Kevin Schoenrock, President of OpenRF: What benefits can OpenRF bring to the industry chain

The goal of OpenRF is to provide an open source framework to standardize hardware and software interfaces without restricting innovation, while bringing full flexibility to 5G equipment original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to maximize time-to-market, cost, performance and supply chain advantages. OEMs can choose interoperable best-in-class solutions from a multi-vendor ecosystem while using the same RF front-end on any 5G baseband.

The goal of OpenRF is to provide an open source framework to standardize hardware and software interfaces without restricting innovation, while bringing full flexibility to 5G equipment original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to maximize time-to-market, cost, performance and supply chain advantages. OEMs can choose interoperable best-in-class solutions from a multi-vendor ecosystem while using the same RF front-end on any 5G baseband.

A few days ago, Microwave Magazine interviewed Kevin Schoenrock, president of OpenRF, to answer a series of questions about OpenRF.

What is the OpenRF Alliance? What is the meaning of establishment?

OpenRF is an industry consortium of multiple global chipset manufacturers and RF front-end suppliers to create a functionally interoperable 5G ecosystem across multi-mode RF front-end and chipset platforms. We founded OpenRF in response to customer demand for an open architecture that enables 5G OEMs to take advantage of time-to-market, cost, performance and supply chain advantages. We fundamentally believe that industry (and more importantly consumers) will benefit from innovations enabled by standardized hardware and software interfaces in open frameworks. OpenRF will help accelerate the 5G device ecosystem and expand the ecosystem with new suppliers.

What are your goals and timelines in each area?

OpenRF has established five working groups that will develop frameworks to standardize hardware and software interfaces.

Working Group 1: Focus on the register map framework, leveraging industry standards to maximize RF front-end configurability and effectiveness.

Working Group 2: Software API will develop a common hardware abstraction layer (HAL) to enhance transceiver/modem and RF front-end interfaces.

Working Group 3: Hardware RF Front Ends/RFICs will enable differentiation while maximizing the chipset’s common hardware interface features and capabilities.

Working Group 4: RF Power Management will define and develop an industry-leading approach to RF power management.

Working Group 5: Compliance will develop a program to support a robust ecosystem of interoperable RF front-end and chipset platforms.

The first OpenRF Release 1 specification is planned for the second quarter of this year. In this first release, we will outline the software framework for register mapping, HAL design capabilities, and initial general hardware functions and definitions.

Kevin Schoenrock, President of OpenRF: What benefits can OpenRF bring to the industry chain
Source: OpenRF Alliance

Why did you choose to standardize in these various areas, and do you want to expand into other areas?

The OpenRF working group has been adapted to create a robust software and hardware framework that can be certified to address core compatibility issues for 5G device OEMs. Currently, we do not have any plans to expand into other areas.

Who are the member companies currently and do you want other companies to join?

Founding members of OpenRF include Broadcom, Intel, MediaTek, Murata, Qorvo, Skyworks and Samsung. OpenRF is open to wireless device chipsets, RFFEs, OEM suppliers and companies in related industries.

What benefits will OpenRF bring to the industry?

OpenRF enables wireless device OEMs to benefit from a selection of RF front-ends across the chipset platform, delivering lower cost, highest performance, reduced time-to-market and optimized inventory.

R&D savings: OpenRF will establish basic building blocks and common interfaces that OEMs can leverage, thereby channeling their R&D spending towards differentiation. By using the OpenRF framework, industry analyst firm Mobile Experts reports that OEMs, RF front-end suppliers and modem suppliers can save $900 million annually in R&D.

Kevin Schoenrock, President of OpenRF: What benefits can OpenRF bring to the industry chain
Source: “OpenRF: Focusing on Differentiation to Drive Advanced Technologies” White Paper, Mobility Expert

Time to market: OpenRF reduces the risk of surprises during product development and testing. It supports reuse of control elements and setup guidelines for the RF front end, essentially pre-qualifying the modem-to-RF interface and allowing OEMs to bring their products to market faster. The timing of our specification release also depends on chipset and component supplier development cycle lead times.

Economies of Scale/Optimized Inventory: OpenRF aims to simplify inventory management for semiconductor and OEM companies by reducing the need for custom RF front-end functionality across platforms, simplifying plug-and-play interoperability. “Economies of scale” can be saved by simplifying hardware as well as software and qualification support.

Future innovation: OpenRF will develop a framework for systematic innovation among members. By establishing common interfaces, HALs, basic hardware components, and terminology developers accelerated the pace of development and focused R&D efforts on improving system performance. This requires information sharing among industry stakeholders, and open industry organizations such as OpenRF can facilitate information sharing.

Open systems guarantee interoperability and reduce time to market, but how will companies continue their product innovation?

By their very nature, industry standards aim to enable ecosystems by standardizing functions and interfaces that enable a robust, multi-vendor ecosystem of interoperable solutions. If we look at one of the world’s most well-known industry standards – USB. Consumers can choose from an unlimited number of different products while knowing that their device will work with any console. OpenRF doesn’t tell our member companies how their hardware, widgets, or software should be built, nor does it ask for functionality. Instead, we are creating standard interfaces, software flexibility and basic hardware modules that enable our members to customize and optimize their products while ensuring interoperability across the ecosystem.

Will standard products sacrifice RF system performance to some extent?

Actually the opposite. We will provide basic frameworks and hooks in software and hardware to enable advanced feature sets about how devices interact. By removing challenges and investing in compatibility, coupled with a flexible software platform, we allow our customers and members to focus on device performance.

How does OpenRF get established standards from the industry?

Comprising most of the major industry players, OpenRF was founded on the need for an open architecture by leading OEMs. We are working to build a strong base of founding members, including other RFICs, RFFEs, operators and test members, and develop an influential group of strategic advisors to ensure we are helping to solve challenges in the industry.

What milestones do you hope to accomplish by the end of 2021

By the end of the year, we plan to continue building our membership, including a strong strategic advisory board comprised of OEM customers in the mobile, automotive and IoT sectors. This group will provide valuable insights into client needs that will help guide our workgroup deliverables. By the end of the year, we will publish at least two specification revisions from the software and hardware working groups, including the compliance framework. We expect the first OpenRF products to be available during 2H 2022.

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