An “Industry First” 5G NR Small Cell SoC Spurs Open RAN Technology Forward

December 06, 2021 by Jake Hertz

Radio Access Networks (RAN) technology was limited and expensive; however, Open RAN (O-RAN) is hoping to create easier and more compatible 5G technology. Pushing 5G Open RAN forward is Picocom's 5G New Radio (NR) SoC.

When it comes to Radio Access Networks (RAN), almost 80% of the entire marketplace is supplied by three vendors: Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei. 

As 5G continues to grow into more and more varied use cases, mobile operators will need more transparency and opportunity for interoperability to support their applications. 

One of the significant movements towards this end has been Open RAN, an effort to democratize the RAN market by offering more transparency to end-users. Adding to the vital development of Open RAN, recently, Picocom released the industry’s first Open RAN system-on-a-chip (SoC) focused exclusively on small cells. 


Picocom's PC802 SoC.

Picocom's PC802 SoC. Image used courtesy of Picocom

This article will look at Open RAN and Picocom's new SoC to see what they are offering the market. 


Overview on Open RAN and 5G 

In cellular communications, RANs primary purpose is to connect base stations, which send and receive data to the endpoints in a network like a smartphone or Internet of Things (IoT) device. 

Historically, RANs have been notoriously closed (i.e., not open standards), meaning that mobile network operators have had no choice but to purchase all of their RAN hardware from the same vendor. The end result was that RANs became more expensive and lacked interoperability, limiting end-use cases and system flexibility.


An Open RAN reference architecture.

An Open RAN reference architecture. Image used courtesy of Telecom Infra Project


In response to this need, Open RAN was born. 

Open RAN is an effort to create open standards through collaboration between equipment makers and mobile network operators. Ideally, equipment that meets Open RAN standards will be compatible with other Open RAN equipment, regardless of the vendor. 

In the context of 5G and IoT, Open RAN has become extremely important since it will decrease network costs, allowing for wider adoption of private networks that enable 5G and IoT applications. 


Picocom’s PC802 5G NR SoC 

Last week, Picocom made headlines in the Open RAN community by releasing the "industrt's first" 5G NR small cell SoC for Open RAN. 

This new product, dubbed the PC802, is described as PHY SoC for 5G NR and LTE small cell decentralized and integrated RAN architectures, including support for leading Open RAN specifications. 

Specifically, the PC802 allows for interfacing to radio units using either the O-RAN Open Fronthaul eCPRI interface or a JESD204B high-speed serial interface. 

Optimized explicitly for decentralized small cells, the PC082 employs a FAPI protocol to allow communication and physical layer services to the MAC.


PC802 architecture block diagram.

PC802 architecture block diagram. Image used courtesy of Picocom


While much of the specific details about the hardware are not released, what is known is that the SoC consists of a network-on-chip (NoC), a RISC-V cluster, integrated static random access memory (SRAM), and a CEVA XC12 communications DSP. 

All in all, Picocom claims to be particularly proud of its ability to optimize its silicon for power efficiency, although the power consumption numbers are not yet available. 


Closing Thoughts 

Between RISC-V and Open RAN, the electrical engineering industry as a whole is seeing the importance of open-source efforts for hardware. With this new SoC from Picocom, Open RAN is getting a big boost, providing more end-users with cheaper, more interoperable hardware for their networks and use cases. 

Moving forward, Picocom expects to see field trials begin during 2022.



Interested in other 5G Open RAN news? Read on in the articles down below.

ADI’s New ASIC Transceiver Platform Marks How 5G Has Matured

Qualcomm’s 5G Open RAN Platform Elevates 5G Small Cell Technology

From Space to the Farm, RF Advancements Fuel New 5G Applications