NEW YORK – In response to various network operators’ diverging demands for small to large cells, Freescale Semiconductor and Texas Instruments are unveiling this week at the Mobile World Congress their respective visions for a “base station on a chip.”
Freescale is rolling out a scalable, multimode wireless base station processor family, dubbed QorIQ Qonverge. The new family of products, designed to scale from small cells (Femto and Pico) to large cells (Metro and Macro), share a common architecture consisting of Freescale’s proven multi-core communication processor, multi-core DSPs and baseband accelerators.
Freescale’s new baseband SoC is also playing a critical role in lightRadio technology, recently announced by Alcatel-Lucent. LightRadio technology, which Alcatel-Lucent is working on with Hewlett Packard and Freescale, is designed to help create mobile phone wireless base stations for carriers that are said to be "barely bigger than a golf ball.” Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of at Freescale’s networking and multimedia group, said, “Our new baseband SoC is in it.”
Texas Instruments, on the other hand, has developed a new multimode wireless base station chip, called TMS320TCI668, delivering “double the LTE performance of any existing 40nm SoC,” according to the company. TI has added hardware accelerators to the company’s recently announced base station SoC, called TCI6616. Both TCI6618 and TCI6616 use TSM320C66x – TI’s new DSP featuring floating point and fixed point math in every core.
Facing exponentially increasing data traffic, network operators have been scrambling to find new solutions to their networks.
Freescale’s Su put it bluntly. “Most operators can’t keep up with data traffic today.” Operators want network solutions that are “multi-mode” and “future proof,” she explained.
While the transition to LTE could help, LTEs are still in early stage, said Su, despite a number of trials. If operators are still building out a 3G network, they want that equipment “to be 4G capable,” she said.
In explaining the wireless network architecture’s current state of flux, she added: “Femto cells, deemed an ‘interesting solution’ six months ago, are now a part of the solution many operators are looking at.” Network operators want network architecture “optimized for cost, performance and capacity,” she added.
Many in the industry agree that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the wireless network architecture of tomorrow. “Everyone is designing their own vision of network architecture right now,” observed Brian Glinsman, general manager of TI’s communications infrastructure business. “Solutions proposed by equipment vendors are colored by their top five customers,” he added. This trend, in turn, influences semiconductor suppliers’ base station SoCs.
“Any operator who says they know what client devices will demand in flavors of 802.11, WiMax, LTE, various flavors of 4G...is lying, overly optimistic, or both!” noted Rick Doherty, co-founder and director, at The Envisioneering Group. “So the only sane survival method is build cell systems with agile software radio support until 4G ‘stratifies’ into clear winners... again, driven by the consumer, business and institutional device mix and demand.”
TI’s strategy is squarely focused on “spectral efficiency.” The new hardware acceleration integrated in the TCI6618 is responsible for handling the high numbers of bits flowing through base stations, while freeing the programmable DSP cores’ processing power to execute customer differentiation chores like scheduling and multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) antenna processing. TI claims the new TCI6618 enables gains “up to 40 percent spectral efficiency.”
By making TCI6618 pin and software compatible with TCI6616, TI offers customers flexibility in designing multimode base stations supporting all 2G, 3G and 4G standards, according to the company.
TI’s TCI6618 base-station SoC does not come with a RISC processor -- necessary for network processing. The company won’t be detailing such a base station SoC complete with a cluster of ARM cores until mid-2011. As an interim step, in collaboration with Azcom Technology, TI is offering a new 3G/4G small cell base station platform in the second quarter of 2011. The platform consists of TCI6616 SoC for PHY and Layer 2 processing; C6A8167 Integra DSP+ARM processor for Layer 3 processing; GC5330 transmit/receive processor for digital radio front-end processing; and NaviLink 6.0 solution GPS for clock synchronization. “We are offering such a platform now so that developers can start writing code,” explained Glinsman.
In contrast, Freescale’s plan is to start offering a family of base station processors integrated with their proven network processor.