Saankhya Labs is India’s premier wireless communication Solutions Company is working to make 5G technology a reality for India. As defined, 5G is a complex technology accounting various challenges and opportunities. New applications are set to evolve in the market as 5G becomes more mainstream. Parag Naik, Co-Founder and CEO, Saankhya Labs shares his thoughts with Niloy from BISinfotech. Parag a well-known veteran extensively discusses on various aspects including the role of semiconductors to their offerings, future of wireless technology. R&D and introduces the term ‘Cognitive RAN’. All well-wrapped in this edited nub.
1.According to you, the vital role of semiconductors with the augmentation of 5G technology?
As 5G technology adoption matures, competition is kicking in and every player in the value chain will strive to bring in their differentiated products/services against competition. As a key building block of mobile networks, semiconductor chipsets are major drivers of such differentiation. 5G technology offers a whole range of user experience benefits, from higher speeds, higher capacity, better coverage and longer battery life. Innovative applications such as Industrial IOT, Smart Vehicles and Augmented Reality will be introduced as market acceptance picks up. 5G timeline also coincides with new trends such as open infrastructure standards, disaggregation, and cloudification of deployment architecture that has created space for new semiconductor and equipment suppliers. This will help bring in more innovation into 5G solutions.
2. What are Saankhya Labs’ offerings to woo and foster 5G technology?
Saankhya Labs is India’s premier wireless communication solutions company, which is working on developing 5G technology. We foresaw “Software-defined” wireless architectures long before the industry did and are well placed to execute on 5G, with our core offerings centered around Radio Access Networks (RANs). Saankhya Labs has embarked on a journey of making cutting edge 5G Radio Access Network solutions for the global market. We have already started working on the design and development of 5G Radio products and have also started investing in future-looking 5G product offerings. We are focusing on building a 5G Radio Access solution based on Open RAN.
We are developing an Open RAN based cognitive scalable 5G RAN solution which includes Multi-Band Remote Radio Units with advanced analytics capabilities and a RAN Intelligent Controller platform. This will help in optimization of spectrum usage. Our 5G Remote Units will be available from Q1 of 2021. At present, we are in discussions with – US-based customers and partners to take our product into the US market.
We also provide radio units and chipsets (current and future) for vRAN based deployments. In addition, we have pioneered a concept called ‘Cognitive RAN’ that allows ML techniques to be applied to RANs, improves capacity and reduces op-ex for operators. This is a patented technology which is currently under development. We have 65 international patents on various aspects of the technology.
3. The future lies in the hands of wireless technology, how you see the development of 5G technology and what challenges it embeds for chip manufacturers?
In 5G technology, there is a lot of emphasis on open and virtualized networks. Some of the trends we will see soon are:
- Open and digitized networks: This breaks vendor lock-in and promotes a Linux-like model in the hardware world.
- Dis-aggregation: Operators can build networks through Lego-like blocks from multiple smaller vendors instead of relying on one big vendor for an end to end solutions. This will offer higher flexibility.
- Virtualization: Running network components as software components on generic hardware.
- Cognition: Networks are getting intelligent and are responding to their radio environment dynamically. This allows for better responsiveness and higher capacity.
Chip manufacturers must develop chipsets that can support open and virtualized systems. This includes licensing, availability of code, and platform dependency.
Upgrading to new hardware is an expensive proposition. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) want to implement nextgen networks with a minimal upgrade to current hardware. Similarly, consumers would want mobile phones which support both 4G/5G networks. So, chip manufacturers must develop chipsets that are flexible and support next or previous generation waveforms.
The future RAN will be more Cognitive and Intelligent, and therefore, next-gen chipsets must support these AI and Cognitive functions.
Although mm-wave 5G will be fast, it will require a massive increase in the number of towers because of the limited range of frequencies. This increase in the number of towers will lead to an increase in power consumption. It stands to reason that chipsets for 5G must be power efficient to reduce the OPEX of the operators.
4. How can be the true value of 5G be realized, in a scenario where next-gen applications are memory output hungry, craving high-performance while determining compact yet low-power solutions?
Newer applications that are enabled by 5G connectivity would require higher computing resources. One way of addressing this is by ensuring that semiconductor chipsets in the user device will support more computing and memory capacity, running more processor cores at faster clock speeds, while consuming lower power. This is possible using more advanced semiconductor manufacturing processes, moving from the current state-of-the-art 7nm to 3nm in the future.
Another possibility (due to disaggregation, cloudification of the network, and a high-speed/low-latency 5G connectivity) is to redistribute the compute load between the user device and cloud-based network infrastructure.
5. Is India ready for 5G? Is R&D, indigenous capability, ecosystem ready to spur in the market?
The Prime Minister has given a clarion call for Atmanirbhar Bharat. Given the current geopolitical situation, it is imperative that we develop homegrown 5G solutions. Some mobile operators are already working on using indigenous solutions for 5G implementation.
In 5G, there is a focus on open and virtualized networks. Until now, the market was dominated by 3-4 large vendors and MNOs were also bound by these operators. With 5G, they will be able to use equipment from different vendors, which will give them greater flexibility. This has opened doors for smaller companies to enter the field.
Indian companies are focusing on developing solutions for open and virtualized RAN. They are getting a lot of traction from MNOs, both in India and abroad. There much focus on R&D and production of IPR in the industry. However, such an endeavour can’t take place in isolation. The government must also introduce schemes and policies which encourage investment in R&D. Only with such policies will India be able to realize its potential fully.
