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Broadcom debuts small cell SoC

Posted: 27 Feb 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:small cells? base stations? Wi-Fi? femtocells? baseband?

Broadcom has joined the small cell base station fray with the introduction of its first femtocell chip with an integrated digital baseband processor and RF transceiver.

Small cells are widely seen as the answer to the flood of mobile data congesting today's traditional macro base stations. But creating a new tier of cells that use a mix of 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi links is a costly and complex task that carriers are still testing this year in trials.

Initial deployments will probably start next year, focusing on High Speed Packet Access nets, which form the brunt of most carrier traffic today, said Hanna Maurer Sibley, a director of mobile broadband at Ericsson. Unfortunately so far each carrier seems to have different requirements, she added.

Last year, carriers used the Super Bowl, London Olympics and the U.S. Republican and Democratic national conventions as testing grounds for small-cell concepts. AT&T put out a request for information on small cells, and Sprint has shared some plans for the approach.

Small cells pose challenges for carriers in managing both licensed (cellular) and unlicensed (Wi-Fi) spectrum in cells. They also need to support a range of wireless and fibre-optic backhaul links.

The need to install more fibre carries regulatory and cost hurdles, said John Georges, who led a start-up pioneering distributed antenna systems (DAS), a forerunner of small cells. His start-up installed as many as 10,000 DAS devices in the United States. Japan and Korea also have deployed early versions of small cells, he said.

The promise of a market for four to eight small cells for every macro base station has chip and system vendors scrambling for position. Freescale and Texas Instruments rolled new SoC architectures for small cells last year, and LSI announced its own recently, following an industry trend of shifting to ARM cores.

In the competition for customers, LSI claims Nokia Siemens Networks will use its new Axxia chips. TI said China's ZTE has adopted its Keystone SoCs for 3G/4G small cells. Freescale is working with The Technology Partnership, which is building small cells using TV white-space spectrum.

There's also a scramble to create small-cell ecosystems. Broadcom partnered with Radisys, which is contributing its LTE software to Broadcom's reference designs. The chip maker also rolled out its own integrated development platform.

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