Huawei 5G radios: 12 nm & chiplets should do the job

Although the best mobile phones need the most advanced chips to be competitive, 5G radios simply have to be able to perform their functions effectively. Radios, unlike phones, have room and power for 2 or 3 slightly less efficient chips. The necessary functions can be split between two chips or three chips, each optimized for the many different functions required by the 5G radio. Huawei will neither confirm nor deny this is practical, so I am reaching out to chip experts.

There are many different ways to measure efficiency and experts disagree on how much more efficient 7 nm chips are than 12 nm, the best that can be produced today at SMIC in China. Estimates range from 20% to 50%, and there’s no simple way for a firm estimate until chips are available for test. Almost certainly, two 12 nm chips can match the functions of one 7 nm chip. A third chip could be optimized for functions that needed the most speed.

The 2 or 3 chips can be delivered as “chiplets,” which AMD and others are demonstrating can be very effective. 2-8 chips are combined into a single package with custom-designed high-speed interconnections. AMD’s Mark Papermaster is the pioneer here, using a chiplet design to quickly bring the Epyc server chip to market.

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