Marvell, Qualcomm and others hit the throttle in 5G base stations

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Companies — and countries — have raced to build 5G networks, buying up thousands of base stations in a bid to lead the technology arms race. Today, the companies that supply the hardware at the heart of these base stations are helping them get faster.

Dell deployed a server-class accelerator board for 5G base stations that it co-developed with Wonder. The accelerator board is based on Marvell’s Arm-based Octeon Fusion processor and brings a performance boost to Virtual RAN and Open RAN.

A base station, also known as a radio access network (RAN), is a collection of hardware modules that are typically mounted on poles or buildings and connect smartphones or other devices to a wireless network. The RAN includes a radio unit (RU) that houses radio frequency (RF) transceivers and other integrated circuits to convert and amplify RF signals. The radio unit is usually located near or integrated directly into the antennas of a base station.

One of the other key components of a base station is the distributed unit (DU), which houses the baseband processor that performs the L1 (or PHY) functions of the RAN protocol stack or shares the load with radio unit. The central processing unit (CU) is located in the cloud data centers of a telecom, where it is used to perform basic management and 5G control functions. These “functional divisions” allow flexible partitioning of workloads in a network.

Dell said the accelerator can be plugged into the servers it sells to telecom giants, which are usually placed at the base of the pole on which the antennas and radio are mounted. The accelerator card uses PCIe Gen 4 lanes to support more real-time baseband and other signal processing tasks such as beamforming and massive MIMO from the server CPU . In Dell servers, the CPU is usually an Intel Xeon processor.

Open Acceleration

By taking over more of the processor’s baseband and signal processing tasks, the Dell Accelerator Card performs them more efficiently, saving processor performance that can be used by telcos for other workloads or services. Plugging the accelerator card into the base station also reduces the number of processor cores telcos are forced to purchase per 5G base station, potentially reducing hardware cost.

Power-hungry hardware can cause thermal hot spots in the radio that require large and heavy heat sinks to stay cool. Powering a base station is typically one of the largest operating costs of a wireless network.

The accelerator also supports the Open RAN standard, which promises to give telecom operators the ability to mix and match base station components from many different vendors.

Ericsson, Huawei Technologies, Nokia and other telecom equipment giants have long sold base stations in closed, proprietary bundles that combine firmware and in-house software running on custom hardware.

Dell said the Open RAN accelerator card it developed with Marvell will be widely available by the end of 2022. Dell and Marvell’s announcement came ahead of Mobile World Congress (MWC) next month.

HPE bets on Qualcomm

HPE says he’s associated with Qualcomm to build a DU solution based on its servers and Qualcomm’s 5G X100 RAN accelerator cards to support high-capacity, low-latency workloads on future 5G networks.

HPE said it will use Qualcomm’s 5G X100 accelerator card introduced last year in a new compact server specifically designed for base stations, with an Intel data center processor inside. The unit can support up to four of the 5G accelerator cards, which can support the sub-6GHz and millimeter-wave bands used by 5G networks. Qualcomm said the accelerator card can slot into any industry-standard server through a PCIe port.

The accelerator card is placed in front of the CPU in the server cluster in the bowels of a base station to directly process data from the radio unit without CPU intervention. As a result, it reduces the latency that plagues wireless networks. Offloading beamforming and other baseband tasks from the processor also reduces the power consumed by the base station, which, in turn, reduces cooling costs.

Tom Craig, vice president of HPE’s communications technology business, said the solution, which will also support Open RAN, will help telecommunications companies master the stringent and ever-changing requirements of 5G networks.

Qualcomm and HPE said the accelerator card can reduce the cost of running a 5G base station by 60 percent.

5G Radio Acceleration

Others embed accelerators directly into chips for other parts of a 5G base station, including the radio.

Analog devices is trying to secure a bigger share of the market with its first family of 5G radio SoCs. The chips feature a wideband RF transceiver with eight transmit and receive channels that provide 400 MHz bandwidth, as well as high dynamic range. Additionally, a range of in-chip internal accelerators perform digital signal processing tasks such as digital predistortion (DPD) that previously required the use of a field-programmable gate array (FPGA).

The company said the 13W RadioVerse SoCs are ideal for small cells — clusters of short-range base stations deployed in cities — and macro base stations used by telecom operators for large networks of dozens. millions of users.

The SoCs, which can also fit into Open RAN base stations, can be coupled with many of the most popular RF power amplifiers in 4G and 5G equipment, including GaN power amplifiers with power densities higher.

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