In a press release last week, Analog Devices introduced a complete 5G radio platform compliant with the O-RAN (open radio access network) specifications, including the adoption of the 7.2x split architecture.
The O-RAN Alliance aims to facilitate Open RAN’s market entry by defining standards centered around the principles of interoperability, open interfaces, and a common radio access network architecture—the goal being virtualization and AI management.
ADI has released reference designs for the new platform’s applications—for instance, 4T4R microcell/small cell/macro deployment. Image used 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 allow service providers to speed up 5G network development through its open architecture.
An ASIC Designed for 5G Macro and Small Cell Deployment
The new radio platform is based upon an ASIC architecture with industry competitive specs including:
- Full RU 7.2x split O-RAN compliance
- Eight transmit and eight receive channels
- 400 MHz instantaneous bandwidth per channel
- Digital front-end, including advanced functions for DPD and CRF
According to Analog Devices, the platform includes the low-PHY architecture required for the 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 used courtesy of Analog Devices
ADI has two reference designs in the works: a 4T4R small form-factor unit designed for cell-based applications (micro/small/macro) and a 32T/32R M-MIMO system slated for availability later in 2021.
Analog Devices’ Recent History With 5G
Analog Devices has been active over the past nine months with respect to 5G development and deployment cycles. Last August, ADI partnered with Intel to marry the flexibility of an FPGA (an Arria 10) with its transceiver technology. This integration was meant to “achieve the high level of performance…while increasing their flexibility to more efficiently resolve emerging network issues,” according to Joe Barry, ADI’s VP of wireless communications.
The Arria 10 FPGA development kit. Image used courtesy of Intel
Then in October, Analog Devices partnered with NEC, providing its fourth-generation wideband transceivers to design an M-MIMO RU for Rakuten Mobile featuring a vRAN interface. The following month, ADI unveiled the ADRV9026, a 200 MHz transceiver chip designed for the advancing radio ecosystem. Most recently in December, the company partnered with Marvell to deliver a 4G/5G radio unit (RU) design for massive MIMO operations supporting high antenna counts.
The 5G Competition Is Fierce, and ADI’s ASIC Steps Up
As experts in ASIC design, ADI has spent the better part of the last year focusing on partnerships that result in the deployment of their hardware into advanced 5G radios.
The company’s newest platform, the O-RAN 5G Radio Platform, appears to be a direct competitor with the Xilinx FPGA platform All About Circuits reported on a few months ago. Both units feature an iBW of 400 MHz, 8T8R digital front-end, “hardened” digital pre-distortion capabilities, and crest factor reduction capabilities.
However, the offering from ADI is an ASIC-based technology, which could be seen as a cost advantage for high-density small-cell deployments.
Normalized, idealized cost profile of an ASIC vs. FPGA in terms of volume. Image used courtesy of Numato Lab
In addition to offsetting the initial cost of development, ASICs may be a better option than FPGAs because they enhance performance, optimize energy efficiency, and improve analog blocks.
vRAN Trends Drive 5G with VNF
The 5G ecosystem is varied; mobile network operators (MNOs) run a plethora of applications with unique requirements beyond simple mobile data services. They are looking to consumer-off-the-shelf hardware to provide quicker time-to-market solutions.
The composite elements that make up a 5G virtual radio access network. Image used courtesy of Qualcomm
Virtualization of network functions (VNF), shared server resources, and AI management are several key design elements present in the emergent 5G network.
According to Qualcomm, the open interfaces of the RAN are required to facilitate more efficiency and agility in the system, and optimization can be found by using hardware accelerators to augment general-purpose processors.
As 5G standards mature, ASIC-based technologies may gain more traction as well. The new platform from Analog Devices further reinforces the strength of the O-RAN Alliance and the concept of open networks in general.
In 2021, hardware virtualization is changing skill set requirements. What network skills do you hope to acquire in the future? Let us know in the comments below.
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