Facebook and Marvell have partnered to develop equipment for 5G networks based on the open radio access network (ORAN) model that’s intended to connect more of the world’s people at lower cost.
ORAN allows the adoption of multiple-vendor hardware and software that’s based on open interfaces and commonly developed standards. Marvell will join Facebook Connectivity’s Evenstar Program to provide a 4G/5G OpenRAN distributed unit (DU) design based on Marvell’s Octeon Fusion baseband processors and Arm-based Octeon multi-core digital processing units (DPUs).
As 5G service providers in Europe and North America decouple from hardware that was provided by Huawei, Marvell is betting that more companies will adopt Open Ran as part of a disaggregated radio-and-base station concept that doesn’t rely exclusively on one or two gear suppliers. After the administration of former US president Donald Trump designated Huawei’s 5G equipment as a security risk, network providers started evaluating alternatives.
“Governments are definitely promoting and throwing some funding at this,” John Schimpf, senior director of product marketing in Marvell’s Infrastructure Processor Business Unit, said in an interview with EE Times. “Governments will get involved in making it at least financially viable to to make this shift, certainly in the US and certain locations in Europe.”
The US government will mandate a “rip and replace” for US operators in rural areas that partially adopted Huawei’s 5G equipment that is integrated with 4G. ORAN is the leading candidate to eliminate the Huawei 4G gear and replace it with 5G equipment, Schimpf said.
In 2021, Marvell expects that about 1.7 million to 1.8 million DUs will be installed globally. Within three to five years, as many as 10 percent of the new DU installations will be ORAN based, according to Marvell.
Initiatives like Facebook Connectivity with the Evenstart Program will start to “democratize” radio networks, allowing more choice and freedom to change portions of the network, according to Marvell.
The Evenstart Program will replace more expensive field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) with standard processors to reduce overall operating costs, Schimpf said. Facebook is helping by combining semiconductor suppliers, integrators and software vendors to make this push happen more comprehensively and faster, he added.
“We are excited to welcome Marvell’s DU contribution to the Evenstar Program,” Jaydeep
Ranade, director of wireless engineering for Facebook Connectivity, said in a press statement. “Marvell’s experience in baseband and DPU processors is a great addition to Evenstar as we work together to accelerate the adoption of high performance, innovative OpenRAN solutions globally.”
It’s Crunch Time for Open RAN
Marvell will supply a fully integrated DU reference board featuring the OCTEON Fusion-O baseband, providing 4G and 5G PHY layer processing and an OCTEON DPU to run software functions. Facebook Connectivity will collaborate with Marvell to enable software operations on this solution and encourage multiple third parties to port protocol stack software as well. The DU supports up to 16 downlink layers at 100 MHz channelization with 10 Gbps downlink and 5Gbps uplink performance.
The goal is to have Evenstar DU equipment ready for network operator trials next year.
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