits of FD-SoI technologies beyond 28nm bulk CMOS.”
Integrated with RF and PA on GF 22FDX, the baseband and protocol stack are being implemented on the company’s programmable ZSPnano that is optimised for control and data flow with low latency, single cycle instructions for signal processing.
“GF’s 300mm fab for FDX in Chengdu and IP platforms, such as this single chip for integrated NB-IoT and LTE-M, will have significant impact on China IoT and AIoT (AI of things) industries,” said Dai.
The design will be fabricated using GF’s 22FDX process, which leverages a 22nm FD-SoI technology platform to provide scaling and power reduction for IoT applications. This is said to be the only technology that allows efficient single-chip integration of RF, transceiver, baseband, processor and power management components. This integration is expected to deliver more than an 80 per cent improvement in both power and die size compared with 40nm technologies.
“Our 22FDX technology is perfectly positioned to support the explosive growth of low-power, battery-operated IoT devices,” said Alain Mutricy, senior vice president of product management at GF. “We are especially excited about the opportunities presented by the China market, which is leading the way with a nationwide commitment to IoT and smart cities. This new initiative expands on our long standing relationship with VeriSilicon, an important partner helping us build an FD-SoI ecosystem around our new 300mm fab in Chengdu.”
GF and VeriSilicon expect to tape out a test chip based on the integrated technology, with silicon validation towards the end of this year. The companies plan to pursue carrier certification in mid-2018.
Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Shanghai, China, VeriSilicon has more than 600 employees with five R&D centres and nine sales offices worldwide.