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As 5G wireless networks grow in a big way, there will be a deluge of data coming in at baseband towers throughout the network. Marvell today announced it will be one of the chip companies making the processing of that data more flexible.

Not every cell tower’s infrastructure will be able to handle the processing necessary, as 5G can flood a network with 100 times more data than in the past. So Marvell will supply distributed processors to offload the towers through a radio network and spread processing to intermediate steps in the network. The aim will be to use Marvell’s Arm-based Octeon processors to offload the base stations and perform the processing in different locations of the network. This work will help bring the internet and 5G connectivity to parts of the world that might not otherwise have it, Marvell VP Raj Singh said in an interview with VentureBeat.

“It’s designed to provide a focused effort to democratize the radio networks,” Singh said.

The supporters of OpenRAN are endorsing commercial deployment of simplified, flexible, efficient radio access network (RAN) technologies. With a flexible platform based on standard interfaces, Open RAN is designed to enable operators to source hardware components from different vendors. The approach is important for driving innovation and creating greater competition for hardware and software partners to more aggressively drive down total cost of ownership (TCO) for operators, Singh said.

Above: Marvell’s Octeon platform for 5G processing.

Image Credit: Marvell

To that end, Marvell is joining the Evenstar program (named after Arwen, a character in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world of middle-earth). The program is focused on building general-purpose RAN reference designs for 4G and 5G networks in the OpenRAN ecosystem that are aligned with 3GPP and O-RAN specifications.

Marvell will also work with Facebook Connectivity to provide a 4G/5G OpenRAN Distributed Unit (DU) design for Evenstar, based on the Octeon multi-core digital processing units (DPUs). The Evenstar DU design will enable a new generation of RAN suppliers to deliver high-performance, cost-optimized, interoperable DU products to the rapidly expanding OpenRAN ecosystem.

“We’re pleased they have selected Marvell as the partner of choice for the DUs,” Singh said.

Facebook Connectivity is a group within Facebook whose mission is to help expand access to the internet in parts of the world that lack it, and to improve network functionality for those who have sub-standard internet capabilities. The group organizes and funds a number of initiatives — including Evenstar — to help realize these goals  Evenstar has a particular focus around leveraging OpenRAN to enable lower-cost, higher-performance network infrastructure that can be adopted by worldwide operators for 4G and 5G networks.

“What’s happened with disaggregation and OpenRAN is that the processing that’s required hasn’t changed, but the location of the processing can be done in more convenient places,” Singh said. “Some of the processing happens at the radio unit; then there’s a lighter weight fronthaul to the distributed unit, which does the part of the processing. It’s breaking tasks up as it makes sense.”

Above: OpenRAN and Evenstar can offload base stations with different processing schemes.

Image Credit: Marvell

Decoupling the remote radio unit hardware, distribution unit, and control unit software — which are traditionally sold as a package — gives mobile network operators the ability to select best-of-breed components and the flexibility to deploy solutions from an increasing number of technology partners. A DU could be 10 miles away from the other parts of the network, for example. Facebook Connectivity’s goal is to first demonstrate the viability of OpenRAN technology in live trials by specifying the key elements (RU, DU, CU) and ultimately making the technology widely available to those who make and deploy the equipment.

To kickstart the hardware designs based on its chips, 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.

The DU supports up to 16 downlink layers at 100 MHz channelization with 10Gbps downlink and 5Gbps uplink performance. The goal is to have Evenstar DU equipment ready for network operator trials next year.

“These chips are designed to operate in harsh climates,” Singh said.

The Evenstar program is a collaborative effort focused on building general-purpose RAN reference architecture for 4G and 5G networks in the OpenRAN ecosystem. The DU design is Evenstar’s second major OpenRAN initiative following its successful radio unit (RU) design introduction in 2020. Marvell is supplying 5G processors to companies such as Nokia and Samsung.

By decoupling the RU, DU, and control unit (CU) functions while ensuring interoperability among different vendors’ offerings, mobile network operators will have the ability to select best-of-breed components and the flexibility to deploy solutions that best address their requirements.

“The only way to do this is either very expensive and heat-generating FPGAs or by using the Octeon, or other things that don’t work in a harsh environment,” Singh said. “This allows edge deployment for access to 5G either at the cell site or in the pool, either way, fully virtualized.”

Singh said this collaboration is necessary to balance high performance and low costs in the next-generation networks so they aren’t overwhelmed with too much data. Last week, Marvell got an endorsement for its 5G technology from Fujitsu in Japan.

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