SD Association is getting in on the MWC 2019 action with the announcement of a new standard for microSD cards called microSD Express that will bring PCI Express and NVMe Interfaces to the platform, on top of support for legacy platforms. Classified under already recognizable common capacities such as microSDHC Express, microSDXC Express, and microSDUC Express, the biggest change to the new backward-compatible standard is in terms of speed but there are several other benefits too.
To begin with, SD Association says that because microSD Express follows the recently launched SD Express in its use of the PCIe interface, it pushes the maximum transfer rate all the way up to 985 megabytes per second. For the sake of comparison, the current rate for the fastest micro SDXC cards presently available sits at around 270 megabytes per second.
Another benefit to the newly introduced technology is its use of NVMe upper layer protocol, allowing for "advanced memory access mechanisms" as well as unspecified but meaningful improvements in terms of energy efficiency.
All of that means that the cards are not only going to be usable with older devices while still maintaining great speed, albeit not quite as fast. Under SD 7.1 specifications, they'll also support "Bus Mastering, Multi-Queue (without locking mechanism) and Host Memory Buffer" utilizing protocols that are already in use and easy for developers to work with.
The biggest impact could arrive with 5G
In terms of mobile users, although the new card protocol is backward-compatible, the biggest change will probably be noticed on the 5G front. Smartphones with support for next-generation networking are already launching via MWC 2019 and will be able to access data at a significantly higher rate than modern flagships — measured in gigabits rather than megabits, as 4G LTE is. The first 5G handsets will be entirely comprised of flagship devices, most offering a massive amount of storage space to meet the growing needs associated with the technology.
Eventually, 5G will become much more ubiquitous and widely available on even budget smartphones that will almost ship with much lower capacity in terms of storage. The increased data transfer rate on the network side will arguably result in increases the overall scale of applications, websites, and other areas where data is most commonly saved to a handset.
Summarily, if the speed of storage doesn't keep up with the increasing data download rates and sizes, users who choose to expand the typically meager storage capacity found on budget-friendly handsets won't be able to take full advantage of 5G. The secondary storage medium would instead become a bottleneck for the service. While MicroSD Express doesn't quite reach the multi-gigabit speeds expected with the new networking standard but it is significantly faster.
Use cases to spare
The benefits of microSD Express extend well outside of the realms of mobile devices and their use of 5G, SD Association says, pointing the increasing demand placed on other technologies. Impacted technologies range from gaming consoles, multi-channel IoT gadgets, and even the automotive industry to more obvious examples such as 360-degree video shot via action cameras or VR as use cases in which microSD Express will be beneficial.
5G will ultimately play a role across many of those categories, especially on the VR and AR fronts, where new 5G technology is already beginning to be introduced but media storage and playback are equally important as the size of files increase. For any use cases involving storage, access, moving, manipulate, or processing large chunks of data to, from, or on secondary storage mediums, microSD Express could be a game changer.