Wireless World Reshuffles
As 5G systems deploy worldwide, a variety of devices are adapting to accommodate the requirements and challenges of the technology. 5G-ready solutions—in the form of antennas, amplifiers, network accelerators and more—are paving the way.
To paint a picture of the current state-of-the art with 5G wireless technologies, you have to look at a fairly wide canvas. To create both the 5G infrastructure, and the enabling technologies on embedded and mobile devices, system developers are relying on solutions from vendors both large and small. Everything from network acceleration cards to 5G antennas to 5G SIM cards. A look at 5G end-user devices is also instructive, demonstrating 5G in action.
Most people hear about 5G in the context of marketing campaigns by cell phone network carriers. And in terms of data networking, 5G’s impact there is significant. But the real power in 5G is really its impact in IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) systems where speedy wireless data movement is critical. 5G promises a faster, more responsive, low-latency cellular network that will further promote the IoT thanks to its ability to connect multiple smart devices using much faster download speeds and higher bandwidth.
5G MOBILE HOT SPOT
Exemplifying 5G’s impact in an end-user device, in September, Inseego unveiled what it claims is the first commercially available 5G MiFi mobile hotspot built on second-generation 5G technology. The Inseego MiFi M2000 series mobile hotspot delivers ultra-fast speeds and seamless connectivity across 5G mmWave, sub-6Hz and 4G LTE networks (Figure 1).
The device combines Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System with Inseego’s proprietary advanced RF technology design. The MiFi M2000 provides data speeds over 2Gbps in mmWave bands and gigabit-plus speeds in sub-6GHz bands. It also supports new applications requiring the responsiveness and ultra-low latency that 5G technology enables.
With support for Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), which allows 5G to operate in 4G spectrum, the MiFi M2000 enables users to get the benefits of 5G across a wide area. It provides seamless fallback to the most advanced 4G LTE (Cat 22). The MiFi M2000 uses efficient, simultaneous, dual-band Wi Fi 6 technology, which offers greater capacity and up to 4x faster speeds for connected devices compared to Wi-Fi 5. This empowers users to connect more devices at the same time, without compromising performance or sacrificing battery life. It securely connects up to 30 devices over Wi-Fi along with the option for a direct tethered connection using the USB-C port.
EXPANDED INTEL 5G PORTFOLIO
Intel ranks among the list of large companies that have put a lot of resources toward 5G over the past several years—including network infrastructure and 5G system architecture reference designs. In October, Intel announced its more recent wave of 5G activity. In the announcement, the company cited that, as the telecommunications industry transitions to 5G, the next wave of network transformation represents a $25 billion silicon opportunity by 2023.
In its October news, Intel revealed an expanded lineup of hardware, software and solutions for network infrastructure, including: enhancements to Intel’s software reference architecture, FlexRAN; Intel virtualized radio access network (vRAN) dedicated accelerator; network-optimized next-generation Intel Xeon Scalable and D processors (code-named “Ice Lake”); and upgraded Intel Select Solutions for Network Function Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI).
FlexRAN, Intel’s software reference architecture, has grown to nearly 100 licensees and added enhancements including optimizations to its massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) mid-band pipeline for increased bandwidth and support for ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC), says Intel. Recently, Amdocs, a licensee has announced FlexRAN (Figure 2) integration with its SmartRAN analytics solution.
Intel’s new vRAN Dedicated Accelerator ACC100 is a low-power and low-cost acceleration solution for vRAN deployments based on Intel eASIC technology. The board is now sampling to customers. It offloads and accelerates the compute-intensive process of forward error correction. This frees up more processing power within Intel Xeon processors for channel capacity and edge-based services and applications. To bring the product to market, Intel works with leading service providers including Telefonica and various partners—Altiostar, ASTRI, Baicells, Comba, H3C, HPE, Mavenir, Nokia, QCT, Radisys, Ruijie, Silicom, Supermicro and ZT Systems.
Intel’s network-optimized 3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors (code-named “Ice Lake-SP”) are designed for infrastructure use cases that require higher performance per watt, including wireless core, wireless access and network edge workloads and security appliances. Third generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors will ship to customers at the end of the year.
