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24 May 2022

Picocom and CommAgility broaden the Open RAN small cell ecosystem

As we have often noted, Open RAN will gain commercial scale first in small cells, particularly for enterprise and private networks, as well as in rural extension. It will not only be less risky to introduce brand new technologies and vendors to an enterprise network than a public macro RAN, but there is already a broader ecosystem in place around small cells. We can expect a stream of innovations from this ecosystem as commercial roll-outs begin this year, and two caught our eye last week, from chip provider Picocom and distributed unit (DU) developer CommAgility.

Picocom has been developing a system-on-chip, PC802, for Open RAN small cells and unveiled its commercial offering at the end of last year. Now it has announced a full 5G implementation, in partnership with 5G stack provider Radisys, part of India’s Reliance Jio Platforms group, which provided its Connect RAN 5G software.

The resulting platform integrates the Picocom SoC and Layer 1 functions, with Layers 2 and 3 software (distributed unit and centralized unit), based on Connect RAN 5G and running on an x86-based server. Layer 1 and Open Fronthaul (OFH) run on an inline accelerator card on PC802.

The implementation supports the O-RAN functional split (Split 7.2) between the radio unit and baseband. The interface between Layer 1 and Layers 2/3 is based on the Small Cell Forum’s FAPI specification.  The same FAPI stream is used to control L1 processing on PC802 as well as Open Fronthaul control plane and user plane processing, so that O-RAN OFH and SCF FAPI protocols are supported in an integrated way.

Picocom and Radisys are now preparing an integrated small cell solution based on PC802 and an ARM-based network processor.

“We only just announced PC802 in December, the world’s first 4G/5G device dedicated to developing small cells with integrated support for Open RAN standards, so it’s great that several customers have already integrated it into their products. The wider availability of optimized silicon is just the stimulus the Open RAN telecom industry needs,” said Oliver Davies, VP of marketing at Picocom.

Vicky Messer, VP of product management, added: “We’ve established a plan of interoperability/demo phases over 2022 for different RAN architectures and roadmap features. We recognize the significant contribution that Radisys has provided at this important validation phase of PC802.”

Meanwhile, CommAgility – now part of Wireless Telecom Group – has introduced a four-channel 5G small cell reference platform, the SC-RF4-5Gn78. This supports a 5G Standalone small cell gNodeB platform for indoor applications, integrating the full baseband and RF. Each of the four RF channels supports up to 100 MHz bandwidth, enabling 4×4 MIMO downlink.

The platform combines CommAgility’s 5G software stack from Layers 1 to 3, using its own SmallCellPHY-5G and SmallCellSTACK-5G software, with its baseband and RF hardware. The hardware runs on NXP’s Layerscape and Layerscape Access SoCs, which combine 16 ARM Cortex-A72 cores with NXP VSPA DSP cores, security and wireless accelerators.