Pat Hindle, MWJ Editor
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Pat Hindle is responsible for editorial content, article review and special industry reporting for Microwave Journal magazine and its web site in addition to social media and special digital projects. Prior to joining the Journal, Mr. Hindle held various technical and marketing positions throughout New England, including Marketing Communications Manager at M/A-COM (Tyco Electronics), Product/QA Manager at Alpha Industries (Skyworks), Program Manager at Raytheon and Project Manager/Quality Engineer at MIT. Mr. Hindle graduated from Northeastern University - Graduate School of Business Administration and holds a BS degree from Cornell University in Materials Science Engineering.

Standards Movement Underway in the RF Markets

Open RAN, OpenRF and SOSA bringing changes to the market

October 29, 2020

The RF industry thrived in its early years on customized products, especially in the aerospace and defense markets. Many companies still thrive today making customer specific parts and sometimes offer them as standard types if they became popular. As higher volume applications like cellular products hit the market decades ago, standard products become widely available in the RF industry but were individually driven by each company. But now there is a big drive in the market to establish industry standard parts that make products plug and play, or whitebox, to achieve and an open architecture network or system. Here are a few of the main ones affecting the RF market.

Cellular Networks: Open RAN

Open Radio Access Network is based on interoperability and standardization of RAN elements including a unified interconnection standard for whitebox hardware and open source software elements from different vendors so encompasses the whole network. Open RAN architecture integrates modular base station software with off-the-shelf hardware which allows baseband and radio unit components from discrete suppliers to operate seamlessly together. This might be a disadvantage to the current providers since they provide large portions of the network equipment but most of them have been proactive in supporting this effort (the one exception is Huawei).

There are several confusing terms in this area, but they all have the same general goals in mind. “OpenRAN” is a project group launched by the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) in 2017 to define and build 2G, 3G, and 4G RAN solutions based on general purpose, vendor neutral hardware and software technology. This includes the creation of virtualized RAN (vRAN) solutions based on General Purpose Processing Platforms (GPPP) and disaggregated software that could accelerate the pace of innovation. The OpenRAN group used the expertise of their member organizations to create and analyze use cases to develop Open RAN algorithms.

Although “O-RAN” is a commonly used acronym for “Open RAN,” the hyphenated name has evolved to represent the O-RAN Alliance since the group’s formation. The O-RAN Alliance was founded by operators to define requirements and help build a supply chain ecosystem. To accomplish these objectives, the O-RAN Alliance’s work has two core principles: Open and Intelligence. The O-RAN Alliance sees future RANs that will be built on a foundation of virtualized network elements, whitebox hardware and standardized interfaces that fully embrace O-RAN’s core principles of intelligence and openness. According to the Alliance, an ecosystem of innovative new products is already emerging that will form the multi-vendor, interoperable, autonomous RAN.

RF Front Ends: OpenRF

A new push by the mobile RF front end manufacturers was recently announced with founding members Qorvo, Broadcom, Murata, Intel, Samsung, Skyworks and MediaTek. OpenRF is an industry consortium of global chipset manufacturers and RF front end vendors to advance the industry’s interests by enhancing the traditional reference design process to drive best-in-class configurable solutions to market faster. They are supporting the interests of 5G OEMs by maintaining an open and interoperable ecosystem between chipsets and RF front end. The group has established 5 working groups:

  • Register Map
  • Software API
  • Hardware RF Front End/RFIC
  • RF Power Management
  • Compliance

Each group has a set of goals in their area to achieve to make OpenRF a reality. While Skyworks joined after the initial establishment, Qualcomm is the one big name missing from this group so will see if they join later or consider it a competitive play by the others since they are the only company supplying the entire signal chain from processor to RF so might not be motivated to accept modularity.

A&D Systems: SOSA

In the Aerospace and Defense market, Sensor Systems Open Architecture (SOSA) has gained momentum over the past couple of years. From their web site that state, “As sensor systems increase in number, applications, cost and complexity, users need to address issues such as affordability, versatility and capabilities. Sensor systems should be rapidly reconfigurable and reusable by a greater number of stakeholders. The SOSA Consortium enables government and industry to collaboratively develop open standards and best practices to enable, enhance and accelerate the deployment of affordable, capable, interoperable sensor systems.” The architectures use modular design and widely supported, consensus-based, nonproprietary standards for key interfaces that are expected to:

  • Reduce development cycle time and cost
  • Reduce systems integration cost and risk
  • Increase commonality and reuse
  • Reduce sustainment and modernization cost
  • Support capability evolution and mitigate obsolescence
  • Enable technology transition
  • Facilitate interoperability
  • Isolate the effects of change

Why are these standards catching on now?

The end customers see the value in having a diverse set of manufacturers that improve their supply chain for the following reasons:

  • Interoperability
  • Competitive market to minimize costs
  • Enables new markets to use these functions
  • Reduce market risk and time to market
  • Improve reliability
  • Allows significant IP to be widely available

These standards are all growing industry wide acceptance except for OpenRF which is very new so it will take some time to see if it is accepted by the industry. Judging by the others, it seems like there should be no problem with its acceptance once the groups within OpenRF have achieved some of their goals in setting the standards.

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