Next-generation Intel Xeon D processors (code-named “Ice Lake-D”) are designed for form factor-constrained environments at the edge and will offer greater levels of integration like built-in networking IP. Intel expects to start shipping these processors to customers in mid-2021.
To improve application efficiency and network performance for high-performance network workloads, Intel Select Solutions for NFVI Red Hat, NFVI Ubuntu and NFVI Forwarding Platform have been upgraded to support the new Intel Ethernet 800 Series Network Adapter (code-named “Columbiaville”), which delivers increased performance and Dynamic Device Personalization (DDP) to maximize platform performance.
FPGA ACCELERATOR CARD FOR 5G
As 5G infrastructure investments continue to grow to support new and higher bandwidth services, demand has increased for system acceleration to meet growing scale and bandwidth requirements. At the same time, the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) approach is growing in popularity. O-RAN is a totally disaggregated approach to deploying mobile fronthaul and midhaul networks built entirely on cloud native principles.
To feed those needs, in September, Xilinx announced the T1 Telco Accelerator Card for O-RAN distributed units (O-DUs) and virtual baseband units (vBBUs) in 5G networks (Figure 3). Built using the same Xilinx silicon and IP already being deployed in 5G networks, Xilinx claims the T1 card is the only multi-function PCIe form factor card that performs both O-RAN fronthaul protocols and layer 1 offload. With its advanced offload capabilities, the T1 card provides a dramatic reduction in the number of CPU cores required in a system. The T1 card also enables the O-DU to deliver greater 5G performance and services while reducing overall system power consumption and cost compared to competitive offerings, says Xilinx.
The demand for O-DU and vBBU solutions is rapidly increasing because they provide an open and standard platform for a wide range of 5G virtualized services. The T1 card is a small form factor, single-slot card that can be plugged into standard x86 or non-x86 servers to achieve the real-time protocol processing performance required for 5G virtualized O-DU platforms. In addition, it offloads line-rate and compute-intensive functions including: channel encoding/decoding using hardened LDPC and Turbo codecs, rate matching/de-matching, HARQ buffer management and more, freeing the processor cores for running other services —the true promise of virtualization.
The T1 card simplifies 5G deployments by offering a turnkey solution through ecosystem partners that includes both O-RAN fronthaul and 5G NR layer 1 reference designs, as well as pre-validated software to enable operators, system integrators and OEMs to get to market quickly.
For its part, Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI) has been involved in 5G since its early days. The company has worked on communication technology advancement for 2G, 3G and 4G, and has enabled every major field test of 5G and helped create one of the world’s first 5G networks. Some of ADI’s more recent 5G news, however, has revolved around collaboration with other vendors.
In February, ADI and Marvell announced a technology collaboration leveraging Marvell’s 5G digital platform and ADI’s wideband RF transceiver technology to provide fully optimized solutions for 5G base stations. As part of the deal, the companies offered fully integrated 5G digital front-end (DFE) ASIC solutions with tightly coupled RF transceivers and will collaborate to develop next generation Radio Unit (RU) solutions including baseband and RF technology optimized for a diverse set of functional splits and architectures.
The increased complexity of 5G RUs, driven both by massive MIMO deployments and mmWave spectrum requirements, present unique challenges to RF and radio network designs, says ADI. Optimized partitioning of RF and mixed signal technology with both digital ASIC and baseband silicon will be necessary to achieve the low power, size and cost requirements for 5G.
More recently, in August, ADI unveiled its collaboration with Intel to create a flexible radio platform that addresses 5G network design challenges. The new radio platform combines the advanced technology of ADI’s RF transceivers with the high performance and low power of Intel Arria 10 FPGAs, giving developers a new set of design tools for more easily creating optimized 5G solutions.
The high-performance, O-RAN compliant solution uses ADI’s software defined transceiver, which includes an innovative DFE capability, with Intel’s Arria A10 FPGA to create a highly flexible architecture. The collaboration is expected to enable system designers to customize frequency, band and power to achieve higher system performance at lower cost.
