Case study for the Argon Design project for Neul. – Electronic design services with Argon Design Ltd.

Whitespace Basestation - Broadband and M2M (Weightless)

Skill sets used

Embedded products, Electronic engineering, FPGA logic, Software engineering, Product definition, Business advantage

The Challenge

Neul (world leaders in TV Whitespace solutions), contracted Argon Design to develop an electronic motherboard for their next generation radio basestation, enabling connectivity for both Rural Broadband and Machine to Machine (M2M) using the global standard - "Weightless".

The motherboard requirements were highly complex. The client remit demanded that our solution be 'right first time' in order to meet both production schedules and production quality. In addition our solution had to be cost effective to manufacture, testable, and designed for high reliability.

Finally we were tasked to produce a standalone test firmware image to fully verify all subsystems and connectivity on the board.

The main design goals were:

  • Complex board design using 4 large FPGAs as well as an ARM SoC, data converters and external peripherals all with large amounts of connectivity between them.
  • Must be cost effective to manufacture
  • Must be a production quality design
  • Must be "right first time" to meet ambitious timescales

Our Approach

Argon Design worked closely with Neul in the initial stages of specification to offer engineering guidance and suggestions for the implementation. In addition, we steered the development and made sure all aspects of the design had been carefully considered (manufacturability, testability, EMC compliance, thermal issues, electrical design).

Specific targets for the design were for a single sided component placement to reduce cost and to allow low cost bed of nails, probing from one side only.

Furthermore, it was mandatory to keep the PCB technology simple (4 "thou" track and gap minimum, through vias only).

Throughout the project, Argon Design worked closely with the contract electronics manufacturer in order to ensure the board was designed to provide high fault coverage during bare board test (using bed of nails and JTAG) and the ability to pinpoint failures accurately.

The board was designed leveraging our extensive experience in designing complex digital systems. Argon Design also produced test firmware in order to confirm a high level of confidence in the design, as well as to stress test the system. Our experience and understanding of what 'can' go wrong, helped to create a comprehensive test suite and to prove our 'right first time' design.

The Outcome

The first batch of delivered boards was tested and worked first time. Neul were able to take delivery of fully tested and 100% working boards, allowing immediate placement into the production system.

This Whitespace basestation product is now being shipped in volume across the globe. For a concise overview on the enormous benefits of the M2M Weightless standard, please see our Thought Leadership article or see a Video Series with other Weightless champions.

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