6. What key changes 5G brings to chipset architectures and the best practices to overcome the initial glitches?
Every new generation of telecom technology has been built on enhancement in semiconductor chipsets. This includes up-gradation to new levels of performance and support to new applications. In the case of 5G, the key changes would be massive MIMO, beamforming, higher bandwidths, newer spectrum bands in FR1 (sub-GHz) and FR2 (beyond 24GHz). These would be made possible by user equipment (handheld) chipsets, macrocell and microcell chipsets.
One recent trend that is coinciding with 5G is the new network deployment architecture based on disaggregation cloudification-open architecture. It has opened up the entire supply chain ecosystem for 5G equipment, where earlier, only 3-4 major vendors dominated the market. Cloudification now means that data centers can host a large part of the network, with centralized computing power, with optical fiber connectivity to a lean radio unit mounted on mobile towers.
Another change is driven by Open standards like O-RAN, with well-defined interfaces between network components like Centralized Unit (CU), Distributed Unit (DU), and Radio Unit (RU). These require a new class of chipsets to support them and will lead to a proliferation of hardware from multiple vendors, who will supply the Operators.
To keep flexibility and scalability across/within data centers, we need platforms that enable virtualized and re-targetable solutions. This is another major opportunity for 5G chipset and software architectures, going forward.
5G chipsets will ride on the steady and continual advancement of semiconductor manufacturing nodes from 16nm and 7nm, down to 3nm, over the next 5 years. With more powerful applications, there will be need for more processor cores running at faster clock speeds, at lower supply voltages and consuming lower power to improve battery life.
7. IDC states that the volume of global data will increase 10x to 163 zettabytes (or one trillion gigabytes) by 2025, leading to more demand of integrated chips (ICs) as data storage, analysis and process will play a central role in 5G and IoT infrastructure. Your comments and thoughts on the same.
The explosion of global data with the advent of 5G is something that telecom networks must embrace all over the world. The largest contribution of this traffic is video. Saankhya Labs has a unique technology enabled by its strong semiconductor portfolio, that enables layer three convergence of Broadband and Broadcast and can be nicely dovetailed as part of the 5G System’s service-based architecture. This technology can be used to efficiently offload video traffic, thereby relieving congestion on cellular networks.
8. Any vital innovation and R&D Saankhya Labs is undergoing for 5G technology?
Saankhya has a slew of differentiated software and hardware products for 5G. These are indigenously developed and are in various phases of build-out. A brief overview of the Saankhya 5G product portfolio is listed below.
- 5G RU – This is an ORAN based 5G NR Infrastructure device. The solution includes support for various 3gpp bands, especially the low and mid bands like Band 71, 29, and 40. It can be customized for other bands as well. The solution will incorporate a unique front haul compression technique to reduce op-ex for operators.
- RAN Analytics Platform – It is a software product under development for network automation and capacity optimization. The product is in line with the ORAN specification of the Radio Interface Controller. It will be implemented as a VNF and allows easy integration.
- 5G Open DU – This is a ground-up design for the vRAN hardware platform. India’s answer to an open and dynamic hardware platform, it saves operators a lot of cap-ex and op-ex. This platform is a product of the deep expertise of Saankhya’s team in designing DSP based RAN hardware. The solution consists of
- Software platform to execute modems
- Chipsets based on open DSP architecture designed by SL
- An open DU hardware server blade or an aggregated box
- AI-RAN – It is a 6G AI-based cognitive RAN platform being developed by Saankhya Labs. Cognitive RAN is the nextgen RAN which eliminates the limitations of current RANs like Static Provisioning of Network, Lack of Virtualization of Interface and Lack of Digitization at Edge and Physical Layers. The network continuously learns and adapts in real-time to generate hyper-personalized waveforms for all devices. This gives optimal performance for all users, all the time. The AI RAN designs modulation schemes on the fly, based on stated cost functions. It applies “deep learning” to figure optimal use of resources and uses COTS Hardware to virtualize the interfaces between the components of RAN.
9. Government has taken major decision to Make in India chips under EMC 2.0, PLI schemes and financial incentive of 25 per cent of capital expenditure for the manufacturing of goods. How do you see this approach?
We welcome the various schemes announced by the government to boost the electronics manufacturing industry in India. Taking into account the current business scenario and the geopolitical situation, this is a very good approach by the government. Promoting domestic manufacturing of electronic components and semiconductors will go a long way in building #AtmanirbharBharat.
Apart from the schemes which are merely aligned towards manufacturing, the government can also do more to build the indigenous MSME ecosystem by focusing on supporting R&D and innovation. When Indian companies have a strong IP base, they can better compete with global MNCs.
For companies like ours, this will go a long way in aiding us as we continue to develop innovative and technology-driven solutions locally. Our technologies can be exported globally and this would be in line with the Government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat plan.
10. Over the years, what has made Saankhya Labs a reliable fabless semiconductor company? Your business model for India and ahead strategies to vanquish a major chunk of this bullish market?
The key to the success of Saankhya Labs is a relentless strive towards innovation. We are a very forward-thinking company. We foresaw “Software-defined” long before the industry did. We are India’s first fabless semiconductor solutions company and we have developed the world’s first production SDR chipset. Over the years, we have grown from a mere fabless semiconductor company to an end to end wireless communication solutions company. We have designed and developed a full spectrum of accessible and future-ready communication solutions for tomorrow and beyond. These include next-gen solutions for broadband, broadcast, fixed wireless access and satellite IoT.
We are focused on both the Indian as well as the global market. We have successfully deployed our communication solutions in markets across the globe. These include Satellite-based locomotive tracking system in 3000 trains of Indian Railways, fixed wireless access solutions, and broadcast solutions in various countries across the globe.
We are in talks with telecom operators in India as well as in the US and Europe regarding the deployment of our 5G solutions. We have also partnered with a leading broadcaster in the US for our broadcast solutions. Additionally, we are looking to market our satellite IoT solutions in the global market.