5G MOBILE PLATFORM
You’ll see Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF modem embedded in many 5G devices. For its part, Qualcomm also makes end user mobile platforms that exploit the capabilities of 5G. Along just those lines, in September, it announced its plans to expand its portfolio of 5G mobile platforms to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 4-series in early 2021 (Figure 4).
The new Snapdragon 4-series is designed to support the rapid proliferation of 5G, which is already available with more than 80 commercial networks in more than 35 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania/Australia, and South America, according to Qualcomm.
Smart phone manufacturers Motorola, OPPO and Xiaomi have all used previous Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile platforms as the basis for their smartphone designs. Devices based on this platform are expected to be commercially available in the first quarter of 2021. For its part, Xiaomi says it will become one of the world’s first OEMs to introduce a 5G smartphone powered by the Snapdragon 4-series 5G mobile platform.
ROUTERS FOR IoT AND 5G
Embedded routers are another category of systems being revamped to support 5G. For example, in April, Digi International launched cellular routers and extenders aimed at 5G needs. The Digi TX54 (shown in Figure 5) and Digi TX64 comprise the launch of its TX line of transportation and intelligent traffic system routers, while the Digi EX12 cellular extender joins the Digi EX15 in supporting indoor, enterprise use cases, particularly in signage, retail and food service markets. According to Digi, the Digi TX64 with its dual Gigabit LTE (Cat 18) radios is ready for 5G as part of AT&T’s 5G rollout.
The new cellular connectivity offerings are designed to meet the shifting needs of the IoT marketplace, says Digi. On supported Digi devices, additional flexibility is available with the Digi CORE plug-in module: No need to replace the whole unit, just swap the Digi CORE to the LTE standard needed.
Designed for transportation, intelligent traffic system (ITS) and public safety applications, the Digi TX54 and Digi TX64 are built to make smart cities a reality, says the company. In traffic systems, these routers lay the connectivity groundwork needed for traffic monitoring and optimization for connected and even self-driving car capabilities in the future. Dual cellular and dual Wi-Fi makes them ideal for on-transit-vehicle connectivity by both eliminating network downtime with immediate cellular failover and providing simultaneous, firewalled passenger and administrator connectivity to meet the demands of modern riders without jeopardizing the transit organization’s operations, says Digi.
Essentially, the TX64 is an Industrial computer with a quad-core 1.9GHz processor, with added routing capabilities. This creates new capabilities outside that of a traditional router for local file streaming and storage, to facilitate applications such as on-site camera monitoring, emergency response kits and Wi-Fi for on-board transit applications. Digi built the EX12 for indoor retail and enterprise use cases. Digi says the new Digi EX12 is its most affordable cellular extender for low to medium bandwidth applications, including business continuity, point of sale and digital signage connectivity in retail and primary LTE connectivity in kiosks, ATMs and lottery machines.
Signal amplifiers are another interesting example of end-user devices that are exploiting 5G. In February, Wilson Electronics announced its 5G cellular amplifier, the Pro 710i. The Pro 710i, a single-band, commercial-grade amplifier, will boost cellular signals on Band 71 (600MHz). The telecommunications industry has been laying the groundwork for 5G for several years, which includes increased traffic on the Band 71 (600MHz) cellular frequency, says the company.
The Pro 710i’s single, powerful indoor antenna port boasts +23dBm of downlink power and provides up to 100,000 square feet of indoor coverage, making it a perfect fit for large commercial buildings looking to improve their 5G cellular connectivity (Figure 6). This includes hotels, healthcare facilities, schools, manufacturing plants, commercial and residential real estate properties and more.
The Pro 710i makes strong, reliable 5G signal available for an entire building’s tenants, employees and visitors who subscribe to carriers that utilize Band 71. This means lightning-fast download speeds, dramatically reduced latency and the ability to connect more IoT-enabled devices, finally making the long-awaited promise of 5G a reality. The Pro 710i cellular amplifier can be used as a standalone product to support the ongoing 5G rollout on Band 71 for T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and other carriers. It can also be easily installed to run in parallel with any existing WilsonPro amplifier system without the need to replace existing amplifiers.
