BARCELONA – Freescale Semiconductor, Texas Instruments and LSI Corp. are competing head-to-head with new integrated 28 nm base station processors as the Mobile World Congress opens here. All three are attacking the lucrative high end of the infrastructure business.
TI announced its first base station chip to use the ARM Cortex A15 core. Freesacale countered with an SoC using Starcore DSPs it claims beat TI’s C66x cores. LSI rolled its first multi-core PowerPC device with embedded security and Layer 2 switching and said it will license the ARM A15 for use in products starting next year.
Ironically, the big growth in base stations is expected to come from a wide range of small cell base stations still being defined. LSI has yet to release chips for this emerging segment, but Freescale and TI have existing parts that address it.
The moves come at a time when a rising tsunami of smartphones and tablets is flooding wireless carrier networks with mobile data. Carriers are moving in many directions at once to keep up, but some say the pace is not nearly fast enough.
TI announced the TCI6636, the first of a planned family of parts based on a second-generation of its Keystone architecture. The new chip shifts from 40 nm ARM A8 to 28 nm A15 cores.
The chip comes in versions with a total of up to 32 ARM and c66x DSP cores, compared to a max of eight A8 and DSP cores in the prior generation. Low end versions dissipate about 20W, high-end chips have up to 18 Mbytes memory
TI will initially release three members of the family. They range from a part targeting HSPA+ systems for small cells that support up to 64 users to a carrier-grade device supporting 40 MHz LTE-Advanced channels for up to 256 users.
The chips integrate a mix of packet-processing functions as well as Layer 1-3 antenna, Ethernet and serial RapidIO switching. Clusters of the chips can power high-end base stations.
Freescale’s new QorIQ B4860 uses dual-threaded Power e6500 cores with an 128-bit Altivec SIMD unit. The SoC also includes dual-threaded 1.2 GHz SC3900 Starcore DSP cores that execute up to eight instructions per cycle.
The Freescale DSP cores hit 37.46 on the BDTIsimMark 2000 benchmark, outperforming 1.5 GHz versions of the TI c66x that weigh in at 20.03 on the benchmark.
The B4860 supports from 5 to 60 MHz channels, covering GSM and WCDMA to LTE-Advanced networks. It includes accelerators for a handful of Layer 1 and 2 transport, security and MIMO antenna functions.
The chip will sample by June and be in production early next year. Freescale plans to announce soon lower-end versions for so-called metro base stations.
For its part, LSI announced the AXM2500, its first base station part to support integrated security and Gbit and 10Gbit Ethernet switching. Versions of the device cost less than $50 and dissipate less than 10W with all functions turned on.
The AXM2500 uses PowerPC 476FP cores running at greater than a GHz. The chip is about to tape out with sampling expected by June.
“We see it used in Gbit ring aggregation, transport cards in base stations and in line card traffic management for CPU edge routers,” said Tareq Bustami, a product line director in LSI’s networking group.
LSI has licensed the ARM A15 core for use in its next-generation products and ASICs. The company expects to roll PowerPC and A15 SoCs in parallel, Bustami said. He suggested the A15 is a more efficient core but “we have other PowerPC solutions on the road map,” he said.
Other chip vendors are also angling for sockets in base stations. For example, Cavium Networks plans to show at Mobile World Congress (MWC) versions of its Octeon Fusion family running LTE base station functions at full bandwidth.
At MWC, Alcatel-Lucent claims it has a 6 month lead with working small cells in trials with multiple carriers. However the LTE small cells are still not small enough and the 3G ones still lack a Wi-Fi module.
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