Are ASICs Taking Over FPGAs?

The era of 5G is entailing a shift from FPGAs to customized ASICs owing to factors like costs and power consumption.   

FREMONT, CA: 5G requires a significantly greater amount of power, as well as coverage to deliver the same level of efficiencies as its previous generation of network technology according to reports. Thus, it is apparent that the costs involved in 5G will overtake the costs involved in providing LTE networks by a considerable margin.  In the era of 3G and 4G, FPGAs were driving the cellular infrastructure. However, the changing dynamics in the case of 5G have rendered FPGAs less relevant from a network infrastructure perspective. On the other hand, custom Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) are attracting the attention of cellular equipment manufacturers.

Although flexibility and shared costs across a large user base count as benefits of FPGAs in cellular infrastructure for 5G, there are several limitations as well. These limitations include redundancy in transistors, reduced clock performance, and need for high power. Thus, FPGAs as digital components are not equipped to address low cost and low power optimizations. Insufficient on-chip memory capacities have also become a challenge limiting the applications of FPGAs in 5G equipment. These factors have contributed to the cellular sector's return to ASICs.

Now, 5G equipment manufacturers are plotting ways to migrate from FPGAs as well as DSPs to custom ASICs. When compared to FPGAs and DSPs, ASICs optimize the number of transistors, and clock cycles. As a result, production costs and power consumption trends are balanced out effectively, allowing effective development of 5G components. By sourcing processor cores, memory interfaces, and data converters from suppliers, 5G equipment manufacturers can easily replace FPGA capabilities. Even the property of flexibility can be added to ASICs through new generation EFPGA fabrics.

The gradual roll-out of 5G will necessitate equipment readiness. There are major implications involved in adopting ASICs, and thus, 5G equipment manufacturers are preparing for an overhaul.

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