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.
Actually the DSP cores do not really do all the heavy processing. For some of the key algorithms you have MAPLE (in case of Freescale); it is like you have your custom ASIC on SOC. From my point of view the strength of the solution is the integration of power, accelerator and DSP in the same SOC enabling smaller size and less power. The competition between base-station providers will move more into the RF and antenna components part..
Base-station providers can make their own SOC but I just want to see who has the money and time to do this sort of staff…
In terms of FPGA, they will be around in solutions as long as there is no common interface from ADCs to DSPs. Still hope that JESD 204 will be supported someday… or any other..
I believe the FPGA players have a challenge defending their base station position because their chips cost so much. Moving to CPU+DSP SoCs should be able to reduce the semiconductor bill of materials by something like **90%**.
Very good write up.
"Freescale is rolling out a scalable, multimode wireless base station ....designed to scale from small cells (Femto and Pico) .... "
the Femto cell referred here is what Qualcomm also is after??? Can you please also write on where does Qualcomm stand in this race?
Very good write up. We in Epigon (www.epigon.in) use Virtex 5 FPGA for OFDM Phy. For higher bandwidth ( may be higher side of 1.5 mbps), we found even Virtex 5 not able to provide computing resources. My question is : How much bandwidth processing cab be done in these two DSP's ( from TI and Freescale). In a sense, is it possible to mod and demod more then 2 mbps OFDM phy in the above DSP's. In case yes, then epigon will be happy to migrate from FPGA's to DSP's. For low bandwidth Modems we use TI5510 DSP and Blackfin DSP. you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I think KB3001 does have a point; FPGA guys are also trying to get into the base station market by replacing DSP and Microprocessor functionalities. But what determines the winner in the end is not the hardware functionalities; but credible tools and ecosystem they can offer on the network equipment market.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.