Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Monday, September 28, 2020
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Analog Devices, Intel Partner on Open 5G Radios 

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Intel Corp. and Analog Devices Inc. are collaborating on a 5G wireless network design based on an emerging open standard with the goal of developing flexible radio platforms that would help carriers scale 5G network deployments.

The wireless partnership announced Monday (Aug. 3) would combine ADI’s RF transceivers with Intel’s Arria 10 FPGAs, giving network developers a set of design tools for developing badly needed 5G base stations that also include power amplifiers and integrated antennas.

The radio platform includes ADI’s digital front-end (DFE) transceiver capability along with Intel’s processor technology.

With Chinese telecommunications equipment giants like Huawei accelerating their rollout of 5G base stations, the ADI-Intel design tools comply with an emerging 5G standard called OpenRan, for open radio access network.

OpenRAN has emerged as “Huawei alternative,” using software that connects with a variety of network hardware. That approach is touted as cheaper than complete 5G network packages sold by Huawei or telecom equipment rivals Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) or Nokia (NYSE: NOK). The standard is also promoted as accelerating deployment of small-cell technology.

ADI (NASDAQ: ADI), Norwood, Mass., said its OpenRAN-compliant collaboration with Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) includes its software-defined transceiver that incorporates the company’s DFE functionality.

The resulting flexible architecture would “allow designers to customize frequency, band and power to achieve higher system performance at lower cost,” the partners said.

The FPGA-transceiver combination is the latest in a growing list of efforts aimed at advancing development of 5G radio technology. The U.S. launched a 5G software effort  earlier this year aimed at forging open software standards that would virtualize hardware and allow 5G networks to run on any manufacturer’s equipment.

AT&T (NYSE: T), Dell Technologies (NYSE: DELL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) have signed on to the initiative that emphasizes 5G software that would make next-generation networks hardware-agnostic. It also reflects lagging 5G equipment development among key U.S. companies.

Chip makers note that 5G is a technically challenging RF problem. “The RF front end [is] where the power is consumed, that’s where the quality of the connection, that’s where the throughput really comes from,” said Michael Hogan, general manager of GlobalFoundries’ automotive and industrial unit.

“Without that RF capability, you have nothing to process… you’re throwing away bandwidth that’s scarce,” added Hogan, a former wireless industry executive. “You license all this spectrum and you want to get the most out of it. That’s not coming from the 7-nanometer FPGA that’s in the heart of the processing, it’s coming from RF front end, the power amplifier” and the transceiver.

As for OpenRAN’s potential, Hogan concluded: “It needs some time to work itself out, but I think it’s one of the ways we solve how do you get 5G deployed” in the U.S.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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