As well as the mobile networks we are all familiar with, wireless technologies have found numerous applications across industry, transport, military and satellite communications. In the past, many of these applications would have used proprietary network standards, but increasingly they are based around protocols from the commercial world.
So far, 4G LTE has been the most popular commercial standard to find its way into these ‘private network’ applications. It has replaced the proprietary technologies that might have been previously used. By using well-defined global standards, companies can reuse proven technologies, taking advantage of existing expertise to cut time to market, and benefiting from the economies of scale they offer.
For private networks, 4G LTE offers spectral efficiency and a well-defined architecture. Looking ahead, most development effort is now focused on applying the newer 5G standard, which gives advantages over 4G LTE such as lower latency, faster speeds, and higher reliability. The 5G New Radio (NR) standard from 3GPP is now at Release 16, and is fast becoming a mature, well-proven technology. Key improvements include more efficient modulation and waveform optimization.
Meeting the demands of 5G
5G provides many of the characteristics required for private networks in specialized applications. Typically it cannot be used without algorithmic or protocol modifications to the specifications defined by the 3GPP standard.
For instance, aviation and satellite communications require a network that can handle the high speeds involved. Typically around 900km/h for a cruising aircraft, as well as the large cell sizes needed. Other issues to solve include greater latency, due to the physical distance from ground to satellite or air, and multiple parallel channels.
To give one specific example, the speed of the aircraft means that the frequency shifts due to Doppler effects (familiar from the changing pitch of a police siren driving past us) are increased. This means that when we have user equipment (UE) in the aircraft and the base station (gNodeB) on the ground, the carrier signal shifts in frequency. The system must be able to cope when this shift is larger than that required by the 5G NR standard for a terrestrial small cell.
5G Release 17, scheduled for delivery in 2021, will include non-terrestrial network extensions, but right now most solutions do not include them. This means these demands must be met with customized systems, and in particular by altering the 5G protocol layer and stack software. This requires a vendor that can provide the specialized expertise needed to implement the specialized features of the 5G specifications.
At the hardware level, 5G systems place much-increased demands on processing hardware, compared to 4G LTE. They must still be physically compact, particularly, for private networks such as satellite communications where space is limited and weight must be minimized.
5G also has a generally shorter range than 4G LTE, which means operators are rolling out networks with a higher number of smaller base stations. This enables them to be closer together – the network densification means cost and size of 5G equipment is a priority. Also, power consumption must be kept low to reduce heat dissipation issues and maximize battery life in portable equipment.
To meet these requirements, CommAgility has developed solutions centered around Arm cores. Our latest 5G systems are based on NXP’s Layerscape® multicore communications processor family. Specifically, we are using the NXP LX2160A, the highest performance member of the Layerscape family.
The LX2160A includes 16 Arm® Cortex®-A72 cores, running at up to 2.2GHz, which give it the processing performance needed for demanding tasks such as 5G packet processing. It includes 8MB L2 cache, and high-performance data path accelerators and peripheral bus interfaces.
NXP and Arm also provide tools to help developers cut time to market, such as real-time monitoring and debug, virtualization, and software management utilities. The flexibility and ease of use enabled by these tools helps CommAgility to adapt our products for private networks, and to offer the customizations that our customers need in a timely manner.
CommAgility’s work in 5G is built on long and deep experience working in mobile communications, and specifically creating hardware and software for 4G/LTE. As a leader in developing systems for private networks, CommAgility understands the unique challenges users face in their applications and products. Many of these products have been built around Arm devices in Systems on Chip (SoCs), providing the right balance of performance, low power consumption, and competitive pricing.
Figure 1: CA-K2L-RF2
CommAgility’s CA-K2L-RF2 is a high-performance baseband processing module, with two integrated RF transceiver channels. It can be used as a complete baseband/RF solution for small cells. The CA-K2L-RF2 is finding a new role in 5G applications, providing the 4G anchor channel required for non-stand alone (NSA) implementations.
The module’s main processor is the Texas Instruments TCI6630K2L, which is part of TI's KeyStone II family of SoCs. The TCI6630K2L includes four C66x DSP cores and two Arm® Cortex®-A15 MPCore processors, all operating at up to 1.2GHz. This provides the performance needed for baseband processing and to natively support 2x2 MIMO systems, while keeping overall power consumption below a maximum of 30W.
Private networks are becoming increasingly widespread, and the performance of 5G is helping to make them an attractive choice in many applications.
To help build the customized solutions needed for 5G private networks, Arm-based SoCs give CommAgility the flexibility and performance per watt that we need – backed up by software tools and comprehensive support. Our new 5G hardware platforms are coming soon, and we are looking forward to seeing how customers find ways to put them through their paces – and we are confident the Arm cores will be up to the challenge.
Visit Arm Infrastructure Solutions for 5G
CommAgility is an award-winning, world-leading developer of embedded signal processing and RF modules, and LTE PHY/stack software, for 4G and 5G mobile network and related applications. We design the latest DSP, SoC, and RF technologies into compact, powerful, and reliable products, and combine them with our industry-leading LTE and 5G software. Our customers around the world comprise major corporations and prime contractors, as well as smaller companies and cutting-edge 5G research projects. CommAgility provides worldwide support both directly and through a network of distributors.
CommAgility is part of Wireless Telecom Group, a global designer and manufacturer of advanced RF and microwave components, modules, systems, and instruments.