Because the Pro710i is certified under FCC Part 20 Industrial Cellular Amplifier Rules, applicable carrier approval is required for operation. However, unlike other 5G commercial cellular amplifiers currently on the market, the Pro 710i doesn’t require permission from every carrier prior to installation. Instead, it only requires registration and approval by any carrier broadcasting Band 71 in that area. The Pro 710i features eXtended Dynamic Range (XDR) technology to automatically adjust to any changes in outdoor signal quality, ensuring that the amplifier will never experience signal overload or shut down.
FILTER FOR 5G BASE STATIONS
The global deployment of 5G networks is driving demand for high-performance RF solutions, including GaN high-power amplifiers and GaAs front-end modules (FEMs). In RF design, filtering has always been a key element to dealing with a crowded spectrum. Band 41 is especially challenging due to the wide bandwidth and adjacency to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. High-performance filters with low insertion loss and steep rejection at the band edges are needed to allow the coexistence of cellular bands for 5G and Wi-Fi operation.
With all that in mind, in September, Qorvo introduced a high-performance n41 sub-Band 5G bulk acoustic wave (BAW) filter for base station infrastructure, small cell and repeater applications (Figure 7). Qorvo’s newest BAW filter combines low insertion loss and excellent out-of-band rejection in a compact footprint. It is available now to support rapid 5G infrastructure deployments around the world.
The Qorvo QPQ1298 filter offers the higher frequency and bandwidth required to deliver 5G high data capacity for rural, suburban and dense urban areas. It covers frequencies from 2.515GHz to 2.674GHz and features greater than 45dB near-band attenuation to meet demanding Wi-Fi coexistence requirements. The QPQ1298 is housed in a compact, 2 mm × 1.6 mm package that supports easy assembly.
The QPQ1298 BAW filter is now available in production quantities and offers n41, 160MHz bandwidth. The device also provides high out-of-band attenuation and low insertion loss, combined with excellent Wi-Fi rejection. The device is packaged in a compact, surface-mount design (SMD) measuring 2.00mm × 1.60mm × 0.73mm.
ANTENNAS FOR 5G
Antennas are another area of technology that’s had to keep pace with 5G speeds. Along those lines, in September, Antenova added a high-performing 5G SMD design to its array of 5G antennas. This new antenna, Lepida SR4L054, is a wideband antenna in SMD form, designed to achieve high efficiency and performance right across the spectrum from 600MHz to 3800MHz. Lepida operates across the cellular bands B71 (617-698 MHz), LTE 700, GSM850, GSM900, DCS1800, PCS1900, WCDMA2100, B40 (2300MHz to 2400MHz), B7 (2500MHz to 2690MHz) and B78 (3300MHz to 3800MHz).
The antenna is linear polarized and has been designed to ensure excellent coplanarity. The company has built Lepida for the more demanding applications in 5G, 4G and LTE where antenna performance and reliability make a difference, says Antenova. In particular, it is designed for wireless devices in the automotive sector, aerospace and UAV, smart metering applications, remote control and 5G routers.
The Lepida SMD antenna is the latest addition to Antenova’s range, which offers a wide choice of embedded antennas covering 5G, 4G/LTE, 3G, 2G, NB-IoT, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GNSS/GPS frequencies. Antenova’s lamiiANT antennas are made to SMD designs using laminated FR4 materials, and the flexiiANT antennas are flexible FPC designs with a cable and connector offering an alternative choice for some small devices. The company recently introduced its Rabo group of terminal antennas, which also operate on 5G, as well as the 4G, 3G and 2G cellular bands.
RF AMPLIFIER FOR 4G/5G
Today’s higher data rates drive the need for better radio signal-to-noise ratios, which translates to the need for higher linearity RF components. Serving such needs, in August, Renesas Electronics added to its RF Amplifier portfolio with the new F1490. The F1490 is a second-generation high-gain, 2-stage RF amplifier that covers the key sub-6GHz 5G frequency bands from 1.8GHz to 5.0GHz (Figure 8). The F1490 benefits designers with simplified product selection for their transmitter (Tx) lineup, elimination of a gain block with better margin, two selectable gain modes for system design flexibility, lower power consumption and superior performance, says Renesas.
