Silicom Oakham Network Adapter with Timing for 5G Networks

The exponential increase in wireless data demand from people and devices using mobility, cloud, IoT, and machine-learning, is rapidly exceeding the capacity of existing wireless networks. To overcome this, new 5G networks are beginning to deliver faster data rates and lower latency, while enabling excellent quality of service for many new real-time applications and use cases.

5G will unleash unparalleled opportunities for mobile network operators (MNOs) and telecom OEMs. However, the immense possibilities and opportunities require timing synchronization capabilities that were previously built into the circuit-switched equipment used in 3G and 4G networks. To support fully packet-based voice and other real-time applications, 5G networks will need packet synchronization with very high accuracy. In addition, other infrastructure applications including transmit diversity on MIMO antennas or certain carrier aggregation implementations also need time synchronization.

The 5G standard for these applications has rigorous requirements to support end-to-end latency and increased antenna and base station density. Accurate packet timing synchronization is critical to enabling a quality experience for real-time applications. This is driving the need for specialized network adapter cards that can synchronize timing with nanosecond accuracy for the most demanding real-time applications and services.

Silicom Oakham Adapter solves 5G network performance and timing challenges

The Silicom Oakham Adapter for 5G delivers high-performance and precise time synchronization.

The Silicom Oakham Adapter for 5G is based on the Intel® FPGA Programmable Acceleration Card N3000 (Intel FPGA PAC N3000) combined with the unique Silicom Time Sync (STS) technology.

The Intel FPGA PAC N3000 is a highly customizable Intel Arria® 10 FPGA-based  SmartNIC that enables high-throughput, low latency, and high-bandwidth applications. The Intel FPGA PAC N3000 allows the optimization of data plane performance to reduce total cost of ownership while maintaining a high degree of flexibility. Intel is accelerating 5G traffic to enable scalable and high-performance networks.

Added to this hardware is STS which offers Synchronous Ethernet and eSync Ethernet (G.8261, G.8262) combined with IEEE 1588 IEEE 1588 precision time protocol (PTP). The flexibility of STS allows it to serve as a transparent clock, boundary clock and a grandmaster clock with nanosecond accuracy.  The device provides a 1 second satellite lock, when it is used as the time source. STS ensures synchronization within the physical and protocol layer. This level of precision is required for higher frequency radio spectrums, like millimeter wave (mmWave). The Silicom Oakham Adapter has an onboard oscillator that creates a clock source for protection in the case of a failure.

Precise time synchronization over 5G packet networks

In one application, the Open RAN-compliant Oakham NIC is deployed in a RAN distributed unit (DU) to add timing to data packets as they pass from a mobile user’s device to the antenna into the centralized unit (CU) and into the cloud. A consequence of connecting a central unit to a remote radio head over a packet network is time-delay variations of packets traveling between link edges. Packet delay variations add noise to time values from the network. This degrades the user experience with real-time applications and services.

5G Oakham Solution for Acceleration

An additional 5G network challenge are data packets from real time applications that take alternate routes through the network causing packets to arrive out of order. This adds a delay in real-time service, such as garbled speaking in a VoIP call. To overcome this, the STS capabilities in the Silicom Oakham Adapter for 5G mark every packet with the proper time so that the receiving NIC can ensure the proper packet order.

Silicom Oakham Adapter MNO advantages

  • Every MNO has its own technology requirements based upon its unique infrastructure and services. Operators can leverage Silicom’s IEEE1588v2 PTP to dramatically improve timing accuracy over their existing Ethernet network, without the need for special PTP-aware equipment. The Silicom Oakham Adapter for 5G provides the flexibility, performance and adaptability to support virtually any MNO environment and deployment scenario.
  • Time synchronization for IEEE 1588v2 PTP, with telecom profile extension standards, is central to the Silicom Oakham Adapter for 5G. This enables it to fit within telecom grandmaster, boundary, and secondary clocks. When combined with Synchronous Ethernet, the Silicom Oakham Adapter for 5G supports a wide range of time synchronous deployments with extreme accuracy.
  • For carrier aggregation and other use cases, 5G networks require time synchronization accuracy with a minimum of 65ns. To ensure this level of precision, the Silicom Oakham Adapter for 5G can be deployed as a Synchronous Ethernet Clock, with Ethernet Synchronous Message Control for synchronization at the protocol layer and physical layer, and Synchronous Ethernet for the PTP Boundary Clock for synchronization. The combination of PTP and Synchronous Ethernet also lowers maximum time interval errors (MTIE).

Achieving RAN and packet core operational continuity requires accurate, stable, and reliable timing and synchronization across the 5G network. This is critical to protect against potentially disastrous sync loss. The Silicom Oakham Adapter includes an oscillator that creates an onboard clock source to ensure proper timing in the event of a failure of the primary clocking device.


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