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TI DSPs power femtocell field trials

Posted: 03 Dec 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:femtocell? base station? 3G field trial? DSP?

Texas Instruments Inc. has revealed that major OEMs are using its DSPs in on-going field trials of the home base stations or 3G access point business.

The company believes its processors are integrated into about 50 percent of the home base stations currently shipped across different standards and being trialed by mobile network operators in Europe, the United States and the Far East. These include Softbank, Verizon, AT&T and Vodafone.

"We have been very silent about our involvement with OEMs and success rate so far, and we still maintain that real volumes for chipmakers and OEMs are some way off, in 2010 and beyond," Josef Alt, TI's communications infrastructure business development manager for Europe told EE Times Europe.

TI's roll call of customers is an impressive one, and includes Samsung, Huawei, Airvana, ZTE and Airhop.

Alt also revealed TI has joined the Femto Forum, becoming one of the few chip companies in the industry body promoting and supporting unified femto specifications and feeding into standards bodies such as the 3GPP. picoChip and RadioFrame were the only chip design and development related founding members of the organization in mid-2007, since then Lime Microsystems and Percello have also joined. TI's decision should be a major bonus for the organization and its standardization efforts.

TI is pushing its DSP based approach, which Alt maintains offers a flexible, cost effective and programmable solution, "which gives us a founding for future optimized and tightly integrated solutions once the standards are bedded down and volumes begin to accelerate.

The business is not yet ready for a hard-coded, optimized solution, so making use of existing proven products, such as our C6x+ based platform, used by the biggest players in the wireless infrastructure business, makes sense."

Design wins
At this week's U.S Femtocells conference in Dallas, Texas, TI will be pushing its TCI6484 DSP and software solution for early entrants into the market. The part has been designed for use in a wide range of wireless applications and will thus have huge economies of scale, suggests Alt, especially next year when it will be made in volume using a 65nm process.

Observers will be surprised at TI's claim to have won 50 percent of the slots in currently deployed home femtocell base stations. picoChip Designs for instance, which is one of the major players in the field, claims its silicon is in many of the OEMs supplying operators with units.

picoChip and otherssuch as RadioFrame, Percello and Design Art Networksdeveloping silicon for the nascent femtocells business, have from the start followed a somewhat different approach to TI, developing optimized SoCs as the processor of choice.

Alt stressed TI's DSPs support all major 2G/3G and 4G solutions including GSM, CDMA, W-CDMA, TD-SCDMA, WiMAX and LTE, and that the TCI6484 offers both MAC and PHY processing without external ASICs or FPGAs. The programmable device allows for field firmware upgrades. TI is also working with leading femtocell software company Continuous Computing to port its L2/L3 software stack to the TCI6484.

Asked about the viability of including the analog elements into a digital SoC targeting femtocells, Alt suggested: "This is certainly technically possible. Practically, however, one may end up in having a two chip solution, one integrating analog and the other all the digital content. The reason for having two devices is cost. I do believe it will be cheaper to have analog and digital in separate chips."

Analysts are also wary of the timescales involved in rolling out commercial femtocells. Earlier this year Heavy Reading conducted a survey of 111 service provider professionals, primarily in technical, network planning, or strategy roles, to ascertain their views on femtocell technology and potential deployment strategies.

"We'll see some early launches in 2009, but the critical period will be the second-half of 2010 and into 2011. 38 percent of respondents said that they planned to launch services by the end of 2010, and 33 percent said their commercial femtocell launches were scheduled for 2011 or later.

"Operators are positive on femtocell for coverage extension and advanced applications, but these timescales show that operators have yet to iron out in their deployment strategies, from the business case to technical issues like interference management, standardization, service provisioning, and OSS/BSS integration," noted Gabriel Brown, senior analyst at Heavy Reading.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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