The Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy is planning to invest approximately two billion won in a project for the development of a system on chip (SoC) and an application module digitally controlled for wireless power transmission and reception in smart devices. The amount of investment is estimated to exceed 10 billion won when investments to be made by enterprises and private investors are included. South Korean fabless firms such as Koma Tech and MAPS and a research team led by Dankook University professor Kim Hyeon-jin are participating in this project that kicked off this month and is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
The purpose of the project is to develop a one chip for IoT applications that is free from power transmission and reception problems. Global industry leaders like Texas Instruments, NXP and MediaTek have produced wireless charging chips but the chips have had problems in the form of different standards and low charging efficiency.
In the project, MAPS is in charge of chip design. This company is working on the world’s first high-efficiency magnetic resonance chip that satisfies the three wireless charging standards of Qi, PMA and AirFuel Alliance. MAPS is planning to add mobile payment and NFC security to the wireless charging chip.
In the meantime, the research team designs a block in the chip for accommodating a microcontroller unit (MCU) so that the chip can function as a programmable SoC. Once the chip is completed, it becomes the world’s first chip in which an MCU, a power transceiver module and IoT functions for mobile payment and the like are integrated.
Many private companies are working on similar chips on their own, too. For example, the System LSI Division of Samsung Electronics recently began to develop a next-generation IoT chip including a wireless charging solution. The other examples include Intel and Qualcomm.
“The goal of the project is to obtain a chip for wireless power transmission and reception that has a built-in MCU, which has been sought after by smartphone and wearable device manufacturers wishing to make their products smaller,” said an industry expert, adding, “With no company in the industry capable of producing it now, South Korean companies will be able to take the lead in the global IoT device market if the project turns out to be successful.”
At present, the fledgling global IoT semiconductor market is being led by some multinational fabless firms with few common standards set. It is only recently that ARM, which is dominating mobile SoC-related intellectual properties, began to release IoT chip designs.
The best part of IoT semiconductor technology that is currently available is related to a reduction in the size of chips used in mobile devices. Those supplied by Intel, Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm and the like for use in wearable devices are, in fact, modifications of smartphone SoCs and the development of IoT chips in the true sense of the word that allow each object for everyday life as well as mobile devices to perform its function in an IoT network still has a far way to go. This means South Korean semiconductor firms can have a chance.
These days, a number of countries are competing with one another in order to take the lead in the IoT chip market. U.S. companies, which are dominating the CPU and communications chip markets, are busy partnering with one another to expand the scope of IoT chip packages. The recent acquisitions of Altera by Intel and Broadcom by Avago Technologies are regarded as the two largest M&A deals in the history of the global semiconductor industry. Likewise, the Japanese government is concentrating on the development of robot sensors and sensors specialized for use in infrastructure systems in cooperation with Japanese research institutes and colleges with the global IoT sensor demand predicted to reach at least one trillion units in or before 2022. China, in the meantime, is focusing on fabless growth based on a huge government budget and low-priced products based on the intellectual properties of firms located in the U.S., Europe, etc.