Telecommunications, fertile ground for FPGAs

There is no doubt that the influence of field-programmable devices on different engineering directions is growing continuously. FPGAs and SoCs (system-on-chip) are actively employed in communication, consumer electronics, data processing, automotive, and aerospace industries. Following forecasts, the impact of FPGAs on different development directions will continue to grow. This explains the need for many qualified engineers trained in effectively using the available on the market reconfigurable devices.

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One of the typical tasks frequently required is recurring to hardware accelerators for data/information processing. To design and implement an efficient hardware accelerator, one must have a deep knowledge of the selected reconfigurable device, design tools, and the respective processing algorithms.

Generally, FPGAs operate at lower clock frequency than ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) and ASSPs (Application-Specific Standard Products), but they can be customized and allow to:

  • implement wider parallelism in hardware.
  • easily change the size of data (such as operands in arithmetical expressions);
  • experiment with alternative circuits

Nowadays, FPGAs can be used both as autonomous devices and as a part of more complicated systems incorporating different types of processors, memories, interfaces, etc.

For high-performance computations and algorithms that allow wide parallelism to be applied, FPGAs might give many benefits. Telco industry used to consider such applications for which:

  • high performance is the primary objective, and the basic rule is the faster, the better.
  • highly parallel architectures can be proposed.
  • typical known techniques cannot be used because the target requirements are specific

Due to their nature of the parallel operation, FPGAs not only provide control logic for applications with a scaled number of devices, such as millions of Internet of Things (IoT) terminals, and enable data processing and transmission applications. High-speed parallel data. Due to the above characteristics, FPGAs have been widely used in the telecommunications industry.

Two Specific examples

Let’s take a look at the modern remote radio head (RRH) in wireless network infrastructures. The upcoming fifth-generation (5G) wireless network, RRHs, will be used as essential equipment to flexibly extend the coverage of the centralized radio access network (C-RAN) or the radio access network based on the cloud (Cloud-RAN) with virtualized base station function. The basic function of an RRH is to up-convert the digital baseband signal to the analog RF signal at the transmitter and down-convert the received analog RF signal back to the digital baseband signal at the receiver branch.

On the modern RRHs, like those deployed in the 4G wireless network, a few necessary functions are running in the FPGA.

In other examples, the emerging Massive MIMO wireless system will utilize digital algorithms (precoding) to dynamically shape antenna beams minimizing the energy radiated towards the unwanted areas. As a result, the system capacity and signal to interference ratio (SIR) can be significantly improved.

And some of them may have MIMO precoding modules and MIMO equalization modules to support multiple transceivers operations. Thanks to the state-of-the-art FPGA technology, we can see that multiple similar function modules can be achieved on a single chip to process multiple data branches in parallel.

A future in IP Core (semiconductor intellectual property core) Market

For mature applications, like wireless infrastructure, since the standard functions have been well studied with pre-defined input/output module interfaces, we can easily build a complex digital system by directly integrating the commercial IP-cores from FPGA vendors or those from 3rd Party IP-core vendors or the ones designed in-house.

Using an IP-core integration approach to design a digital system will provide smooth upgrading flexibility. For example, we decided to use a 3G signal, like a wideband code division multiple access (WCDMA) type wireless air waveform.

Conclusions

In an ever-evolving industry where the creation of new standards is accelerating, the need for scalable and reconfigurable infrastructure provides a new dimension of flexibility. This also opens the market to companies specialized in IP Cores for Telecommunications. Although having specialized professional resources will be difficult, the company that manages to position itself will have certain exclusivity.

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