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Xilinx T1 Enables Open RAN for 5G

October 6, 2020

Author: Bob Wheeler

In each new wireless-network generation, FPGA vendors enjoy initial design wins only to see them quickly displaced by ASICs. Xilinx is enduring that pain now, having shipped many FPGAs for 5G baseband processing in 2019 and then watching demand evaporate this year. To break this cycle, the vendor has introduced application-specific RFSoCs that are “stickier.” Now, it plans to sell accelerator cards that enable new radio-access-network (RAN) architectures, opening 5G networks to new hardware and software suppliers. Xilinx is relying on open-RAN initiatives to succeed, ending the vendor lock-in of incumbent wireless-base-station OEMs.

Its first Telco Accelerator card is the T1, intended specifically for virtualized-5G-baseband processing. Using a pair of FPGAs, this dual-function PCI Express card provides 25G Ethernet ports for fronthaul and Layer 1 acceleration for radio-baseband processing. The card plugs into a standard server, offloading network and radio processing. For both functions, the T1’s performance target is handling 16x100MHz sectors, so customers can add cards to increase baseband and fronthaul bandwidth in unison. Xilinx sampled the card this summer and expects general availability in 1Q21 after completing NEBS testing. It works with partners to deliver fully integrated intellectual property (IP) and software; for fronthaul and baseband offload, VVDN supplies the FPGA IP and host-software stack.

Many vendors are eyeing the eco­system shakeup that 5G began, so Xilinx isn’t alone in targeting virtual-baseband acceleration. Intel shipped its N3000 FPGA Programmable Accelera­tion Card (PAC) last year, and it provides a reference design that accelerates the same 5G functions as the Xilinx T1. It sells the N3000 for various networking applications, however, and licenses the 5G design as IP for customer integration. By contrast, Xilinx relies on partners to deliver fully integrated solutions, eliminating customers’ need for FPGA-development resources.

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