Ready for the rising tide of 5G rollouts, NXP has a set of programmable
baseband processors for the 5G access edge. With programmability comes
flexibility, enabling these chips to support evolving standards and deployment
models while facilitating interoperability. These new
Access processors extend the trail blazed by our
Layerscape Access LA1575
Two and a half years ago the
This first Layerscape Access processor still seeks to revolutionize network
economics by lengthening hardware lifecycles by enabling incremental upgrades
via software. To this end, its key feature is programmability in three
domains: application, Layer 2 and physical layer. This chip has generated
interest from companies developing both wired and wireless systems. After all,
communications technologies from phoneline-based G.Fast to wireless 5G all
rely on OFDM at the physical layer. For production, however, customers need
processors pared to their requirements to cut cost.
We’re, therefore, pleased to introduce our new Layerscape Access
families. Like the LA1575, these new devices have programmable PHYs and
control functions. Unlike their predecessor, they leave application processing
to external hosts, such as Layerscape LS1 or LS2 processors. Diverse systems
can use these programmable processors. Some of our most exciting targets are
in 5G access.
Delivering a Programmable Baseband for Open, Intelligent 5G
The 5G era ushers in a few changes to the industry as a whole and to the radio
access network (RAN). Driving industry change is the O-RAN Alliance, a group
formed by operators focused on openness and intelligence in 5G technology. The
aim of openness is to foster networks made of interoperable equipment from
multiple vendors. Although telecommunications technology is standardized,
standards leave enough room for interpretation that service providers have
conventionally used the same vendor throughout the RAN in a region to avoid
compatibility problems. The alliance endeavors to mix and match equipment and
to replace vendor-proprietary hardware with generic equivalents. The
not-too-subtle goal is to reduce their capital expenses for upgrading to 5G.
Intelligence is about reducing operating expenses. Wireless networks are
becoming more complex, adding cell sites and serving broader needs. With added
smarts, the network can allocate radio resources and otherwise manage its own
operation. Equipment, therefore, must be flexible. It also must be
programmable to run the software that imbues it with intelligence.
The O-RAN Alliance is also contributing to changes in the RAN’s
structure. The 5G standard takes the unusual approach of defining not just a
single system to implement baseband functions but instead eight different ways
to logically split up these functions. The alliance bases their reference
architecture on the approach where a radio unit (RU) implements RF transceiver
and lower-level baseband PHY functions, a distributed unit (DU) performs
upper-level PHY and media access functions and a central unit (CU) executes
higher-layer protocols, with the user and control planes logically separated
in the CU. A critical challenge is that the DU and CU are to have
characteristics of both standard Linux® computers and
real-time systems. Furthermore, although the three units are logically
separate, they may be physically combined in different permutations. All three
could be in the same system as in a traditional base station, the RU and DU
can be merged, one DU can serve multiple RU, the CU can be a standalone system
or the CU can be a virtual machine in a distant data center, for example. Such
diversity further justifies an open, flexible approach.
Other structural RAN changes include embracing massive MIMO (64 or more
transmitters and receivers) and what I’ll call medium MIMO (16 or so
transmitters and receivers)—both of which requires additional
processing in the RU compared with lower-radix MIMO—and opening up the
24 GHz-100 GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) bands which shrinks cell size owing to
their poor propagation. Service providers are also taking advantage of
5G’s faster speeds to market it as an alternative to wireline
broadband, requiring new fixed-wireless access (FWA) premises equipment.
There’s also talk of private 5G networks using 5G technology as an
enterprise-operated LAN. Operators also perennially worry about whether
consumers’ home networks adequately convey to personal devices the data
the operator delivers to the house.
Raising Layerscape Access Horsepower for mmWave Applications
At NXP, we knew the LA1575 system-on-a-chip had the constituent technology to
address the complications created by these changes, but we had to redimension
these pieces for performance and cost. Some applications would need more
signal-processing power, while others could get by with less. Whereas the
LA1575 was designed to handle relatively complex 802.11
(Wi-Fi®) MAC functions and packet processing, our new targets
would need less horsepower for Layer 2 and control tasks. We scaled the
resources for these tasks accordingly. Requirements for the Arm®
CPU complex varied a lot. We eliminated it and instead provided high-speed I/O
to our multicore Arm-based Layerscape family. The companion multicore
processor can also handle media access control (MAC) and higher layer
functions in designs such as 5G small cells and FWA equipment.
One of the more powerful of the new Layerscape Access families is the LA1200.
Its programmable PHY subsystem has up to twice the raw floating-point
capability as the LA1575 processor, completing 256 complex
multiply-accumulates with every tick of the clock. Dedicated engines
accelerate forward error correction (FEC). The external host processor
connects via a Gen 3 PCIe® x 8 port. Zero I/F radio
transceivers connect via integrated ADC and DAC. One ADC/DAC set supports two
channels of the 100 MHz-400 MHz bands used by mmWave 5G equipment, having a
pair of 4 GSPS ADC/DAC for each channel. Another set supports a pair of the
narrower channels used in sub-6 GHz 5G equipment.
Because of its programmability and standard interfacing, the LA1200 family can
be used in various designs. In a DU, it could simply offload FEC processing
from a multicore host, like the Layerscape LX2160A 16-core processor, running
a standard Linux distribution. An RU can take advantage of more on-chip
resources, using the LA1200 for time-critical lower PHY functions in a 2 x 2
or 4 x 4 MIMO sub-6 GHz design. In mmWave small cell or FWA customer premises
equipment designs, the LA1200 can handle all baseband signal processing,
relying on a host like the quad-core LS1046A processor for higher layer
functions. Figure 1 shows the LA1200 used in a FWA design.
Figure 1: Fixed wireless access (FWA) customer premises equipment (CPE) can
use the LS1046A multicore processor for Layer 2 WAN and router functions and
the LA1200 processor for 5G Layer 1 functions.
The LA9350 family has about a quarter of the floating-point capability and
half the control-processing horsepower as the LA1200. It’s a small
chip, fitting in a 9 x 9 mm BGA package. A 2.5 Gbit/s Ethernet port replaces
the PCI interface. It doesn’t include the set of ADC/DAC for mmWave
radios. Nonetheless, the LA9350 family serves diverse applications, such as 5G
repeaters to light up spaces in the 5G shadows handling digital front-end
processing in a 2 x 2 MIMO RU. The lower-cost LA9310 family can sniff 5G
airwaves to analyze their quality or extract timing signals and be a digital
front end on a single transmit chain. Customers have also shown interest in
the LA9300 processors as the backbone in mesh wireless systems, where the
backbone can be proprietary and optimized for QoS, resilience and full-duplex
performance. Other companies are even using these families in wireline access
Not Just Another Pretty G
The initial products in the LA1200, LA9350 and LA9310 families will be
available in the first quarter of 2020 to members of our early access program.
Interested system designers shouldn’t wait to contact their NXP account
executives. Development can begin now using the
LA1575 We have an LA1575 reference design board available for use to help
develop proofs of concept. More information about NXP’s products for 5G
is available at
As it was with our initial Layerscape Access processor, our goal with the new
Layerscape Access families is to transform the industry through flexibility.
These baseband processors bring openness and intelligence to the physical
layer. They’re available to any developer, versatile enough to be used
in diverse applications and intelligent because they’re programmable.
Redefining the architecture of the RAN and setting the stage for upending the
industry, 5G isn’t just another G. Similarly, a Layerscape Access
processor isn’t just another chip but instead a software defined
platform to implement baseband functions, changing how communication equipment
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