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Fujitsu Semiconductor: Continuing to Provide Society with New Values using Non-volatile RAM

Masato Matsumiya, VP, Head of System Memory Company

Interviewed by EE Times Japan. (January 15, 2018)

Fujitsu Semiconductor is accelerating its efforts in providing solutions to respond to the needs of today’s IoT (Internet of Things) through its system memory business that is responsible for FRAM, which is known as Non-volatile memory featuring low power consumption and high-speed operation. 2018 promises to be the year in which batteryless solutions will be commercialized, combining wireless power-supply techniques through RFID, and FRAM memory technology. We asked Masato Matsumiya, the President of the Fujitsu Semiconductor System Memory Company about the future of the system memory business. He has said: There is a growing needs of Non-volatile RAM with very low power consumption. We want to respond to that needs by developing new products and new solutions.

Providing the memory society needs

富士通セミコンダクター システムメモリカンパニー長 松宮正人

―― Fujitsu Semiconductor is continuing to develop new memories since the LSI business in Fujitsu had reorganized in 2008

Matsumiya:From the past, human being has been writing the note on the paper to memorize things. Instead of the paper, today, memory which is one of electronics devices is used for memorizing huge of data, and it's essential device in today's society. We continue to supply memories that are indispensable in our daily lives. I think that contributing to society by providing the important memory devices is our mission. We will continue, and even strengthen our system memory business.

Our system memory business keeps stable profitability. I believe this is an area of our business in which we can expect future growth.

―― When we think of memory, DRAM, and NAND types of flash memory are popular. However, your company does not handle these famous memories. Why is that, and what kinds of memory do you target?

Matsumiya:DRAM and NAND flash memory cannot cover all of the memory needs society requires. Society requires a broad variety of memories. Some require strong security-oriented memory; others are required to operate with very low power consumption.

Fujitsu Semiconductor is targeting the memory featuring very low power consumption. Specifically, we are expanding our development focusing on FRAM (ferroelectric memory) which is a Non-volatile type of RAM.

FRAM: Responding to increasing needs for low power, high-speed, and high security

―― Can you describe some of the characteristics of FRAM?

Matsumiya:These combine the two characteristics of being Non-volatile, meaning stored data will remain even if the power is turned off, and high-speed operation through random access, and another major characteristic that these is that the low power consumption when writing is dramatically lower than EEPROM. Another feature is that they offer higher security in that stored data are very difficult to be analyzed illegally, and that they have high read/write endurance.

Fujitsu Semiconductor FRAM devices has been used for frequent data logging applications such as in smart meters, as a Non-volatile RAM of which we have approximately 20 years of experience in mass production. They have been also adopted as memory for authentication systems, so the size of the business is strongly expanding. Use is also expanding into automotive applications because new FRAM families operating up to 125°C launched in 2017.

Main FRAM Characteristics; Supports Operations at 125°CMain FRAM Characteristics; Supports Operations at 125°C

―― How are FRAM devices used in the automobile industry?

Matsumiya:Until recently, these were adopted mainly in infortainment systems such as car-navigation systems, but recently, FRAM has been used for various automotive applications including drive-recorders and tire-air pressure monitoring systems.

FRAM doesn’t need the design of power-down sequence which must be needed when flash memory is used in the system. In addition, writing speed of FRAM is very faster than other non-volatile memories such as flash memory, and this feature keeps to memorize continuous logging data until right before unexpected power off. FRAM is prefferred as precious memory device used in critical applications to obtain important data for finding the cause of an accident or the like.

New solutions for the age of IoT

―― Are they uses or methods for applying these new FRAM that we can expect in 2018 and beyond?

Matsumiya:We are expecting FRAM to be even more widely applied as the shift toward IoT accelerates. As you may know, edge devices are ever more frequently being used in the world around us, in the world of IoT. For many of these edge devices, it's preferable to reduce the number of battery replacement, and being able to operate with low power consumption is essential. Memories also need to run with lower power consumption, so naturally, that need has increased for FRAM as well.

Because of that, Fujitsu Semiconductor has offered a batteryless solution that utilizes the characteristic of FRAM, and in 2018, we expect to be begun commercialization of the applications using batteryless solution.

―― Would you explain this batteryless solution?

Matsumiya:Our batteryless solution is combined the RFID technique enabling wireless power supply and wireless communication over a short distance and FRAM featuring low power consumption. We are proposing some batteryless applications such as keyboards, remote controllers and electronic paper tags without any battery inside of the products.

