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Baseband chipset runs multiple broadband nets

Posted: 21 May 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multimode baseband? DSP? broadband network?

Chip designer Wavesat presents a new multicore DSP architecture capable of handling baseband processing for multiple broadband networks. The Odyssey 8500 can tackle WiMAX Wave 2, 802.11bg and next-generation personal handyphone networks. The company will add support for long-term evolution (LTE) cellular in its next generation.

"We believe multimode is where the market will go," said Vijay Dube, executive VP marketing, Wavesat. "SK Telecom is one of our investors, and it sees blanket 3G coverage with WiMAX's hot zones in Korea," he added.

The chip designer will supply the PHY software to handle the different networks on its bank of eight DSPs, using IEEE 802.21 specification for medium-independent handoff. The company licensed an audio DSP core it has modified to handle OFDM.

Most user programming will be handled by a 400MHz PowerPC core embedded on the Odyssey. The chip is made in a 90nm embedded DRAM process at IBM and includes 4Mbytes DRAM, eliminating the need for external memory.

"Odyssey can run WiMAX Wave 2 at speed and power consumption for as low as 100MHz and 150mW," said Dube. The chip is already sampling and will be in production later this year. It is being tested with carriers including Sprint and Vodaphone.

The potential for supporting both WiMAX and cellular is driving Wavesat's long-term targets. But for short-term, it also sees promise using its architecture for the next-generation personal handyphone system (PHS) that Japan carrier Willcom is expected to deploy in April 2009.

XG-PHS will bring OFDM to the handyphone system; cranking up data rates to as high as 20Mbits/s, thanks to the use of 256 Quadrature amplitude modulation. "Its potential throughput is significantly better than WiMAX," said Dube.

"It appears that XG-PHS is only a nickel's worth of difference from WiMAX," said Will Strauss, principal market watcher, Forward Concepts, which is about to release a report on the technology. "It will be operating on Japan's new 2.5GHz spectrum set aside for WiMAX and similar broadband wireless network," he added.

"The technology upgrade could give PHS 'a brief spring,' in Japan," Strauss said. But he still projects that roughly about 5 million users in Japan and another 88 million in China will decline as users move to cellular nets.

"PHS peaked at 100 million users, most of them in China," said Sam Endy, general manager, division of Atheros Communications, which sells PHS chips to China.

Endy expects the PHS systems to decline rapidly with China's telecom business restructuring that focuses on cellular. "Atheros has not yet decided it if will provide chips for the XG-PHS system in Japan that would address a current subscriber base of about 5 million PHS users," he added.

"I believe that with the next-generation technology and modest upgrade costs, the PHS service will grow in Japan," Endy said. "Willcom may also try to export the technology to other markets," he added. Oki, and possibly Toshiba and Hitachi, will make chips for XG-PHS.

The WiMAX market Wavesat targets is small but growing at about 52 percent on a compound annual basis, with Forward Concepts expecting sales to rise from $75 million last year to about $618 million in 2012. However, Strauss noted that Wavesat is behind the curve of market leaders such as Sequans Communications that shipped Wave 2 silicon several months ago.

Overall, Strauss is optimistic on Wavesat's chances given the clout and maturity of existing baseband suppliers. "To compete with Qualcomm and other emerging companies in baseband chips, you need $100 million and three to four years of development, so Wavesat can't do this alone," he said.

The company expects to roll in mid-2009 an Odyssey 9000 that adds LTE to its list of networks. Strauss said he does not expect to see any major deployments of LTE until 2011.

- Rick Merrit
EE Times

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