Three New ASICs Gear Up for 5G Applications

February 28, 2020 by Robin Mitchell

In this article, we'll assess a few examples of new ASICs on the market that may be of use to designers working with 5G-bound designs. 

Not all applications can use off-the-shelf components because of the specific nature of the design's application.

Because ASICs are application-specific (as their name suggests), they can be far more expensive than other solutions, like FPGAs. This is why ASICs are often reserved for small production runs of highly-specific applications like satellite circuitry and experimental sensors.

But with technology becoming incredibly advanced, specifically with the introduction of 5G, there is a growing need for high-performance ASICs.

In this article, we'll assess a few examples of new ASICs on the market that may be of use to designers working with 5G-bound designs. 


Cisco Silicon One

Internet pathways are beginning to reach their limits, which is why technologies like 5G will become critical in future applications. However, 5G technologies are incredibly demanding, rendering some off-the-shelf components insufficient.

Cisco, a global player in network technologies, has recognized this issue and has developed the Cisco Silicon One as a solution. The Cisco Silicon One is a unified silicon architecture that tackles high-bandwidth internet applications. The new architecture is a programmable ASIC that allows for up to 25 terabits per second of data processing.


Cisco Silicon One

Cisco Silicon One. Screenshot used courtesy of Cisco

The new architecture system also aims to solidify Cisco’s long-term goal of creating a platform that will be able to handle future internet applications that current infrastructure will not be able to support.

One example of a device using the new Cisco Silicon One platform is the Cisco 8000 series, which is optimized for 400 Gbps and beyond. The Cisco 8000 series is powered using the Cisco IOS XRT OS, integrated cybersecurity and trust technology, and bandwidth scalability. 

The ASIC will be available to internet service companies (such as cloud computing facilities) who wish to integrate high-performance networking to their infrastructure.


EnSilica Ka-Band Satellite Transceiver

According to EnSilica, by 2025, up to 27% of vehicles will require constant communication with a network—a bandwidth that current network technologies may struggle to handle.

EnSilica's plan is to develop an ASIC IC that operates on the Ka Satellite band for communicating with low-earth satellites on the 31.5 GHz frequency spectrum and utilize steerable phased array antennas, so vehicles can always be connected to a network. The combination of this technology with pre-existing technologies, such as Wi-Fi and 5G, will enable cars to have high-speed internet access, fueling internet-based services.


Diagram of the Ka-band transceiver IC

Diagram of the Ka-band transceiver IC. Image used courtesy of EnSilica

But automotive vehicles are not the only application for such an ASIC; marine and aerospace applications can benefit from such a system, especially when cellular networks are unavailable. 


Intel Diamond Mesa

Intel recently announced a new portfolio of both hardware and software products gearing up for 5G. This portfolio excludes FPGAS (perhaps because FPGAs are too generic for specific applications, such as 5G), but include a new programmable ASIC called Diamond Mesa.

Intel claims that Diamond Mesa reduces programmability for a dramatic increase in data processing speeds.


Intel's Diamond Mesa ASIC

Intel's Diamond Mesa ASIC. Image used courtesy of Intel

The new ASIC is designed to complement pre-existing Intel processors and FPGAs. It can be used to create low-latency designs and a minimum-risk optimization path for workloads that don’t require programmability. 


Customization for a 5G Future

The majority of electronic designs can get along just fine with off-the-shelf parts, especially given their affordability. But with the introduction of reprogrammable devices such as microcontrollers, CPLDs, and FPGAs, and ASICs, designers can now create more customizable designs on the silicon layer.

This specificity may be an asset to designers working with 5G applications, which can require a level-up in processing power and connectivity.



What has been your experience working with ASICs and FPGAs? Do you prefer one over the other for certain applications? Share your thoughts in the comments below.