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Flex Logix and Socionext are Revolutionizing 5G Platform Design

Flex Logix and Socionext are Revolutionizing 5G Platform Design
by Mike Gianfagna on 08-17-2021 at 10:00 am

Flex Logix and Socionext are Revolutionizing 5G Platform Design

The world is buzzing with 5G deployment news. It seems the entire planet anxiously awaits the step function improvement in bandwidth and latency promised by this new technology. When there is additional deployment, it’s news. When there are new chipsets and devices supporting the standard it’s news. But when there is a fundamental shift in the way 5G platforms are designed, that’s big news and that’s the topic of this post. Read on to see how Flex Logix and Socionext are revolutionizing 5G platform design.

All advanced communication protocols, 5G included are constantly evolving. This process can be vexing for chip suppliers who build a part that targets a standard that becomes obsolete after tape out. Software updates can help, but the demanding throughput and latency requirements of standards like 5G are often incompatible with software. Dedicated hardware is typically required and the embedded programmable devices offered by Flex Logix are often exactly what’s needed.

Socionext recognized the opportunity here and decided to license Flex Logix’s EFLX® 4K eFPGA for a 7nm ASIC they are developing for a major communication company’s 5G platform. 5G and 7nm are certainly newsworthy but the programmability of the part is the real news. By leveraging the efficient programmability of the Flex Logix technology, Socionext can boost performance and reduce power. This is accomplished in part by eliminating a chip in the base station with the new design.

There’s a “secret sauce” backstory here as well. Carriers typically need to share proprietary software with their ASIC vendor to have it added to an FPGA. The new architecture allows the carrier to personalize their platform directly. Yutaka Hayashi, Vice President of Socionext’s Data Center and Networking Business Unit summed it up like this:

“While wireless base stations have always used FPGAs to provide carrier personalization and upgradability, the demands of 5G require higher performance while reducing system power and cost. This can be achieved by using an ASIC solution and by leveraging Flex Logix’s eFPGA in that design. Now that the ASIC becomes reconfigurable, it enables our wireless customers to deliver a flexible 5G platform that can support carrier specific requirements today and in the future.”

You can read the full press release here.  To get some more backstory on the announcement, I spoke with Ralph Grundler, senior director of marketing and architecture solutions at Flex Logix. The first thing I explored was the uptake of Flex Logix technology by ASIC vendors. Ralph explained that Flex Logix is already working with several ASIC vendors to integrate their technology into customer designs. The current announcement with Socionext is the first 5G application targeted at 7nm, however.  There is an interesting statement in the press release:

The EFLX4K DSP IP core replaces about ¼ of the LUTs with 40 multiplier-accumulators for DSP and artificial intelligence (AI) applications. The two EFLX4K cores can be tiled together to make larger arrays to support applications needing more LUTs as required, well over 250,000 LUTs with any mix of Logic and DSP cores.

The scalability implications of this statement are significant. Ralph explained that the technology today easily scales to an 8 X 8 single configuration of EFLX4K LUTs or DSP IP. Larger arrays or LUT requirements can be supported through modular design approaches much like the way chip designers use IP or functional subsystems to build an ASIC more efficiently.  With the wide variety of eFPGA sizes available, on-chip uses or configurations of eFPGA can support large accelerators accessed via a system bus or within a functional subsystem. This approach clearly offers a lot of performance headroom across a broad spectrum of use cases.

My discussion with Ralph concluded with an important observation. Support for embedded programmability was a hard requirement from Socionext’s end customer. It seems that system designers have figured out the importance of integrating reconfigurability for power and cost savings. The future will be interesting to watch as more silicon becomes adaptable to changing needs. You can learn more about customer adoption of Flex Logix technology here.  The trends seem clear. Flex Logix and Socionext are revolutionizing 5G platform design.

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