Samsung debuts 5G chipsets to power next-gen network gear

Samsung on Tuesday debuted three new 5G chipsets for next-generation radio access network (RAN) gear, as the vendor continues its push in the infrastructure space.

The portfolio includes a third-generation millimeter wave Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit (RFIC) chip, a second-generation 5G modem system-on-a-chip (SoC) and a new Digital Front End-RFIC integrated chip both supporting sub-6 GHz and mmWave spectrum bands.

They’re powering Samsung’s next 5G Compact Macro, Massive MIMO radios and baseband units, which will be available in 2022.

Anshel Sag, senior analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, told Fierce that while Samsung’s semiconductors all have a different place in the market, one thing that stands out is they’re all homegrown by the South Korean vendor.

“They do a really good job continuing to cement Samsung’s leadership in 5G, whether it be infrastructure on the edge or on the radio or on the RFIC,” Sag said of the new chipsets.

In the 3G days Samsung wasn’t as much of a competitor in the infrastructure space and remained largely in South Korea during 4G, he said, but has gained ground in 5G. Samsung’s won business in the U.S., including a more than $6 billion network deal with Verizon, and scored a recent win in Europe with Vodafone. It’s also had success in markets like Japan, Canada, and New Zealand.

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Samsung also is a leading smartphone maker and committed billions for 5G networking R&D. Sag thinks the combined in-house capabilities provide an advantage, as other infrastructure players may outsource or partner with chipmakers like Qualcomm.

“Samsung has the ability to have its own complete ecosystem,” he said, noting the handset division can work much more closely with the networks business and share capabilities that may not yet even be standardized.

“And now with 5G you’re seeing Samsung is very competitive with the likes of Ericsson and Nokia,” Sag said. “One of the reasons is their smartphone business and their semiconductor business and their fab business have all grown and become much more capable.”

As of now he still sees Samsung primarily playing in the millimeter wave space as an alternative to others, but believes C-band deployments ahead provide a big opportunity for all vendors.

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Verizon has already started installing C-band gear from Ericsson and Samsung, while AT&T recently completed a field trial call over C-band using commercial equipment from Nokia.

“C-band will most likely be the most competitive band for all the infrastructure vendors to compete for business, because C-band is kind of very similar to what we’re already seeing in the 3.5 GHz band globally” so equipment is likely to be similar, Sag noted. That means some opportunity but also more players vying for wins alongside Samsung.

In 2020, Samsung ranked number five in the global RAN market, with revenue share between 5% and 10%, according to Dell’Oro Group.  

Power and size key features

As for the new chipsets, Samsung highlighted benefits such as reduced size and better power savings and increased output.

Its second-gen 5G modem SoC will enable its upcoming baseband to have twice the capacity and half of the power consumption over the previous generation, and supports beamforming for Massive MIMO radio and mmWave 5G units.  

On the mmWave RFIC front, Samsung’s first-generation debuted in 2017 and supported Verizon’s initial launch of 5G fixed wireless home broadband service. It was later embedded in the 5G Compact Macro mmWave 5G NR radio, now deployed in the U.S.

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For the latest RFIC, Sag cited support for both 28 GHz and 39 GHz spectrum bands as key and sees it as “table stakes at this point.” Verizon, a Samsung customer, has a significant amount of mmWave in both bands.

According to Samsung’s announcement, for the mmWave RFIC, advanced chip technology reduces antenna size by 50%, to maximize interior space. That reduction is “really considerable,” according to Sag, as space is an important factor particularly for mmWave, which requires more network density to provide service with the high-band signals.

“There’s going to need to be more of these [mmWave] deployments and they’re going to have to be as minimally invasive as possible,” he said. Because of that, “power and size are the most important innovations that [Samsung] would be delivering with these new chipsets and radios.”

Samsung’s DFE-RFIC chip combines functions for both mmWave and sub-6 GHz bands. It promises to double the frequency bandwidth, alongside greater power output, and smaller size for gear, including the 5G Compact Macro.

The combo of mmWave and sub-6 GHz is something Sag believes needs to happen across the industry to minimize size and deployment costs.

“I think you’re starting to see it with everybody, but Samsung might be more at the front end of that because they have more flexibility,” he noted. “This in many cases is their first deployment, so they can tailor their solution a little bit more to what the customer wants, rather than trying to fix to what their existing deployment is already.”