Advanced Telecom Systems Drive FPGA Market Growth
In a recent report, TechNavio’s analysts forecasted that the global market for FPGAs in the communications industry will reach $2.9 billion in 2014, with expected compound annual growth rate of 8.6 percent. This growth is being driven by the demand for high-bandwidth devices for 3G and 4G networks. According to the Technavio analyst, “In order to meet the growing demand for these devices and applications, the FPGA vendors are focusing on bandwidth- and I/O-centric technologies. As a result, there is a shift to serial interfaces such as PCI Express and Gigabit Ethernet across the entire infrastructure, with primary importance given to transceivers.” The report also points out conf licting market drivers: while lack of standardized verification techniques for advanced FPGAs hinders market growth, demand for compact-sized ICs from smart-device manufacturers is expected to drive it.
EE Catalog asked several industry players how developers can best take advantage of FPGAs in advanced telecommunications equipment for new 4G, WiMax and LTE systems. Sunil Kar, senior director, wireless communications, Xilinx; Patrick Dietrich, hardware design engineer and project manager at Connect Tech Inc.; and Shakeel Peera, director of marketing, silicon/solutions, Lattice Semiconductor provide their insight.
EE Catalog: How can developers best take advantage of FPGAs in advanced telecommunications equipment for new 4G, WiMax and LTE systems?
Sunil Kar, Xilinx: OEMs are locked in a fierce battle to dominate the next generation 4G telecom platforms with features and requirements that are still evolving. In such a dynamic market, FPGAs are coming in handy as they provide the logic and programmable resources to implement custom hardware functionalities. Wireless system architects and developers for long have taken advantage of the dynamic re-configurability and in-field programming features of FPGAs compared to fixedfunction ASICs. In 4G base stations, FPGAs provide the functional advantages in terms of performance in both baseband as well as radio/DFE processing. FPGAs have proven to exceed the performance of mainstream DSPs. This fact is exploited by architects in designing 4G base stations with new baseband feature requirements.
System architects are leveraging FPGA in high-throughput 4G packet-core platforms for traffic management, fabric and to implement value-add differentiating features. Wireless backhaul for the 4G networks use FPGAs for functional integration of both radio and baseband features as well as network interfaces. FPGA providers go beyond the silicon and provide a comprehensive set of tools, IP and design platforms to help wireless designers. The maturity of high-level synthesis tools has improved FPGA design productivity by raising the level of design abstraction. FPGA suppliers have always been at the forefront driving Moore’s law with resulting benefits in system performance and lower power. Wireless system architects continue to leverage these devices for differentiated implementation of high-performance, cost-sensitive nodes such as 4G base stations as well as backhaul platforms.
Patrick Dietrich, Connect Tech Inc.: With rapidly changing and emerging standards along with the increasing need for multi-mode radio support, FPGAs are becoming an important part of wireless infrastructure, particularly in base station design. From a board design standpoint, the latest FPGAs allow for the integration of multiple ASSPs and ASICs into a single device, which reduces BOM cost and decreases power consumption. For example, a typical radio equipment board design would have several DSPs or other ICs for the transmitter block (including digitalup conversion, digital pre-distortion and crest factor reduction to increase amplifier efficiency), receiver block (digital-down conversion) a small FPGA for interfacing and framing, and a SERDES PHY to connect to the radioequipment controller via the common public radio interface (CPRI). The latest FPGAs can implement all of these features in a single device, taking advantage of low cost built-in SERDES (such as Xilinx’s GTX transceivers), dedicated DSP blocks, embedded processors and the general high-speed logic. And of course, there is always the benefit of the FPGA’s re-configurability, allowing for upgrades to accommodate evolving standards and new air interfaces.
Shakeel Peera, Lattice Semiconductor: The price, power and total footprint of FPGAs suitable for these types of applications have come down exponentially over the past five years, while functionality has increased dramatically. The features of most interest are signal processing horsepower, memory for coefficient storage and packet buffering, and the inclusion of high speed I/O and SERDES. If users can efficiently craft their RF and baseband algorithms to take advantage of the powerful parallel processing capabilities of FPGAs, then from a price, performance and power perspective there will be a huge increase in the use of FPGAs in these types of systems. Consequently, FPGA vendors must make it easier for customers to port signalprocessing algorithms developed by non-FPGA users to their FPGA fabric.
Cheryl Berglund Coupé is editor of EECatalog.com. Her articles have appeared in EE Times, Electronic Business, Microsoft Embedded Review and Windows Developer’s Journal and she has developed presentations for the Embedded Systems Conference and ICSPAT. She has held a variety of production, technical marketing and writing positions within technology companies and agencies in the Northwest.