Jabil brings Meta’s Evenstar RU to the open market

Meta Connectivity is trying to break down barriers for Open RAN RU manufacturers.

Contract manufacturer Jabil has manufactured two Evenstar RUs that will be commercially available for the Open RAN market in November.

The two RUs are AMD (Xilinx) FPGA-based single band B1 and B3 units, supporting 4T4R at 40W per antenna. They support 4G, 5G R16 and NB-IoT, and weigh 16kg.

Click for full size image

Dual Band and Triple Band versions are also in development. The Dual Band product supports both Band 1 and Band 3, with 4T4R at 80W per antenna. It is a hefty 30kg. The tri-band version supports B8 + B20 + B28, with volume and weight TBD.

Jabil is not a well known telecom equipment brand, but it is an example of the kind of ODM or contract manufacturer that some hoped would enter the market to deliver on Open RAN specs. Perhaps a lengthy blog post it carried after it commissioned a survey earlier this year was a clue as to its intentions in this space. It manufactured the RUs following a concerted and determined engineering effort from Meta Connectivity to move its Evenstar platform beyond specifications into a workable hardware reference design.

Meta has worked to create a hardware reference design for RUs that can support the commercial manufacture of a range of RUs, with the platform supporting the modular integration of PAs, radio silicon and other components from different suppliers.

Meta’s intention in developing the reference platform was to address the bottlenecks that it had seen in the Open RAN RU market. So it set its sights on creating a design that would support RUs that had the performance, power, size and weight that operators are looking for. But it also wants products that can deliver lower TCO, and give operators confidence there will be ongoing support and a product roadmap.

The hardware platform is designed for migration as well as supporting choice of component. For example, an FPGA from AMD (Xilinx) could be swapped out and replaced in future designs by a SoC from a different supplier, such as MaxLinear or ADI, without impacting the rest of the design. The PA integration is also designed to be able to cope with operator demands for different frequency band support, without re-engineering the design. Meta also has reference designs for the filters and RF SoC.

Meta Connectivity’s PA module, filter and RF SoC reference designs.

Meta Connectivity’s Product Management lead Sesh Krishnamoorthy said one other aspect that the group had taken on was to leverage its position with component suppliers. He added that Meta had tried to “make interventions where design optimisation is good, and then for the next generation there’s no need to start over. MNOS want to see [vendors] continue to invest.”

He added that the design has a “competitive” BOM compared to incumbents. The company has also invested in automated testing on RF conformance and made that available to all, he added. It is also carrying out interoperability with CU-DU vendors.

Meta’s work comes two and a half years after Vodafone’s Santiago Tenorio launched the Evenstar project and first identified similar designs as a sweetspot for mobile operators, saying at that point that he expected to see units costing $1,000 in the market by mid 2020. That proved to be optimistic, certainly on pricing, although Mavenir and MTI announced a commercially available Evenstar RU in late 2020.

The internals of the RU reference design. (Click for full size)

At TIP’s FYUZ event in October, Meta was showing a DU reference design that it developed as a co-investment with Marvell, whose Octeon Fusion platform was providing the L1 processing. Marvel announced this tie-up in March 2021, and has since announced a DU integration with hardware provider Dell, and just lately integration deals with Nokia and Samsung.

Meta’s approach with Evenstar is similar to Mavenir’s which produced a range of reference designs for O-RAN compliant RUs called OpenBeam. Mavenir also wants its designs to enable manufacturers to take on the challenge of designing Open RUs. it recenly announced some of those designs would be in manufacture in India.

Mavenir has also been involved in the Evenstar project, and in 2020 said it had produced the first commercially available Evenstar RU, working with MTI. That design is a completely different design to the hardware platform that Meta has put together, Krishnamoorthy said.

Massive MIMO

Meta Connectivity has also invested in an advanced testing facility for mMIMO “helping OEMs build better products and accelerating time to market” in Austin, Texas. On its booth at FYUZ it was showing a Fujitsu FPGA-based 32TRX AAU. It was also hosting a Commscope Open RAN 5G M-MIMO O-RU reference design that combines active and passive antennas with a split-Architecture Concept.

Meta Connectivity’s parent today announced 11,000 job losses as founder and CEO Mark Zuckerburg said the company “shifted more of our resources onto a smaller number of high priority growth areas — like our AI discovery engine, our ads and business platforms, and our long-term vision for the metaverse.” It’s yet to be seen what impact that might have on the Meta Connectivity programme that has clearly invested heavily in these Open RAN platforms.