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Build Better 5G NR Radios with Intel® Agilex™ FPGAs

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Today's wireless infrastructure companies are creating heterogeneous networks composed of many different cellular radio types in various sizes, including femtocells, picocells, microcells, and macrocells. Each of these cell types supports the following features and functions:

  • Several RF bands, including the sub-6 GHz (600 MHz to 7.125 GHz) and millimeter wave (mmWave, 24.25 GHz to 52.6 GHz) bands
  • Multiple radio access technologies (RATs) including GSM, CDMA, 4G LTE/LTE-A, 5G, and NB-IoT
  • Coverage for multiple radio standards including 4G, 5G, NB-IoT, and—possibly—legacy standards such as 2G and 3G
  • The number of antenna elements, ranging from as many as eight in a macrocell, to 16-by-64 in a multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) antenna array, and hundreds of antennas in a mmWave Massive MIMO deployment depending on the desired coverage
  • Varied RF output power levels, ranging from 125 milliwatts up to 80 watts per antenna
  • The number of active users that can be served per cell and the types of services provided to these users
  • The radio configuration (integrated antenna, traditional active antenna arrays, remote radio heads, etc.)

To meet the numerous implementation challenges associated with these multidimensional wireless scenarios, network operators need a broad range of radio hardware solutions. Flexible radio platforms allow operators to quickly adapt to evolving global standards and to manage swiftly changing performance requirements, which are the hallmarks of modern wireless communication systems. Platform solutions that scale easily further minimize the design effort, cut development costs, reduce test time and inventory, and maximize design reuse.

5G NR (New Radio) is a new RAT developed by 3GPP to serve as the global standard for 5G network over-the-air interfaces. The projected use cases for many Next-Generation Radio Access Network (NG-RAN, also called 5G-RAN) systems demand significant increases in fronthaul bandwidth. One way to mitigate these increases and even reduce fronthaul bandwidth is to migrate some of the functions designed into 4G baseband units (BBUs) into the 5G NR radio. This migration reduces fronthaul bandwidth demands but it also increases 5G radio complexity.

The 5G NR RAN architecture addresses the different use cases for 5G radios through different configurations. 3GPP specifies several options for distributing (“splitting”) the functionality of the 5G NR RAN stack between the distributed unit (DU) and the radio unit (RU) through “3GPP Functional Splits.” Split 7.2 is most frequently used to provide the best option for supporting 5G O-RANs (open RANs).


End-to-End 5G Silicon Solutions from Intel

Intel provides silicon technologies and solutions that address every element in 5G O-RAN architecture, including O-RUs (open radio units), O-DUs (open distributed units), O-CUs (open central units), and O-DRUs (open distributed unit and radio unit combos). These Intel solutions include Intel® Xeon®-D CPUs, Intel® Agilex™ FPGAs, Intel® Optane™ persistent memory, and many Ethernet solutions – including FPGA-based infrastructure processing units (IPUs) and programmable acceleration card (PAC) network adapters. Intel has also developed software to support 5G RAN development, including the FlexRAN software stack – Intel’s virtual RAN (vRAN) enablement package that enables the creation of end-to-end O-RAN solutions based on Intel Xeon CPUs, Intel® FPGAs, Intel® eASIC devices, and Intel® Ethernet technologies – and OneAPI, an open standard for a unified application programming interface (API) intended to be used across different CPUs and compute accelerators, including graphics processing units (GPUs), artificial intelligence (AI) accelerators, and FPGAs.


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Intel offers end-to-end silicon solutions for implementing 5G RANs

Intel Agilex FPGAs offer the ability to accelerate FlexRAN algorithms using massively parallel compute accelerators based on FPGAs, which boost performance while consuming less power. The high-performance, programmable-logic fabric in Intel Agilex FPGAs allows developers to respond quickly to rapidly changing standards and evolving RAN protocols, which includes support for remote updates through reprogrammable hardware, even after systems have been deployed into the field. This feature helps to reduce the number of truck rolls required to update hardware in the field.  

Intel’s 5G silicon and software solutions, including Intel FPGAs, provide the performance, programmability, and scalability required to create these new, more flexible 5G radio platforms.

For more information about the use of Intel solutions in 5G RAN development, please download the new Intel white paper titled “Build more Cost-Effective and More Efficient 5G Radios with Intel® Agilex™ FPGAs.




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About the Author
Sabrina is Director of Marketing, FPGA Platforms and has over 20 years of experience serving a wide breadth of markets including data center, communications and industrial with a strong technical background in FPGAs. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from San Jose State University.