How custom SoCs enable differentiation in the era of 8K, 5G and AI

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Needless to say, 8K, 5G and AI rank as some of the major technology trends of the day. However, with a vast number of solutions being rolled out to suit these trends, how to differentiate has become a key element for solutions providers to win out. In this regard, application specific integrated circuit (ASIC)-based systems-on-chips (SoCs), where differentiation is done at the chip level, can help manufacturers design systems and solutions that are truly unique and special, meeting customers’ specific requirements.

Among the most talked-about technologies of the day, 8K, 5G and AI certainly rank on the top. With 5G providing bandwidth 10 times than that for 4G, 8K video is an ideal choice for telecom operators seeking to provide new applications and contents to generate revenue out of their 5G service. Meanwhile, the need for smarter software and algorithms to help end users across verticals achieve further efficiency and business intelligence has triggered demands for AI.

Also not to be ignored is the trend of industrial internet of things, whereby connected devices and the data they generate help factory operators raise productivity and reduce downtime. Especially, with ongoing trade disputes and the ensuing shift of supply chain, it is expected demands for industrial automation outside of China will arise. 

New Business Opportunities for Socionext

These trends present new business opportunities for Socionext, a leading manufacturer of ASIC-based, highly customizable SoCs with a range of applications, including AI-based telematics, factory automation and 8K. Especially in the era of 8K, Socionext is the world leader in end-to-end 8K solutions with applications in 8K video input, transmission to output. Further, the company has amassed a vast ecosystem of partners in 8K. “We’ve been rolling out 8K solutions since 2015. Now we lead the rest of the world in this regard, and we are ahead of our competitors by two to three years,” said Allen Chang, Business Development Director at Socionext.

According to Chang, ASIC-based SoCs are a good IC option for suppliers due to several reasons. First, ASIC enables the same level of performance as CPUs and GPUs yet at much lower power consumption – whereas a CPU-based 4K encoder may consume as much as 300 watts of power, an ASIC-based one consumes as little as 3.5. Second, ASIC allows for IC-level customization according to the customer’s specific requirements and demands, resulting in systems or devices that can better differentiate. With more and more solutions being introduced to suit the aforementioned trends, differentiation has become a critical element for suppliers to win out in the market. 

Foxconn and Socionext Embrace New Technology Era

Socionext’s core expertise in imaging, computing and networking is the reason why Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer, chose Socionext as a technology partner. “Our partnership began with edge computing and then expanded to 8K, for which Socionext offers the most complete end-to-end solutions, not to mention its ecosystem of partners,” said Gene Liu, Senior Director of SoC and Solutions Business Group at Foxconn.

Specifically, Foxconn relies on Socionext’s strong customization and integration capability to truly differentiate its products. “Socionext has a complete portfolio of IPs, and it also has the capability to integrate these IPs according to the customers’ needs. In the same way a chef prepares a course based on the ingredients we request, Socionext delivers SoCs that are specific and unique to us, based on the IP blocks we specify,” Liu said. “With Socionext’s customization capability, we can compete and win at the architecture level, and this is why we chose them as a SoC partner.”

Foxconn manufactures a range of products from consumer electronics, TVs, cameras and networking and storage solutions, all of which can benefit from AI to help the end user achieve further efficiency and business intelligence. Since no two AI algorithms are exactly alike, ASIC-based ICs offer a better option as they are highly customizable, as opposed to CPUs and GPUs which are more or less standardized. Again, this is an area where Socionext can help customers win out.

“For customers developing their own AI algorithms, they can just give Socionext the specs. What Socionext does is provide an ASIC platform that allows the customer to test whether their requirements are met, before a final IC product is delivered. This model is good for AI and is expected to further drive AI’s growth in the future,” Liu said.

Success Stories

Socionext and Foxconn collaborate in many areas, one of which is edge computing which has become crucial in various sectors, including smart manufacturing. Whereas it takes some 150-200 milliseconds to transmit data from endpoints to the cloud, it just take 10 milliseconds to transmit data to the edge, allowing operators to make informed, real-time decisions.

One example of edge computing collaboration between the two companies is BOXiedge by Foxconn, a mini-server with a 24-core SoC with Socionext’s technology in it. Applications include smart retail and smart manufacturing, where the device already has successful proof-of-concept in factory AOI (automatic optic inspection).

“Each product on the moving production line passes through the AOI system in a few seconds, and the system needs to inspect everything including – is there a defect? Where is the defect? What type of defect – all in one to three seconds. A small yet powerful edge computing device is therefore needed. This is where BOXiedge comes in – it’s arm-based and consumes little power, easy to install and easy to maintain,” Liu said. “This is one example of how we can differentiate our products and at the IC level, using an architecture that’s high-density, low-power and low-latency, and the low latency part is achieved through the design of the IC/SoC itself.”

As for 8K and 5G, Foxconn/SHARP leveraged Socionext’s 8K end-to-end capability, and the two have demoed an end-to-end 8K and 5G solution whereby 8K video is transmitted from a Sharp camera at the frontend to an encoder and then to a base station, where the video is transmitted via 5G to the client’s equipment and then to the TV. “Foxconn and Socionext’s technologies are used in every step along the way. This is a real 8K5G end-to-end solution and we made it happen,” Liu said. “We can mutually interface with our 5G and 8K partners together to create new business opportunity.”

Meeting Customers’Needs in a Connected World

 With its technology expertise and customization capability, Socionext is in a good position to develop cutting-edge SoCs that help meet customers’ increasingly sophisticated and comprehensive requirements in today’s connected world. In the future we can foresee Socionext expanding its current ecosystem of partners, with whom to roll out solutions that suit today’s major technology trends.

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BlueBadger Ltd
Annie Shinn

Socionext Europe GmbH
Mark Ellins

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