A Storage Specification for the 5G Era

OnePlus 7 phone debuts Universal Flash Storage 3.0

Storage specifications may not turn up the wow-factor knob like 4K content, 5G networks and folding-screen gadgets do, but they’re important to the advancement of the smartphone and tablet experience. Storage technologies can pretty much affect every aspect of a phone’s performance.

Typically, more-affordable smartphones use an embedded MultiMediaCard, or eMMC, to store information, but flagship smartphones from most device makers have been using Universal Flash Storage (UFS) specifications. Samsung, in 2016, was the first company to launch a removable data storage card based on the UFS standard (see Samsung Deals New Cards).

The UFS standard is developed by, and available from, the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association specifically for mobile devices, and aims to bring faster data transfer speeds and more reliability to flash memory storage. Also, given that battery life is a leading concern for phone users, power consumption has to be as low as possible.

In September 2013, JEDEC published UFS 2.0, an update to the UFS 1.1 standard released in June a year earlier. And in 2018, the association issued UFS 3.0, a specification designed for devices such as smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, cars and even virtual reality headsets.

UFS 3.0 offers twice the bandwidth of the UFS 2.1 standard, meaning faster read and write speeds. It’s also more power efficient, which is a vital improvement for mobile devices as battery life is a constant frustration among users. The ability to read and write data at double the speed is noticeable to the overall performance of a device and, given the growing rate of data consumption and creation, faster is definitely better. This is particularly the case for 5G devices, which will reach download speeds in the gigabits-per-second range.

Last month, OnePlus became one of the first smartphone manufacturers to release a device, the OnePlus 7, using the UFS 3.0 standard. The initial reaction is that, thanks to the technology, the OnePlus 7 delivers some of the fastest read and write speeds of any phone on the market.

Recent flagship smartphones including the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Google Pixel 3 rely on UFS 2.1 storage, and are capable of running challenging games, like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, and virtual reality apps. They can also play 4K video seamlessly. However, we have no doubt that content developers and consumers will find a need for UFS 3.0, especially as 8K video and intense virtual reality experiences are on the horizon.

Now it’s up to device makers to adopt the new standard. It will take a several years for UFS 3.0 to be a staple technology, but it’ll become an important part of a fast user experience that supports the parallel rise of high-throughput, low-latency connectivity. Whether in our hands or in our cars, new uses will soon emerge demanding this new specification.