Expanding Horizons: QLC NAND’s Role in Future 1TB Smartphones

As mobile gaming continues to evolve and imaging systems are upgraded annually, the demand for phone storage is growing in tandem with that of computers. Nowadays, the staggering 1TB of built-in storage capacity in phones might seem excessive for the average user, but manufacturers are still endeavoring to push the boundaries of mobile storage capacity.

A recent report by DigiTimes revealed that industry insiders have shared that smartphone suppliers, including Apple and OPPO, are actively evaluating the use of Quad-Level Cell (QLC) NAND flash memory in high-capacity 1TB smartphone models.

For computer users, the term QLC is not unfamiliar. It refers to a type of storage particle used in storage devices, offering advantages like lower cost and higher storage density compared to the TLC particles widely used in SSDs. It’s particularly suitable for the premium space inside smartphones, though it has the drawbacks of a relatively shorter lifespan and average performance. Although several years have passed since its introduction, QLC is still in a phase of promotion and development.

However, in recent years, significant advancements have been made in QLC technology. For instance, SK Hynix showcased a preview of their 192-layer stacked 3D QLC flash memory at the Tech Field Day 2022 technology summit, demonstrating impressive speed, throughput, and durability, potentially rivaling enterprise-level HDDs. Although the original speed of QLC lags behind TLC after the SLC Cache is depleted, it’s evident that QLC performance is steadily improving. Moreover, scenarios that exhaust the SLC Cache in one go are becoming increasingly rare, especially on mobile platforms, where usage scenarios are less complex than on computers. Thus, the impact of QLC on daily user experience should be relatively minimal.

Kioxia, one of the giants in storage chip manufacturing, introduced at the beginning of 2022 its BiCS FLASH 3D flash memory and QLC technology, boasting a storage density of 1Tbit (128GB per Die). They have already provided 512GB samples to OEM customers, meeting the growing performance and density demands of mobile applications driven by higher-resolution images, 5G networks, and 4K videos.