5G infrastructure needs programmability

February 11, 2019 //By Alok Sanghavi, Achronix Semiconductor Corp.
5G infrastructure needs programmability
Alok Sanghavi surveys the 5G infrastructure landscape and makes the case for FPGAs and chiplet packaging to support evolving standards and high performance computation.

Today there are 7.5 billion active mobile devices, that's more devices than people. The impact that cellular connectivity is having on those who were previously digitally disenfranchised is profound; for example, just two years ago research showed that sub-Saharan Africa typically had 1 landline per 100 people, but 74 mobile connections. There is no doubt that as wireless infrastructure progresses to 5G, it will become more pervasive and fully integrated with every aspect of our everyday lives. It will support our endless bandwidth demands and extend to more devices and usage models.


The key trends which must be accommodated by hardware designers include firstly, increased bandwidth for Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) and other applications, specifically driving the instantaneous available bandwidth at 10x current rates. Furthermore, deployment of 5G will also be staged depending on frequency band, sub-6GHz will be deployed first, followed by the contiguous bands at mmWave frequencies enabling more key eMBB applications at a later stage. Secondly connectivity to many, many more devices will happen because of the Internet of Things (IoT). Expectations are that there will be 50 billion cellular connected devices within two years. This is partly addressed by existing standards but will also be encompassed by the current specification of Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) in Release 16 of 3GPP.

Third, we come to proliferation of new usage models, exerting new requirements onto mobile devices and the cellular infrastructure that they connect to. Good examples include low bandwidth, low power requirements for connecting battery-powered IoT end-points for connectivity and monitoring encompassed within mMTC. High reliability, low latency cellular for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity (C-V2X) to complement existing V2X solutions like collision detection. Then high-reliability, low latency support for new and emerging applications like remote surgery and augmented/virtual-reality. The second two examples will be addressed by the upcoming 3GPP standard for Ultra-Reliable, Low Latency Connectivity (URLLC).

Wrapping up the trends is an important emerging need for Edge Analytics and Mobile Edge Compute. Gravity has rapidly shifted from previous assumptions of data moving to centralized compute resource for processing, to a new paradigm of a distributed computing resource located nearer the data's origin. The reasons for this shift include strict latency requirements, an appreciation that the sheer volume of data can be overwhelming and the desire to optimize networking resource and energy.

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