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4G/LTE chips launch comes with little chaos

Posted: 25 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:4G? LTE? wireless industry? WiMAX? processor?

The CTIA wireless show will display how earnestly the wireless industry has applied itself to moving to 4G LTE/WiMAX cellular networks!including learning more in detail Sprint Nextel's plans for its WiMAX mobile phones.

But be warned. Much of the WiMAX/LTE solutions on display at the show are still point solutions. This represents a prelude to the chaos and confusion which, in the coming months, many technology vendors will be busy unraveling.

In the transition to WiMAX/LTE, however, one thing will be clear to everyone. There's no going back to business as (it was) usual.

Gone are the days when baseband chip vendors could continuously hold onto their existing 3G/2G solutions!many of them hard-wired. On the horizon is the industry's growing appetite for DSPs!specifically designed to run software-defined radio (SDR).

At least, that's the operative theory for CEVA, a DSP core intellectual property supplier.

In a recent interview with EE Times, Gideon Wertheizer, CEVA's CEO, said, "What you need for LTE basebands is a special-purpose communication DSP, not a conventional general-purpose DSP." CEVA has been pitching the company's new CEVA-XC communications processor, designed to deliver programmability and performance required by basebands in 4G LTE/WiMAX cellular networks.

Many of today's popular baseband solutions are likely to get swapped out in LTE handsets. This is because "there are no current 3G baseband chips for handsets that have the 'horsepower' to handle a full LTE capability!to my knowledge," said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts.

How to handle LTE stacks is a big challenge for many baseband chip suppliers. But an even bigger problem, in deploying LTE in handsets, is how well new LTE basebands are architected!in terms of power consumption, die size and cost!to handle the legacy 3G/2G protocols. After all, LTE basebands must be able to fall back to 3G and 2G voice and data operation.

Several semiconductor companies are working on new LTE baseband solutions combined with their current 3G/2G baseband!either in the form of a co-processor or a chipset.

CEVA, however, doesn't think that will cut it. The company believes it's time to put a spotlight back on SDR to handle not just LTE, but also all the different permutations of 3G/2G basebands used in different parts of the world.

LTE, WiMAX embrace SDR
"The SDR approach has gotten traction in LTE and WiMAX designs," observed Joe Byrne, senior analyst at The Linley Group Inc.

Besides CEVA, other DSP-IP suppliers such as Tensilica and NXP (CoolFlux) have landed customers for their DSPs, according to Byrne. "ST-Ericsson is using a DSP derived from an NXP design used in some of its 3G chips," he added.

There are technical reasons why industry players are pulling for SDR in the LTE basebands market.

"From a design standpoint, OFDM and MIMO processing are well suited to vector processing," said Byrne.

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