Phono Sapiens, Phones, and Semiconductors EP.2

By October 20, 2022 December 5th, 2023 No Comments

SK hynix continues its conversation with Professor Choi Jae Boong, author of Phono Sapiens

Following up from our previous installment, in which we explored the evolution of human communication methodologies, the development of mobile phones prior to smartphones, and semiconductors, this piece will focus on the story of smartphones and Phono sapiens.

Phono sapiens: smartphones change our daily lives

Professor Choi Jae Boong As I mentioned earlier, things that were formerly used as a means of communication for humans, such as texts, pictures, photos, and videos, are now being carried out on smartphones. The truth is that smartphones have become so ingrained in modern life that they are changing the way people live.

Using smartphones from a young age has also changed the way children learn today. As a child, I remember we learned a lot from adults, and we used to ask teachers and parents questions about things we didn’t understand. In today’s world, however, young people no longer tend to ask, since it takes only one search to satisfy their curiosity.

Technical Leader Lee Gaeun Totally agree with you. YouTube and the internet are great resources for learning anything from simple cooking methods to exercise routines, and more.

Professor Choi Jae Boong That’s right. Smartphones have changed the way we obtain knowledge and the standard of knowledge itself. Search information, which represents the collective intelligence of many users, has become the standard of knowledge. As a result of acquiring this knowledge, younger generations no longer need to really ask questions to adults. There’s just no reason for it.

What’s more is that young people are adept at actively utilizing data obtained through their devices. Now that smartphones are so common, so-called digital literacy1) is becoming more important in many areas. I believe we are witnessing a revolution in which the capabilities of this new generation, those who have grown up with smartphones, will outperform those of previous generations.

Technical Leader Choi Wonjae Thanks to the rapid development of mobile communications technology, we can access the Internet freely through our smartphones. The development of 3G (3G, WCDMA2), etc.), 4G (4G, LTE), and even 5G mobile communications technologies has led to a mobile communications environment centered on the smartphone.

In a way, the emergence of more advanced mobile communications technologies is what brought video sharing websites like YouTube into the spotlight. As data transmission speeds have increased exponentially, mobile communication has become capable of transmitting high-definition videos. When smartphones first came out, you might recall finding the continual buffering to be extremely frustrating, even when watching a brief video that lasted only a few minutes. Buffering now hardly ever happens, even when watching HD movies or TV shows. This is possible because we can now send and receive massive amounts of data.

▲ History of mobile communications technology (Source: SKT)


Technical Leader Lee Gaeun I’m guessing the recent popularity of OTT3) platforms is probably due to the development of such mobile communications technology, right?

Professor Choi Jae Boong Yes. The expansion of OTT services has significantly changed our lives. Unlike a few years ago, people can now find and watch any program they want without having to turn on the television. Domestic terrestrial broadcasters’ advertising sales have steadily declined since the introduction of smartphones. As a result, the previous monopoly on media power held by a few broadcasters has now shifted to an unspecified number of content creators.

Ultimately, we can see that many things have changed since the introduction of smartphones, ranging from how we obtain information and knowledge to changes in the media ecosystem. So, what kinds of semiconductors influenced the development of the smartphone that brought about such changes?

▲ Technical Leader Lee Gaeun emphasized the importance of LPDDR in the interview.


Technical Leader Lee Gaeun For me, LPDDR (Low Power Double Data Rate) is the first semiconductor that comes to mind. LPDDR is a type of DRAM that consumes very little power while carrying out maximum performance. LPDDR is also known as smartphone DRAM. This is because it was designed to compensate for the shortcomings of mobile devices such as smartphones as much as possible.

The key to LPDDR is that it should use as little power as possible. Our smartphones have a limited amount of power. Of course, you can charge them when necessary, but in general, smartphone usage requires an environment with as little power as possible for as long as possible.

▲ SK hynix’s development of LPDDR


Technical Leader Lee Gaeun LPDDR is also one of SK hynix’s flagship products. Due to LPDDR’s low power usage and high performance, there is a growing movement to introduce the technology not only in smartphones, but also in servers.

Personally, I think LPDDR will be introduced in more electronic products. Wireless and smart functions are the latest trends in electronics, and LPDDR, which requires DRAM to process data and uses a limited amount of power, will be critical for these properties in electronic products.

Technical Leader Choi Wonjae There is something impressive about the rate at which the LPDDR market is expanding. Recently, LPDDR technology has developed very rapidly. This development was actually made possible by the fierce competition among smartphones. The desire for a smartphone with a faster processing speed accelerated the development of semiconductors. At one point, people realized that LPDDR was truly amazing. It requires a little bit of power, but the processing speed is faster. Although LPDDR was designed for smartphones, it is now being used in a wider range of devices owing to the relatively low cost compared to its performance and performance per watt4).

Professor Choi Jae Boong Given that I’m here with you both from SK hynix, I’d love to hear more about NAND, which has always piqued my interest. I recently read that SK hynix has succeeded in developing a 238-layer 4D NAND. NAND memory is also used in smartphones, correct? What is the significance of SK hynix’s 238-layer 4D TLC NAND development for smartphones?

▲ Technical Leader Choi Wonjae explaining NAND to Professor Choi Jae Boong


Technical Leader Choi Wonjae What we commonly call NAND is NAND flash memory. In flash memory, data is not lost even when the power of an electronic device, such as a smartphone or computer, is turned off. One of these types of flash memory is NAND.

