ADI’s new ASIC transceiver platform exhibits how 5G has matured

In a press release last week, Analog Devices unveiled a full 5G radio platform that complies with O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network) specifications, including the adoption of the 7.2x split architecture.

The O-RAN Alliance aims to facilitate the market entry of Open RAN by defining standards that focus on the principles of interoperability, open interfaces and a common radio access network architecture – the aim is virtualization and AI management.

ADI has published reference designs for the applications of the new platform, e. B. the provision of 4T4R microcells / small cells / macros. Image courtesy of Analog Devices

Members of the O-RAN alliance including IBM, Infineon, Keysight Technologies, NVIDIA, NXP, Qualcomm, Samsung and Texas Instruments say O-RAN will enable service providers to develop 5G networks through its open architecture accelerate.

An ASIC for providing 5G macros and small cells

The new radio platform is based on an ASIC architecture with industry-standard specifications, including:

  • Full RU 7.2x Split O-RAN conformity
  • Eight transmit and eight receive channels
  • Current bandwidth of 400 MHz per channel
  • Digital front end with extended functions for DPD and CRF

According to Analog Devices, the platform includes the low-PHY architecture required for 7.2x split and support for LTE, 5G and NB-IoT.

Basic block diagram of the new 5G O-RAN RU from Analog Devices. Image courtesy of Analog Devices

ADI has two reference designs in the works: a small form factor 4T4R unit for cell-based (micro / small / macro) applications and a 32T / 32R-M-MIMO system due to be available later in 2021.

Recent history of analog devices with 5G

Analog Devices has been active on 5G development and deployment cycles for the past nine months. Last August, ADI partnered with Intel to combine the flexibility of an FPGA (an Arria 10) with its transceiver technology. This integration should “achieve the high level of performance … while increasing the flexibility to solve emerging network problems more efficiently,” said Joe Barry, vice president of wireless communications at ADI.

The Arria 10 FPGA Development Kit. Image courtesy of Intel

In October, Analog Devices partnered with NEC to provide its fourth generation broadband transceivers to design an M-MIMO RU for Rakuten Mobile with a vRAN interface. The following month, ADI introduced the ADRV9026, a 200 MHz transceiver chip designed for the advancing wireless ecosystem. Most recently, the company partnered with Marvell in December to deliver a 4G / 5G radio unit (RU) for massive MIMO operations that supports high antenna counts.

The 5G competition is fierce and ADI’s ASIC is increasing

As experts in ASIC design, ADI has spent most of the past year focusing on partnerships leading to the provision of their hardware in advanced 5G radios.

The company’s newest platform, the O-RAN 5G Radio Platform, appears to be a direct competitor to the Xilinx FPGA platform All About Circuits, which was reported on a few months ago. Both devices have an iBW of 400 MHz, a digital 8T8R front end, “hardened” digital pre-distortion functions and functions for reducing the crest factor.

However, ADI’s offering is an ASIC-based technology that can be seen as a cost advantage for small cell, high density deployments.

Normalized, idealized cost profile of an ASIC versus an FPGA in terms of volume. Image courtesy Numato Lab

Aside from offsetting the initial development costs, ASICs may be a better option than FPGAs because they improve performance, optimize energy efficiency, and improve analog blocks.

vRAN Trends Drive 5G with VNF

The 5G ecosystem is diverse; Cellular Network Operators (MNOs) run a variety of applications with unique needs that go beyond simple mobile data services. You are looking for off-the-shelf end-user hardware to provide faster time-to-market solutions.

The composite elements that make up a virtual 5G radio access network. Image courtesy Qualcomm

Network Function Virtualization (VNF), shared server resources, and AI management are several key design elements present in the emerging 5G network.

According to Qualcomm, the open interfaces of the RAN are necessary to enable more efficiency and flexibility in the system. Optimization can be achieved through the use of hardware accelerators to expand general purpose processors.

As the 5G standards mature, ASIC-based technologies can also gain traction. The new platform from Analog Devices further strengthens the strength of the O-RAN Alliance and the concept of open networks in general.

In 2021, hardware virtualization will change the skill requirements. Which networking skills would you like to acquire in the future? Let us know in the comments below.

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