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Freescale enters small-cell base stations market

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:small-cell? base stations? picocells? femto cells?

Many cellular operators today are into a series of 4G trials to upgrade their current 3G network infrastructure's Quality of Service. Freescale Semiconductor Inc., on the other hand, is focused on testing wireless small-cell base stations designed primarily for picocells and femto cells.

By using the company's QorIQ Qonverge family of processors, Freescale developed the new SoCsdubbed as QorIQ Qonverge PSC9130/31 and PSC9132to be used for high-bandwidth and low-power baseband applications in LTE (FDD/TDD), WCDMA (HSPA+) and WiMAX base stations.

How big a market global demand for small-cell base stations may create remains unclear. But the competition among chip suppliers is already heating up. Freescale's move closely follows Texas Instruments Inc. (TI), which announced just two months earlier its own small-cell base station SoCs designed for metro, pico and enterprise base stations.

Freescale's new SoCs, which share a common architecture with those used in metro and macro base stations, are based on Freescale's multicore communication processor, multicore DSPs and baseband accelerators. The QorIQ Qonverge PSC9130/31 SoCs are for femto cells, supporting performance and cost requirements for 8 to 16 simultaneous users. Freescale's QorIQ Qonverge PSC913, meanwhile, is designed for multimode picocell base stations, supporting up to 64 simultaneous users.

Cellular operators today, in the current 3G network infrastructure, are using small-cell base stations sparingly, "mainly to improve Quality of Service," said Scott Aylor, director and general manager of Freescale's wireless access division. But once operators upgrade their network to LTE, "small-cell base stations won't be an afterthought," he added. "In 4G networks, small cells will become a key part of their network architecture design."

Operators' expectations
However, Joseph Byrne, a senior analyst at The Linley Group, remained cautious. "I know the operators are looking at small base stations for LTE, but it is unclear how committed they are, and whether deployments would extend to residential femto cells."

As they build their own LTE network infrastructure, wireless operators are grappling with the right mix of small cells, their features, throughput and the number of users each small-cell base station SoC should support.

If there is one thing SoC vendors could do to cope with this array of variables, it would be keeping their products flexible and scalable.

The Linley Group's Bryne stressed that "A key requirement for the base stations is cost, which directly impacts the chip suppliers. The ones that can reduce system cost (e.g., through integration) will be in a better position."

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