MUNICH, Germany The MultiMediaCard Association is equipping its flash memory cards with higher data rates, a wider bus and more security in hopes of overtaking the CompactFlash card for market dominance.
The market for flash memory is booming. While the total capacity produced worldwide in the last year was some 11 million terabytes, the total is set to explode to about 105 million terabytes by 2007, according to market researchers Gartner Dataquest. Memory cards with a capacity of 1 Gbyte are expected to account for much of the growth. The largest cards will have a capacity of 8 Gbytes.
There is no dearth of applications for the cards: cellphones, PDAs and, especially in the last year, digital cameras topped the list. CompactFlash cards ranked first among data storage media. Their share in 2002 was still just 39 percent, while the multimedia card (MMC) claimed only 9 percent.
The rankings will change dramatically by 2005, however, according to Dataquest. By then, the antiquated CompactFlash card is expected to account for only 9 percent of the market while MMCs jump to 35 percent.
MMC's opportunities should improve significantly due to the new specification 4 recently unveiled by the MultiMediaCard Association. The alliance includes Hewlett-Packard, Infineon, Micron Technology, Renesas and Samsung.
Perhaps the spec's most significant advance is bandwidth available for data exchange with digital cameras, PDAs or a cellphone. A clock frequency of up to 52 MHz and a physical bus width of up to eight bits will allow for gross transfer rates of up to 52 Mbytes/s.
MMC developers are counting on faster speeds to handle downloads of music, games, software and perhaps even videos via cellphones. Higher bandwidth also offers advantages for digital still cameras. Even if the net data rate is no more than about 10 Mbytes, this constitutes an advantage over existing products, according to MMCA President J¼rgen Hammerschmitt. "This makes it possible to record high-speed sequences in a digital camera, for example, and that will already be impressive to designers," Hammerschmitt said.
The card also will run on two different operating voltages. In addition to the widely used 3 V spec, new MMC cards also will operate at 1.8 V, thus following a trend set in the cellphone market.
These two features an 8-bit bus and running at 1.8 V should secure a competitive position for MMCs. As specialist Martin Neururer of Japanese semiconductor manufacturer Renesas explained, no other competitors can match that capability.
Hammerschmidt said further MMC development will include another reduction in operating voltage to 1.2 V.
Digital Rights Management will also assume greater importance as users download copyright-protected content such as music or software into their cell phones, MP3 players or PDAs. Using MMCs as add-on memory for computers will also require better protection for content, Hammerschmitt said.
That's why the association is working on a new specification. Secure MMC 2.0 is scheduled for release in September. It is expected to unveil a spec for a secure chip-card controller for encryption administration used to encode and decode data and to perform user authentication.
Security for the considerable quantities of data stored on the card is deemed essential for applications like business data processing, e-banking or specifically in the use of protected content. Key manufacturers are expected to contribute their technologies for developing a secure MultiMedia
It's no coincidence that some important manufacturers of chip cards are represented in the MMCA. They would introduce their applicable knowledge into developing a secure multimedia card, said Hammerschmitt.
--Christoph Hammerschmidt is editor-in-chief of EETimes.de.