Wireless power supply using RFID has the problems of limited power supply capacity, and instability. However, FRAM, which operates at low power, high speed, and is non-volatile, compensates for above mentioned deficiencies, and can attain a device that does not require a battery.

For example, under the condition that wireless power supply is unstable, a batteryless keyboard doesn't work because the power is too insufficient to operate wireless communication when the keys on a keyboard are pressed. If low power FRAM is mounted on the keyboard, information of the key that is pressed is stored with the minimum amount of power, and that data is transmitted at when an adequate power supply is obtained. This results in stable keyboard behavior.

Our batteryless solution is already at the level of commercialization, technically. We recently demonstrated operating models of a variety of batteryless solutions at the exhibition “Embedded Technology 2017 (ET2017)/IoT Technology 2017” held last November. We were honored in the award for excellence in the IoT technology field at that exhibition, and have been received many inquiries. Now we are supporting the customers who are developing with an eye toward commercializing using batteryless technologies for other areas than keyboards and electronic paper tags.

I’m exciting to expect that the batteryless solution becomes one of new FRAM applications in the age of IoT.

demonstration of battery-free keyboard demonstration exhibited View of demonstration of battery-free keyboard demonstration exhibited at the Embedded Technology 2017 (ET2017)/IoT Technology 2017. Back of photo: Power-supply terminal connected tablet PC indicated by the blue arrow Mounts a power-reception module (red arrow) to a keyboard to supply power. Keyboard signals are sent via a UHF-band RFID.

Development of Memory (NRAM, ReRAM) driven by new technology

――Do you receive the needs from the customers requiring new FRAM with larger density?

Matsumiya:We continue to hear the call for larger density and our company is pushing forward in that direction.

Over the past five years, we have reviewed the memory structure for FRAM to attain a more compact memory cell, one that is 1/10 of the conventional size. Today, we have achieved a density that has expanded to 4 Mbits. Early in 2018, we plan to begin shipping samples of our 8Mbit product. We also expect to attain a 16Mbit product.

In response to request of non-volatile memory with large density over 16Mbits, we are now developing new memory, NRAM, that adopts carbon nanotubes (CNT). NRAM will quite satisfy the customer needs.


―― Can you describe the status of NRAM development and some of the features?

Masato Matsumiya, Head of System Memory Company

Matsumiya:We obtained a license from Nantero Inc. which owns technologies relating to NRAM. We are moving forward with Mie Fujitsu Semiconductor, in our group of companies, jointly to develop a commercial product in 2019.

Compared to other next-generation Non-volatile RAM, NRAM has a very low power consumption, yet has excellent characteristics of high-temperature performance and productivity. This is the reason why we choose the development of NRAM. I think, switching DRAM to Non-volatile RAM is the ultimate dream for RAM manufactures. I believe, NRAM is a memory that will make it possible for us to make that ultimate dream the reality.

―― You have commercialized ReRAM (Resistive Random Access Memory) in 2016

Matsumiya:ReRAM has a lower writing endurance than FRAM. However, this is a Non-volatile RAM that uses a lower current when reading. This is more suited than FRAM as a memory for storing programs for wearable devices featuring more frequent read operation than write operation.

We offer our customers various memory products featuring low power consumption such as FRAM, ReRAM, and NRAM so that the customers can choose best memory for their applications.

Expanding sales by “offering value to society”

―― Can you tell us about your special ambitions for 2018?

Matsumiya:I desire to develop new solutions while deepening our collaborative connections with various partner companies. I want to make 2018 the year that we continue to provide new value of our FRAM.

I think that in the future, there is a need to strengthen our proposals at the system level, as we did with our batteryless solutions, and not simply provide FRAM as an single device. The world is changing with IoT, and the times are changing dramatically. Amid such change, newer applications for low power consumption memories will come to the forefront. Generation of brand-new applications are good business opportunities for us, therefore, it is essential that we continue to offer newer solutions to the revolutional applications.

Next, although some users will skillfully use the features of FRAM, while I feel there Fare many potential customers who aren’t familiar to FRAM yet. I’m sure there is still adequate room to switch from other memories to our FRAM by raising presence of FUJITSU FRAM. We have to continue the effort to raise the presence of our Non-volatile RAM even more.

In summary, this year we will continue to offer value through the new solutions and to raise the presence of FRAM more. In addition, we will expand sales of existing FRAM products, and further expand sales of new FRAM for automotive and our batteryless solutions announced in 2017.

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