5G Brings New Verification Challenges

The number of tests required to verify 5G networking SoCs is growing tremendously.


In the summer of 2018, Siemens raised a few eyebrows within the verification community when we acquired Sarokal, based in Finland. What that community did not piece together at the time was that Sarokal is the leader in 5G testing and has a seasoned team of people that have work closely with leading telecommunication companies to provide hardware and software solutions for fronthaul system testing. But, the key to these 5G telecommunication products is design and verification of custom SoCs, and that is where we shine. Together, we put together a plan to join our emulation technology with the X-STEP testers from Sarokal to form a solution that no one else can offer: complete pre- and post-silicon SoC verification for 5G fronthaul products.

What about the market?

4G hardware systems were essentially defined and created by only three major vendors. The standards they created were not open. The cellular operators selected equipment from these vendors and built out their networks. While these vendors require advanced tools, the market for these solutions seems very limited. But, 5G turns the telecommunication market upside down, opening the market to many new players. Here is why:

  1. Cellular operators have defined open standards for hardware and this allows many new companies to build the hardware and software products required by the 5G fronthaul network (Figure 1). Centralized units provide a Cloud-based radio access network that covers a much bigger area around cities than the baseband units of 4G. The distributed units separate the remote radio head from the baseband unit. While 4G towers typically have 4 to 6 antennas, 5G allows up to 64×64 multiple-input/multiple-output (MiMo) antennas that can support beamforming. These 5G systems are connected together using a true Ethernet network.

Figure 1: A simplified 5G network representation.

  1. Because geography and population density varies, the 5G network in cities and rural areas will be customized as needed. This means there are many hardware/software configurations and use cases available to cellular operators.
  2. The 5G standard “stack” is still evolving. Some say it will always continue to evolve. How do SoC developers build products when the standards are not set in stone?

5G provides the opportunity to expand our user base to new designers entering the market, while still working with our 4G vendors. But, because 5G is a new world, there are more SoC verification challenges than ever.

Overcoming 5G verification challenges

Many hardware and software vendors, many use cases, custom configurations, and evolving 5G standards means that a colossal amount of testing required for SoC designs. Testing is the key to success. Designers can no longer create hardware based on a fixed network with connections and specifications that are locked down. Because of these challenges, the number of tests required to verify the SoC is growing tremendously. It looks like there are too many tests to run and it will not be possible to meet project schedules. However, we have implemented our plan and we have been working with customers to create a powerful pre- and post-silicon verification solution (Figure 2).

Figure 2: A complete pre- and post-silicon verification solution.

Because the 5G standards are evolving, teams cannot afford to employ the standard RTL verification flow. They need to add emulation to their pre-silicon verification solution. Teams can load their design into the Veloce Strato emulator. Driven by testbench transactors or VirtuaLAB models, they can verify their system at speed, orders of magnitude faster than RTL simulation. Speed equates to running more tests which leads to higher quality.

When silicon is available, verification teams begin their work in the lab or sometimes in the field. They turn to the X-STEP platform which can generate, capture, and analyze bit-accurate fronthaul traffic for any line rate. X-STEP software supports all the standards for 5G. With 100% visibility and control over fronthaul traffic, X-STEP ensures full interoperability between fronthaul devices that are in the early development phase, as well as in the field.

The take away

5G opens the door to new solutions from a wide range of vendors. The key differentiator is the design and verification of novel SoCs. But these SoCs demand a new verification approach that meets the challenges of the exponential rise in tests. We believe that we offer a unique SoC design and verification flow for pre- and post-silicon. To learn more about this solution, see this whitepaper.

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