5G Base-Station-on-a-Chip Company EdgeQ Closes $75M in Series-B Funding
With its 5G base-station-on-a-chip SoC leading the way, EdgeQ has closed a $75 million round of investment funding.
Achieving a highly integrated 5G wireless base station design is a high stakes game. The market opportunities in 5G are huge, but getting an architecture down to the single-chip level has many challenges.
This is where startup EdgeQ has chosen to carve out its niche. And, in a sign of its success so far, today the company announced a $75 million investment round of funding. The firm also revealed the appointment of Lattice Semiconductor CEO and president, Jim Anderson, to EdgeQ’s board of directors.
EdgeQ says it plans to use the funding to ramp production of its 5G “Base Station-on-a-Chip,” to meet customer demand, and to develop its next generation chip.
In this article, we discuss the market need that EdqeQ’s technology addresses, we examine the details of the company’s 5G base-station-on-a-chip SoC, and we share insights from our interview with Vinay Ravuri, CEO and co-founder of EdgeQ.
The Need for a Massive Market 5G Chip
According to Ravuri, EdgeQ as a company was born on the idea that there was a space in the 5G market that wasn’t being served by any chip company—nothing on the level of a single-chip base station.
EdgeQ saw a gap between proprietary 5G implementations and general purpose IC solutions.
As the industry moved from 4G to 5G, it became clear that the 5G world wasn’t just telecommunications, but rather a merging of telco and enterprise—5G could provide connectivity in a factory, an airport, or even an office space. Moreover, machine-to-machine connectivity was to be a major segment of 5G.
On one side, says Ravuri, the telcos, such as Nokia and Ericsson, didn’t have any semiconductors for 5G that they could buy off-the-shelf, so they had to make their own chips. On the other side, chip vendors such as Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and Marvell offered general purpose devices suited for the data center, but not for wireless markets.
“We saw all this as an opportunity, particularly because 5G is not just an evolutionary technology,” says Ravuri. “5G has a revolutionary aspect to it and it is going to be a lot bigger than 4G. That made us think ‘Can we do something better? Can we do something different?’ Because I have largely a Qualcomm background, we decided to venture out into this world. That's how the journey started for us.”
A Unique Mix of Engineering Talents Required
After seeing the market opportunity, Ravuri says it quickly became clear that there was a reason why no one had yet attempted a single-chip 5G base station. “When you make a wireless chip, there's a lot of science on top of the engineering,” he says. “It's not just pure engineering. You need a lot of information theory people, you need a lot of PhDs, a lot of scientists. You need that talent to be able to implement these algorithms in a manner that is very flexible.”
Developing its 5G base-station-on-a-chip required EdgeQ to hire a diverse team of technical talent.
Ravuri says that one particularly tricky part of a single-chip 5G solution is the Layer 1 technology—the PHY layer. “The thing that dawned upon me is that there's not a lot of people that know how to build these things,” he says.”But that's the kind of place a startup wants to go into. The market is large, but yet there's just one or two companies building these things, and it's hard to build.”
With all that in mind, Ravuri says that EdqeQ had to assemble a team that included 5G, semiconductor, and software experts. Among those were experts in information theory, experts in cellular, and clean-slate chip design mavericks willing to merge different architectures such as Arm and RISC-V.
A Hybrid Architecture of RISC-V and Arm Cores
Getting into more details of EdqeQ’s 5G base-station-on-chip, Ravuri says that a key aspect of the IC is that it uses both RISC-V and Arm-based processing cores. “The device has a RISC-V complex—with 60 RISC-V cores—but there's also an Arm complex,” he says, “The Arm part is not running any of the wireless low-level operations. It runs Linux and customer applications.”
The EdgeQ 5G base-station-on-a-chip uses a hybrid architecture with both Arm and RISC-V cores. (Click image to enlarge)
As shown in the diagram above, the device basically has a wired side and a wireless side. The Arm-based processing subsystem is the wired side, and handles packets and other high-level tasks. Meanwhile, the RISC-V-based Tensor Execution Unit (TXU) does pure wireless. “We've fused all of this together into an SoC, essentially almost like what a phone does in the sense that it's highly integrated and has lots and lots of functionality,” says Ravuri.
L1 (PHY), L2, and L3 Software Stacks
A key aspect of the 5G SoC is that it runs a complete set of EdgeQ’s deployable 5G software that implements L1 (PHY), L2, and L3 stacks. As discussed early, the L1 PHY layer is a critical piece. “PHY layer, the Layer 1 is the most difficult part,” says Ravuri. “This is an example of the 80/20 rule—80% of it is really these algorithms in the PHY layer.”
This is significant, says Ravuri, because other general purpose chip companies in this space don’t make the PHY layer. “We have now implemented it and it's all 100% homebrewed,” he says. “There's absolutely nothing that we buy off the shelf here. And, for good measure, we also throw in the upper L2/L3 layer stack as well for those that want it, while others will put in their own.”
The complete base-station-on-a-chip solution includes the 5G SoC, and L1, L2, and L3 layer software stacks.
With the stack software, combined with the EdgeQ base-station-on-a-chip, you basically have a complete 5G/4G base station. There's nothing else you need. “The chip and software does most of the job,” says Ravuri. “There's some peripheral components needed, but the large part of it is our solution. For an Open RAN system, this chip lets you shrink a base station by 10x. What was once a big box now comes down to a small board.”
Many 5G Use Cases for the SoC
The use cases for the 5G SoC are many, according to Ravuri. “It could go into a home, it could go into an enterprise, it could go into an outdoor box, multiple of these things,” he says. “It could be a cell tower or it could be a data center component. So, many different applications, just the application software is different.”
The 5G SoC can be used for a variety of applications, ranging from enterprise to O-RAN to cloud data center and more.
The 5G SoC can be the basis of systems that thousands of users can plug into, says Ravuri. It can connect to up to 64 antennas, and 10 GB/s of wireless performance.
While EdgeQ’s products have yet to be announced for public use, the upcoming releases will include an S series for small cell and an M series for Open RAN macro cells. That said, the EdgeQ devices have already been sampled to “market leading” early EdqeQ customers, says Ravuri
All images used courtesy of EdgeQ