Qualcomm is the latest chip designer to prepare a 5G virtualized radio access network (vRAN) accelerator card for field trials at the end of the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter of 2023.

The X100 is a digital signal processing (DSP)- and ARM-based inline Layer 1 accelerator. “The point of having an inline card is really about using DSP,” Qualcomm VP of product management Gerardo Giaretta said on a call with Silverlinings. 

“The X100 is a full inline accelerator card… where you offload the entire Layer 1 (L1) functionality onto a cellular card and you leave the CPU only to deal with the L2 functionality,” Giaretta explained.

Qualcomm’s approach is similar to Marvell’s to L1 acceleration efforts.

However, Giaretta claimed that the power consumption of the Qualcomm card beats its competitors. “We have a peak power consumption of the card, which is going to be below 40 watts. This is the best performance that has been demonstrated so far,” he said.

By comparison, the Qualcomm VP claimed that other inline cards that have been launched or announced use either above 50 watts or 75 watts. “Which basically means you need auxiliary power consumption on the card because the maximum power you can drive out of PCIe is 75 watts,” Giaretta said. This adds cost to the server side, he added.

“We have the best technology from a power perspective,” he claimed.

Regarding Intel, Giaretta said that the company’s 4th generation Xeon with integrated vRAN boost was “an improvement” over its previous silicon. “However, I think the basic stuff remains that the majority of the layer 1 still runs on CPU,” he claimed.

Field trials

Vendors that are planning to use the Qualcomm card for the third or fourth quarter field trial this year include Mavenir, NEC and Radisys. Giaretta said that these vendors have the Qualcomm card in their lab right now and are integrating Qualcomm’s L1 software with commercial L2 software. “We’re [also] working with Dell and HP,” the Qualcomm VP added.

Giaretta thinks that the field trial will lead to three as-yet unnamed operators in Asia deploying the X100 card early in 2024.

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