NAND can be divided into different types based on the level of cells that store data, but in a broad sense, everything from common USB storage devices to SSDs (Solid State Drives) used in smartphones and computers can be called NAND.

The 238-layer 4D TLC NAND sample that SK hynix recently succeeded in developing was recorded as the world’s tallest NAND. By stacking higher in a smaller area, we were able to demonstrate more capacity, faster speeds (I/O, cell writing speed, etc.), and better power efficiency.

Professor Choi Jae Boong If this is the case, I guess the capacity of future smartphones will substantially increase. I’m intrigued by the trend of NAND being used in smartphones, and curious about how SK hynix sees the NAND market.

Technical Leader Choi Wonjae So far, NAND has been developing very quickly, but I think it still needs to develop further. This is because the camera performance applied to smartphones has dramatically improved, and more advanced applications require more capacity. I believe that soon, we will need to store much more data than we do now, because of things like Big Data and artificial intelligence (AI).

In fact, according to global market research company Statista, global data consumption is predicted to reach some 181 zettabytes (ZB, 1ZB = 1.1 trillion GB) by 2025. This is a threefold increase compared to the 64 zettabytes of information consumed in 2020.

▲ Global consumption of data and information is growing exponentially. (Source: Statista (2022))


Professor Choi Jae Boong So, as the amount of information and data we consume grows significantly, will more advanced NAND be required?

Technical Leader Choi Wonjae Yes, that’s right. That’s why the 238-layer 4D TLC NAND sample is a forward-looking move. With much more capacity, faster processing speeds, and lower power requirements5), we were able to successfully create a smaller product with higher productivity.

Smartphones and semiconductors will change the future

Professor Choi Jae Boong The development of mobile communications technology, LPDDR, and NAND flash, which we have discussed so far, appears to be a series of steps that we are taking as we move forward. All of these processes would not have been possible without advances in semiconductor technology. What matters in the future, I believe, will be how we use data. In this regard, AI, which processes massive amounts of data, will be a critical field of competition.

Technical Leader Choi Wonjae I too think that AI will play a crucial role. SK hynix also recognizes the importance of AI and is developing many semiconductor products in anticipation of it. For example, we are developing PIM (Processing-In-Memory), a next-generation intelligent memory technology that can be used for machine learning, high-performance computing, and Big Data operations and storage by adding computational functions to data processing. We are also developing HBM3 (High Bandwidth Memory), an ultra-high-performance DRAM product that can be applied to supercomputers.

Technical Leader Lee Gaeun I have been thinking a lot about how smartphones will develop by focusing on devices. When considering the development of computers from the time they first appeared until now, it is clear that they are getting smaller and smaller. Desktops used to be the most common, but at some point, people started using laptops. Since then, tablets and smartphones have become the most popular types of computers.

Given these trends, I believe we will eventually no longer need to carry around the smartphones that we now use. Even though several products have already been released, smart watches and smart glasses are predicted to usher in the next computing era of wearables.

Professor Choi Jae Boong Even now, AR glasses, VR glasses, and smart watches are gaining quite a lot of attention. A certain level of market penetration has already been achieved for these wearables. Are you saying that wearables will be able to perform even more advanced processes than what we see now, that is, a level of computing that we can only imagine?

Technical Leader Lee Gaeun That’s correct. However, there are many obstacles to overcome. Most importantly, future devices should be small and light enough to be comfortable to wear. When worn for at least 8 hours per day, they should not be too heavy or too large to be a burden. At the same time, future devices must have enough power to run for at least 8 hours. They should last as long as possible with the smallest battery possible. In this regard, I anticipate that the LPDDR, which we previously discussed, will play an important role.

But even if these technical problems are resolved, there is still a heap of regulations to get through. Wearables that come into direct contact with the human body are subject to stricter regulations than other, more general products. We must thoroughly address the issue of unexpected heat output, or in the case of glass, any elements that may harm vision must be removed before they even occur. These issues too will eventually require technological solutions.

Professor Choi Jae Boong If that happens, humans can truly become ‘Phono sapiens,’ where smartphones literally become part of a new body. I certainly look forward to the development of semiconductors that will no doubt be at the forefront of all these developments.

As smartphones have become part of our lives, semiconductors have had an enormous impact on both the big and the small. As we close this conversation, let us remember that semiconductor technology will continue to shape the future as we know it.


1digital literacy: refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and utilize a wide range of digital information
2Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA): utilizes a wider bandwidth to increase data transmission speed, compared to the 2nd generation mobile communications technology at the time, CDMA. The 3rd generation mobile communications technology is compatible with 3G mobile communications standards set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Video calls and automatic roaming services launched shortly after.
3OTT (Over The Top): An internet service that delivers media content such as broadcast programs and movies. Some of the most popular OTT services in Korea are Netflix, Wavve, TVing, and Watcha.
4performance per watt: an indicator of how much computation is performed per watt of power consumed.
5In July 2022, SK hynix successfully developed a 238-layer 512 Gb 4D TLC NAND flash sample. This was 34% more productive, 50% faster at transferring data, and used 21% less power than the 176-layer 4D NAND flash developed in December 2020.