Ericsson and IBM Announce 5G Base Station Chip

From RCR Wireless, February 8, 2017

By Martha DeGrasse


Ericsson and IBM said they have created an integrated circuit designed for use in future “5G” base stations. The companies announced the first reported silicon-based millimeter wave phased array antenna module operating at 28 GHz.


The 28 GHz band is being used by both AT&T and Verizon Wireless for fixed wireless tests that are expected to lead to the first commercial 5G deployments. A 5G standard is not expected by the Third Generation Partnership Project until late this year or early next year, but the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands are widely expected to be a part of that standard. Both AT&T and Verizon Communications have recently purchased companies that hold spectrum licenses in these bands.


IBM and Ericsson said they have been working together for two years to develop a 5G chipset. The companies said IBM contributed expertise in highly integrated phased array millimeter wave integrated circuit and antenna-in-package solutions, which Ericsson combined with its own core competence in circuit and system design for mobile communications.


Ericsson has a long history of designing and developing its own chipsets. Its wireless base stations typically rely on application specific integrated circuits created in-house.


“Ericsson has typically used ASICS. They don’t trust anyone else,” said analyst Earl Lum of EJL Wireless Research. Lum said that even though Ericsson stopped developing chips for smartphones, the company maintains a deep bench of silicon design expertise.


The module developed by Ericsson and IBM consists of four monolithic integrated circuits and 64 dual-polarized antennas. It is a square device that measures approximately 2.8 inches on each side. Ericsson said the form factor is necessary to support the vision of this technology’s widespread deployment, especially in indoor spaces and dense downtown areas.


“Our collaboration with IBM Research on phased array antennas can help operators to effectively deploy radio access infrastructure necessary to support a 5G future,” said Thomas Noren, Ericsson’s head of product area network products. “New use cases and applications that span human machine interaction, virtual reality, smart home devices and connected cars will depend on innovative technologies that can bring the promises of faster data rates, broader bandwidth and longer battery life to reality.”


The biggest benefit of 5G will be enabling mobile operators to deliver data more cost effectively, according to analyst Joe Madden of Mobile Experts, who said that with LTE it costs operators more than $1,000 to deliver a megabit per second of network capacity. Madden expects 5G technologies to bring this cost down to a few hundred dollars.


“Our cost model tells us that 5G should be able to achieve a 10-times reduction in cost per bit compared with LTE,” Madden wrote in a blog post. “It’s still higher than the target we set two years ago, but 5G cost estimates are getting low enough to make success look likely [but]the investment profile is likely to be slower than you expect, because we will see the behavior of a mature, established industry — not the dynamics of a growth market.”