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Understanding Virtual Primary Reference Time Clock & 5G Network Timing Architectures

Jim Olsen
Jim Olsen, Senior Technical Staff Engineer, Applications, Microchip Technology

With the rollout of 5G networking technologies, we’re seeing greater momentum in both cellular mobile operator and Long-Term Evolution (LTE) private network environments. The 5G New Radio (NR) technology leverages time division duplex technology. This requires that new radio deployments to maintain phase alignment accuracy to a Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) based timing source to within +/-1.5 microseconds. It is important to understand time error mitigation techniques for networkbased timing delivery using Precision Time Protocol (PTP) for 5G timing architectures. Also, the concept of a virtual Primary Reference Time Clock (vPRTC) is critical for network operators to make sound infrastructure decisions.

Given that timing is a critical component of the infrastructure, network-based timing architectures that use PTP for 5G fronthaul applications need time error allocation engineering to ensure the timing requirements.

In wireless communications, co-channel radio interference is the most common issue related to timing. When a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) (e.g. GPS, Galileo, Beidou) receiver is deployed at a cell site, it must track satellites properly to allow for time slot transmission assignment. In turn, this ensures that radios operating in adjacent or close frequencies don’t interfere with each other. If a GNSS receiver fails or stops tracking properly in a radio cluster with overlapping coverage, it can cause the radio connected to the GNSS receiver to interfere with adjacent radios as the timing degrades or accumulates phase error. Since radios typically use low cost, low performance oscillators to help cut costs, timing degradation occurs very quickly.

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