Moore’s Law will celebrate its 50th anniversary on April 19, 2015. Many say that the statement or theory has run its course due to the next moves toward 450 mm size wafers, extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) and 20 nm CMOS. There are many technical problems as well as cost problems in the present development cycle.
Well, that’s what we do as engineers and designers of electronics—we solve these types of problems. And most likely, clever engineering talent will come up with ways to help solve these problems. But maybe the efforts we put into making Moore’s Law happen from year to year might better re-directed with solving other problems and challenges in electronics. How about 5G?
Back in the early 1960s, when President John Kennedy told the world that we would land a man on the moon in this decade, not only did that ignite the spark in me to become an EE, but it set the entire country towards a collaborative effort to reach that goal. When government and industry get behind an effort in such a powerful way as it did then—-technological things will happen which before were only a dream in mankind’s minds.
5G is the new massive effort, in my opinion, that can spur government and industry (Not just in the USA like in the 60s but worldwide) to ante up funds and resources that will propel us towards the goal of reaching “everything everywhere and always connected”—-with 12 year battery life by the year 2020! That’s a key milestone year because of the Olympics in Japan that year which gives industry and engineering development an added reason to reach 5G goals in the next 5 years.
There are many technological needs in order for 5G to happen. If we focus our efforts away from 20 nm CMOS and Moore’s Law and towards next generation technology that can greatly increase speed and lower power in Data converter technology and RF technology (Analog does not need 20 nm CMOS and so what if we don’t have that technology for the digital components either!), low latency and huge number of antennas in Massive MIMO, GaN Technology to improve poor efficiency of Power Amplifiers (PA) in the base station transmit chain and frequencies up to 100 GHz—then maybe our collective engineering efforts will bring about new process technologies and architectures that do not involve going to 20 nm or the next node in semiconductor technology flowing Moore’s Law.
Ideas like maybe using single bit ADC Sigma Delta architectures in the receive section of the base station and even device handsets, tablets and PCs are being considered. This is an old concept, but with a fresh look at it in 2015 and beyond, I am sure we will come up with clever solutions that defy paradigms or advancements in Software Defined Radio (SDR) as seen in Figure 1 below. Test bed challenges are already being addressed by National Instruments since testing capabilities is the area that usually leads advances in technology, or at least walks hand-in-hand with new technology developments and evolves as do the technology prototypes and breadboards.
If you think that reaching such high speeds and low latencies are out of the question then just look back to the early 1990s when our landline telephone system carried voice signals only and we needed to find a way to transmit higher speed digital data over the existing 4 kHz copper line infrastructure. Engineers will find a clever technical way just as they did back then so that the Internet could thrive and grow.
So don’t despair over the loss of Moore’s Law whose time has pretty much come to an end (Or maybe engineering will find a way to still get the 20 nm problems solved!) because we have plenty of good technological advances to come because of this thing called 5G. Watch for my feature article on EDN coming soon that will discuss the analog semiconductor design challenges like speed and power and the clever ideas of using beam-forming in antennas to help make 5G happen in the next five years.