Designed to operate within the 1.8GHz and 5.0GHz frequency range, the F1490 RF amplifier features high gain, high linearity, and wide bandwidth, and is well suited for use with both FDD and TDD sub-6GHz 5G applications. The F1490’s pin-to-pin compatibility with current devices lowers the cost of design updates.
The F1490 is has two selectable gain modes: 39.5 dB high gain or 35.5dB low gain. It offers high per performance OIP3 of 38dBm and OP1dB of 24dBm. Its RF frequency range is 1.8GHz to 5.0GHz. The device boasts an ultra-low quiescent current of 75mA. It runs off a supply voltage of 5V and supports up to 115°C TCB operating temperature. The F1490 is available now in a 3mm × 3mm, 16-pin QFN package.
EMBEDDED SIM CARD FOR 5G
New SIM card designs are needed to support 5G. In March Infineon extended its embedded SIM (eSIM) portfolio with the new OPTIGA Connect eSIM solution for mobile consumer devices (Figure 9). This solution fully supports all GSMA standards from 3G to 5G and securely authenticates the device to the subscribed carrier network of choice. It is well suited for smartphones, tablets and wearables like smart watches or fitness trackers thanks to its small footprint.
Based on Infineon’s proven SLC37 security chip, the new OPTIGA Connect solution meets the GSMA’s security requirements and is tested according to Common Criteria CC EAL4+ high. The chip at its core provides a robust and trustworthy vault, which is necessary to secure sensitive keys and data against fraudulent use.
Furthermore, the solution fully complies with the latest 5G specifications from the GSMA (SIM Alliance Profile Interoperability 2.3 spec) and the 3GPP. It supports the profiles of major mobile network providers with Remote SIM Provisioning capabilities and offers up to 1.2MB of free user memory for network operator profiles, data and additional applications. The ultra-small package size of only 2.9mm × 2.5mm × 0.4mm allows completely new designs, especially for devices where PCB space is of greatest value.
NEW GaN FAB FOR 5G
For 5G, the density of RF solutions required per antenna has exponentially increased. But maintaining the same box size and reducing power consumption is mandatory. As a result, Gallium Nitride (GaN) power transistors have emerged as the new gold standard to address these dueling requirements, delivering significant improvements in both power density and efficiency.
NXP Semiconductors is boosting its GaN capabilities with a new 150mm (6″) fab. In September, NXP announced the grand opening of this new RF GaN fab in Chandler, AZ (Figure 10). It is the most advanced fab dedicated to 5G RF power amplifiers in the United States, says NXP.
NXP says it has deeply optimized its GaN technology to improve the electron trapping in the semiconductor to deliver high efficiency and gain with best-in-class linearity. The fab is set to ramp quickly with NXP leveraging its Chandler-based team and their long-standing expertise in compound semiconductor manufacturing.
The internal factory will serve as an innovation hub that facilitates collaboration between the fab and NXP’s onsite R&D team. NXP engineers can now more rapidly develop, validate and protect inventions for current and future generations of GaN devices, resulting in shorter cycle times for NXP GaN innovations. NXP’s new Chandler-based GaN fab is qualified now, with initial products ramping in the market and expected to reach full capacity by the end of 2020.
Analog Devices | www.analog.com
Antenova | www.antenova.com
Digi International | www.digi.com
Infineon Technologies | www.infineon.com
Inseego | www.inseego.com
Intel | www.intel.com
Marvell | www.marvell.com
NXP Semiconductor | www.nxp.com
Qorvo | www.qorvo.com
Qualcomm | www.qualcomm.com
Renesas Electronics | www.renesas.com
Wilson Electronics | www.wilsonelectronics.com
Xilinx | www.xilinx.com
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • NOVEMBER 2020 #364 – Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article
Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.