UK chip designer PicoCom is taping out its core chip for OpenRAN wireless networks and developed a board-level product called ORANIC to speed up deployment.
The PC802 chip combines 32 RISC-V cores and 3 CEVA vector processor cores with 25Mbits of SRAM. One chip can be used as the controller for 4G or 5G small cell, but four can also be used on a card to manage 16 remote radios from different suppliers. Two cards can handle 32 radio heads.
“The chip itself is on the point of tapeout for engineering lots on TSMC 12nm,” said Peter Claydon, president of PicoCom in Bristol. “The design is not just the chip, it’s the package substrates that in a way have been more an issue so we have had delays there.” PicoCom has also designed the card as an OpenRAN product which it calls ORANIC with a PCI Express interface to plug into a server and Ethernet connections to the radio heads.
“We discovered how difficult it was when you have to do the chip, package and board all together,” said Claydon. “When you have PCIe 4.0 and 25Gbe SFP with LPDDR4 you have to do a co-design of the die, package and the board with board level simulation. We have another engineering evaluation board but we have designed and manufactured prototypes of the ORANIC board using H SPICE from Synopsys and we work with imec on the package who have done quite a lot of the simulations.”
“We are a chip company and we want to sell chips so the board is an enabler to get people to market quickly particularly with private networks with a few thousand 4G or 5G nodes in a factory,” he said. “OpenRAN allows you to buy these boards from us and ORAN radio heads and put together your own system. We don’t know how far that will go. If people go to high volume they will probably manufacture their own boards and you could probably cost optimise the board more, but what this does is enable our direct customers to get into the market quickly and we would license the design.”
“One of the main features is it does both 4G and 5G with non-standalone (NSA) 5G that uses 4G as an anchor. We have a small cell chip that can cover 400MHz of bandwidth and it doesn’t all have to be together so that covers all the UK operator spectrum,” he said.
This means the card can be used to manage networks from multiple operators. “The way we architected the chip you can do lots of antennas and/or multi-operator for network sharing or a neutral host provider running multiple networks on the same hardware and that’s even more relevant for small radio cells,” he said.
The OPRANIC OpenRAN card will be produced in China for Q4 2021 as the board design team is based in Beijing, and PicoCom is also expanding its chip design centre in Bristol.
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