SAN JOSE, Calif. – Broadcom announced its first integrated chips for cellular base stations at the Mobile World Congress, targeting the market for small cells. Chip and systems vendors are scrambling for a foothold in the emerging but challenging sector expected to see first deployments in 2014.
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 startup pioneering distributed antenna systems (DAS), a forerunner of small cells. His startup 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.