The battle for the 5G wireless baseband modem

Louise Davis

Processor designer ARM and digital signal processor developer CEVA are both launching blocks for the next generation of wireless systems.

ARM’s Cortex R8 and CEVA’s X4 are both targeting the next generation of LTE Pro wireless systems and 5G prototype wireless baseband designs.

The CEVA-X4 is part of the new CEVA-X framework. This scalable VLIW/SIMD architecture supports processors up to 128-bit SIMD, a variable length pipeline and support for both fixed- and floating-point operations and provides twice the DSP horsepower while consuming 50% less power than the previous generation.

The CEVA-X4 is the first core based on the architecture, targeting the most complex workloads of multi-carrier PHY control processing in 2G/3G/4G/5G basebands.

The CEVA-X4 was specifically designed for efficient control processing with a 128-bit wide VLIW/SIMD processor with 8 MAC units in 4 identical Scalar Processing Units (SPUs) and a 10-stage pipeline capable of running at 1.5GHz in 16nm and achieves 16 Giga Operations Per Second (GOPS).

Next-generation Rel-13 LTE Advanced Pro modems are required to deal with up to 5 carrier components in parallel and handle multiple PHY control tasks on multiple carriers, in tandem. This requires more DSP performance to support a heavy LTE workload including per-channel measurement, calibration and decoding.

For system control, CEVA-Connect technology links the entire PHY system, comprising of DSPs, coprocessors, accelerators, memories and system interfaces. It is equipped with dedicated hardware coprocessor interfaces and an automated data and control traffic management mechanism that eliminates any software intervention. Its memory subsystem supports an advanced non-blocking 2-way or 4-way caches with hardware and software pre-fetch capabilities.

“The enormous complexity involved with building a modern baseband requires a new approach to solving the mounting design bottlenecks,” said Michael Boukaya, vice president and general manager, Wireless Business Unit at CEVA. “The CEVA-X4 offers licensees the capability to develop a vastly simplified multi-mode modem system architecture with a perfect balance of DSP and control processing. Its monumental improvements over previous generation PHY control DSPs are indicative of the deep baseband expertise we accumulated over two decades in that industry, and ensure that the CEVA-X4 exceeds the most demanding requirements for next-generation 4G and 5G standards.”

ARM is also aiming its Cortex-R8 quad-processor core at the same 4G and 5G applications. A quad-core configuration dramatically boosts the total Cortex-R8 performance, which when combined with its real time features and extended low-latency memory makes Cortex-R8 the highest performing processor in its class.

“5G will revolutionise mobile communications as it delivers the ability to significantly increase data rates, offering a far better mobile experience,” said James McNiven, general manager, CPU Group, ARM. “The Cortex-R8 is the most powerful real-time CPU available and its unrivalled performance will make it instrumental in the creation of 5G modems. It will form the communications heart of future smartphones, tablets, connected cars and IoT.”

ARM silicon partners have already begun design work on SoCs based on the Cortex-R8. Modem designs using Cortex-R8 processors will support the rollout of the new LTE-Advanced Pro and 5G standards.