5G and flash controllers - the world has a data problem

19th November 2020
Joe Bush

Lena Harman of Hyperstone explains the role 5G can play as we continually ask our smartphones to do more.

Our phones do not have the processing speed or data storage to handle data-intensive tasks themselves. So, phones rely on offloading the work to cloud servers with the necessary processing power and access to vast amounts of information. Slow data rates and delays, or latency, during this offloading continue to limit mobile applications.

Another area where slow data rates and latency are to be avoided is medical applications. Quickly moving large amounts of data is particularly valuable for telemedicine. For example, rapid transfers can enable consultations via video. Sharing high resolution X-ray images or MRI scans to assist in remote diagnosis depends on fast transfer as well.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the world’s data problem. With people in lockdown, access to online resources has become even more critical for remote working, virtual meetings with friends, streaming videos, and online schooling.

5G to the rescue

A 5G, or fifth generation, cellular network can take on the world’s data problem because 5G networks can support both higher data rates and a greater number of connected devices. High data rates correspond to low latency in a 5G network. In addition, the high data rates enable the 5G network to handle high density connections among connected devices.

With its adoption for large scale private networks, 5G can fuel the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). It can enable communication between the machines on the factory floor and the higher level monitoring and management systems.

Both mobile data use improvements and new applications will emerge as 5G becomes ubiquitous. Some advances will be based on combining high-speed data with artificial intelligence (AI). Like the IoT, AI is experiencing explosive growth. Similar algorithms that use machine learning techniques can identify faces in photographs, translate between languages, and make recommendations based on past behaviour. In the consumer sector, we have already seen the widespread use of AI in intelligent assistants such as Siri and Alexa.

5G’s stringent technical requirements

While 5G is a new communications infrastructure that has exciting implications for mobile applications, its infrastructure has to meet very demanding technical requirements, particularly in flash memory.

The 5G infrastructure needs a large number of base stations for signal transmission. Mobile base stations are installed at remote locations outdoors all over the world, from Greenland to the Sahara Desert. Many base stations are not easily accessible. When upgrades or repairs are needed the travel time alone could exceed the total allotted time, even before diagnoses and repairs take place.

Base stations need to provide 24/7 operation with service level agreements (SLAs) specifying 99.999% availability, which corresponds to a maximum down-time of only 53 minutes a year. A single failure requiring a service technician could mean that target is not met.

Base stations typically boot from embedded USB (eUSB) flash drives. The unexpected loss of power must not result in data loss or corruption that could prevent the system from rebooting when power is restored. Therefore, the flash drives must be robust enough to withstand power failures.

Reliable operation is also essential for manufacturing environments. These systems must meet quality of service (QoS) standards similar to those of public mobile communication networks.

Meeting the demands of 5G

Hyperstone’s flash controllers are ideally suited for 5G’s reliability and consistency requirements. Not surprisingly, Hyperstone flash controllers have a significant part to play in the 5G roll-out.

Any unanticipated power loss must not cause data loss or corruption that could keep the system from rebooting when power is restored, so Hyperstone controllers use several mechanisms to protect against this. For example, supply voltages are continuously monitored; if they fall below a critical threshold, all pending writes to the flash memory are performed to ensure that no data is lost.

Additional features make Hyperstone’s flash controllers more adapted to challenging working conditions. For example, they provide high levels of reliability over the lifetime of the device with advanced error correction. In addition, sophisticated algorithms for wear levelling and other essential background tasks help maximise flash storage device life. Another critical feature of Hyperstone’s flash controller is low power consumption, important for those base stations which depend on back-up battery power to cover power outages. Every watt counts when the objective is to maximise battery life.

Lastly, Hyperstone controllers are available as industrial-grade devices to guarantee reliable operation over the required temperature range.

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