A big part of Intel’s 5G strategy: Altera FPGAs and the mobile trial platform

-June 13, 2017

My esteemed colleague, Max Maxfield, reported on October 6, 2016 that Intel’s Stratix 10 FPGAs, SoCs were Sampling. Intel had acquired Altera in 2015.

The good news for 5G is that pre-standard 5G technology testing and field trials are forging ahead of schedule for early commercialization coinciding with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Also, it was just announced days ago that Intel is seeing fast adoption of its 5G Mobile Trial Platform (MTP) product by major network infrastructure vendors which include some of the big guys like Ericsson and Nokia. Even more recently, NTT DoCoMo started 5G ecosystem trials with Intel and Nokia also using the Intel 5G MTP. In that interoperability testing the system is using the 4.5 GHz radio spectrum as part of the 5G end-to-end solution.

I had live-streamed Dr. Kenneth Stewart’s presentation 5G-Towards First Deployments at the Brooklyn 5G Summit, held at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and co-hosted by NYU WIRELESS and Nokia back in April of this year. Dr. Stewart is a senior fellow at Intel, and he delved into Intel’s latest 5G MTP. The following is a glimpse into that technology from that presentation with some images from it as well.

First, let’s look at a bit of recent history leading up to this current, third-generation MTP1,2.

The FPGA

The 5G MTP system that Nokia and Ericsson are interested in is Intel’s third generation 5G MTP, which will be operational in the second half of this year. That one is based upon Intel’s 14 nm Stratix 10 FPGA. Intel made a very calculated decision to acquire Altera because they saw the imminent growth of both cloud data centers and 5G due to the Internet of Things (IoT) rapidly fostering many, many more devices online. Their acquisition of Altera enabled Intel to incorporate FPGA reprogrammable chips within MTPs in order to respond rapidly to emerging 5G air interface requirements for chipsets, and rapidly update the MTP’s processing layer.

The fact that Intel has a 14nm tri-gate process technology also figured into this Intel/Altera success. The process has a new architecture known as HyperFlex2 that will serve the needs of high-end computing as well as data-intensive applications like data centers and cloud computing, network infrastructure (as evidenced in their 5G MTP), plus RADAR and imaging systems such as in new automotive safety and autonomous electronics; a winning trifecta. Just take a look at the performance, power efficiency, density, and system integration capabilities of this “beast,” as Intel CEO Brian Krzanich called it (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Stratix 10 FPGA (Image courtesy of Intel)

The power management

I also love the synergy that Intel has with their Enpirion Power Solutions team that deigns power supply ICs and configures the most effective power architecture for FPGAs and processors. Being an in-house power team, who would know better about powering Intel’s creations than this team that coordinates with the FPGA and processor teams at the inception of an idea for an industry IC solution.

The 5G MTP

Intel’s small, but powerful 5G MTP brings manufacturers, operators, and other types of ecosystem players capability for rapid development and testing of LTE Advanced Pro and mmWave technologies, devices, and network capabilities. This platform is a necessary aid to technologists around the world to address emerging requirements for the IoT, enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), and ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC). In addition, it will enable the higher data rates, lower latency, and increased capacity that 5G demands. Figure 2 shows the exterior design of the second generation MTP.

Figure 2 Intel’s second generation Mobile Trial Platform (Image courtesy of Intel)


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