The ReefShark chipsets include one architecture focused on compute capacity and another for radio frequency (RF) applications. Both include artificial intelligence (AI) work from Nokia Bell Labs, which was part of the Alcatel-Lucent deal, and Nokia’s history with mobile devices and base stations.
For compute capacity, Nokia is providing plug-in units for its currently available AirScale baseband module. The baseband processor is built on a 10-nanometer architecture with an all-in-one design that can support 5G network requirements of higher speeds, lower latency, and network slicing.
The plug-in units triple the throughput of those modules to a peak of 84 Gb/s. The AirScale module also supports chaining to deliver speeds up to 6 Tb/s.
Jane Rygaard, head of 5G solution marketing at Nokia, said the architecture was about tackling the need for “5G capacity and performance.”
“It’s about what we can do with 5G,” Rygaard said. “When it comes to the radio side, it all comes down to how well are we positioned to handle the traffic. How can we process the pure amount of data and are [we] able to meet the latency needs. You need to be able to address the compute needs in the network.”
She also explained the architecture complements Nokia’s work on the data center side with its AirFrame data center product.
The RF chipset architecture is targeted at the radios used in base station antennas. The chipsets include a digital front end to support 4G LTE and 5G radio systems running massive MIMO antenna configurations. The design reduces the size of massive MIMO antennas by half and reduces power consumption in the baseband unit by 64 percent.
“We looked at distributing the compute needs between the baseband and RF side,” Rygaard explained. “We are prepared for the fact that we need more intelligent antennas and power management to live up to what 5G will need.”
Rygaard noted this will also require greater use of AI for network control. “We will need to reduce human interactions in the future to handle this level of complexity,” she said.
Thirty operators are working with Nokia on the ReefShark chipsets. Deployments are set to accelerate during the third quarter of this year.
While not directly related, Rygaard did note the ReefShark architecture does build on work from the FP4 silicon Nokia released last year. That proprietary silicon is targeted at providing improved performance for webscale operators and service providers.
“It’s not a direct connection to FP4, but it does leverage what we have been doing on the routing side and within Bell Labs,” Rygaard said. “ReefShark shows that everyone was talking with everyone across the organization on this. We were not just working in silos.”
To the Future!
ReefShark is also core to Nokia’s boldly named Future X architecture for 5G. The new name encompasses all of Nokia’s work around 5G platforms, which Rygaard fingered at more than 30 total platforms.
Some of those platforms include Nokia’s Cloud Packet Core, which is its cloud-native architecture serving software disaggregation, and its AirScale Radio Access service.
Nokia is claiming AI-based automation for the end-to-end network can deliver up to three times more data capacity per cell site and 30 percent lower total cost of operation. This is possible through the use of beamforming technologies that allow a network to “follow” a mobile device or cater to services based on network slicing.
“It’s been clear we needed to have an architecture-driven approach to 5G,” Rygaard said. “Future X is the foundation of that reference architecture.”
While the greatest performance benefits are achieved by using as many Nokia-sourced pieces as possible, the vendor supports open interfaces. Rygaard used Legos as the building-block metaphor to describe how different pieces from different vendors can be used in a system.
“We are not going to be monolithic in deployments. We can hope for that, but that’s not where the industry is headed,” Rygaard said. “We need to be open or we can’t be part of the system.”
The ReefShark and Future X news comes ahead of Nokia’s release of fourth quarter and full-year 2017 results set for Feb. 1. The vendor’s Q3 results were down from the previous year, led by lower revenue from its two largest business segments.
Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said the company expects continued operational and competitive pressure to extend through 2018.