From Silicon To Software

 

Enabling the 5G Rollout: Why Efficient and Flexible IP Is Key for Semiconductor Design

5G rollout challenges

By Ron Lowman, Strategic Marketing Manager

Although a newly deployed technology, 5G has been discussed in the public sphere for years (not to mention being a hot topic with SoC engineers for even longer) and has been in development for over a decade. Beginning late last year, mobile phone operators started to deploy 5G networks in select cities, and more are being added this year. 5G is driving tremendous increases in speed, bandwidth, and data throughput for mobile applications and beyond by introducing carrier aggregation, massive MIMO, and increased throughput with advanced modulation and high-bandwidth channels via mmWave spectrums.

These advancements add a great deal of complexity to baseband, infrastructure, and application processor technologies, creating demand for new innovative IP to address this complexity. Read on to learn how the industry is ramping up to meet the demand and overcome challenges.

What Is 5G?

Let’s start with the basics. 5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology for network communications. Compared to 4G LTE, 5G has up to 100x the speed and 10x less latency. Theoretical speeds for 5G downlinks can go up to 20 Gbps and, for uplinks (with real-world speeds up to 100 Mbps to download and 50 Mbps to upload), up to 10 Gbps. Latency in connecting to the network from a device is typically 4 milliseconds under ideal conditions, but critical applications such as remote surgery can enjoy latency as low as 1 millisecond.

What’s clear is that 5G is already empowering the future of Smart Everything, from smartphones today to entire smart cities tomorrow. 5G will enable many more simultaneous connections to internet of things (IoT) devices, such as sensors in manufacturing plants, industrial control systems in power plants, video doorbells, smart thermostats, autonomous vehicles, and more.

5G use cases

 

5G achieves its unparalleled latency by operating across three spectrum bands. These three bands create a flexible, malleable connection that adapts to how and where the user is connecting. The low-band spectrum is the primary band many popular carriers already rely on due to its capacity to penetrate hard surfaces while still covering a broad area. The midband spectrum offers reduced latency with less surface penetration and higher peak speeds than the low-band spectrum. Finally, there’s the high-spectrum band, which centers around towers offering incredibly fast, short-distance connections. These smaller towers are deployed in congested and densely populated areas, such as football stadiums and convention centers.

What Is the Difference Between 4G and 5G?

Using the three separate bands described above to communicate, 5G is smarter, more energy-efficient, and faster than any of its predecessors.

Where 4G has often struggled during peak hours, 5G will allow for a higher number of users to connect simultaneously. It will eliminate network congestion and allow users to stream live TV with little to no buffering. But reduced latency and higher speed are only the beginning for 5G; future innovations will use 5G’s improved connectivity to power some of the most significant communication advances of our generation.

Benefits of 5G

Healthcare providers will be able create sensor networks to track patients and share information faster than ever before. 5G will also enhance public safety; a vast network and rapid response times mean that public works can respond to incidents and emergencies in seconds rather than minutes, and municipalities can react swiftly and with reduced costs. Additionally, 5G will allow autonomous vehicles to communicate between themselves and with infrastructure on the road, improving safety and alerting drivers to travel conditions and performance information.

Standardization of 5G

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is the umbrella term for a number of industry standards organizations that have developed mobile telecommunications protocols that have driven 3G, 4G, and 5G. 3GPP Release 15 offered the first full set of 5G standards that enabled non-stand-alone 5G radio systems integrated in previous-generation LTE networks and embraced enhancements to LTE and, implicitly, the Evolved Packet Core (EPC), which enabled vendors to progress rapidly with chip design and initial network implementation during 2019. Synopsys has played a role in that with various solutions, including its very high-speed data converters that have enabled Synopsys customers to go from 4G to 5G bandwidth capabilities. Each new release relating to 5G adds to its complexity in areas such as carrier aggregation and massive MIMO, which, in turn, require new capabilities.

The Biggest 5G Chip Design Challenges

The growing volume of data traffic in 5G mobile means that SoC designers now must grapple with mounting mobile bandwidth requirements, more connectivity for IoT and advanced autonomous driving technologies, and emerging technologies to enable real-time interactive systems. All of this requires a range of efficient and high-bandwidth IP solutions.

One of the biggest challenges that SoC designers face is satisfying the incredibly complex baseband processing requiring custom solutions and integrating it with 64-bit architectures found throughout mobile devices and mobile infrastructure. A second challenge is moving large payloads of data off-chip in newly introduced network slices (PCIe plays a huge role there, as will time-sensitive networks [TSN] Ethernet in the future).

With carrier aggregation and massive MIMO, the challenges increase as SoC designers might even need to employ some machine-learning algorithms to be able to handle the complexity of the different spectrums that are being managed. Massive MIMO adds dozens of antennas that are capturing signals that may now support beamforming capabilities to lock into the most efficient data paths.

Security is also a major challenge. With the increased reliance of 5G networks on software, the opportunities for attackers to find vulnerabilities have also increased. The use of more software has increased the attack surface, created more potential points of entry for attackers, and heightened the chances for major security flaws to be derived from poor development processes.

The mobile market has one of the most mature type of security implementations, with the requirement of a secure enclave established so that designers can enable public and private keys. These same solutions and applications are being applied to other areas that relate to 5G, including automotive, IoT devices, and more.

5G IP Solutions

Synopsys offers the industry’s broadest portfolio of interface IP, data converter IP, security IP, and a range of processor solutions to deliver the capacity and performance required by 5G infrastructure applications.

 

IP is available in advanced process technologies from 22nm to 7nm required for high-performance 5G designs and is compliant with standard specifications and proven interoperability. In particular, the Multi-Protocol High-Speed SerDes PHY delivers high-quality signal integrity and advanced power management capabilities for PCIe, CCIX, JESD204, Ethernet, Ethernet TSN, CPRI/eCPRI, and more. MIPI CSI-2, DSI, and M-PHY offer high-speed serial interfaces between application/image processors and camera sensors, while LPPDR5/4 IP implements several low-power states with short exit latencies.

For security needs, tRoot HSM provides a secure enclave in which to process sensitive data and operations for the SoC with features like secure boot, key management, and secure debug and JTAG access.

As 5G continues to roll out across the country and new standards are implemented, SoC designers will continue to need new IP to help them keep up. For more information on DesignWare IP for 5G Mobile Infrastructure, please visit the solutions page.

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