TI rolls out SoCs for small cell base stations

TI rolls out SoCs for small cell base stations

Junko Yoshida

6/20/2011 8:01 AM EDT


Texas Instruments is launching two new SoCs, both designed for metro, pico and enterprise base stations.

NEW YORK – In response to network operators’ growing desire to build more ubiquitous cellular coverage, Texas Instruments is rolling out two new SoCs, both designed for metro, pico and enterprise base stations.

At the advent of smartphones, consumers’ appetite for mobile data in a public space is exploding.

Network operators, particularly in the United States, are scrambling to fill the gaps in their cellular networks, explained Brian Glinsman, general manager, communications infrastructure, DSP systems group at TI.
According to the latest IDC market report earlier this month, vendors will ship a total of 472 million smartphones in 2011 compared to roughly 305 million units shipped in 2010. That figure will approach one billion units by the end of 2015.
Leveraging small cells is one of the answers for many network operators trying to cope with such fast-growing data usage. Their assumption is that by creating a much denser mobile network closer to the point of use, users will get better data performance.
While the share of small cell base stations remains negligible, “it will grow to be roughly 20 percent of the overall base station market in the next three to five years,” predicted TI’s Glinsman.
TI hopes to intercept that burgeoning demand by rolling out TCI6612 and TCI6614 SoCs, designed for small cells.

Both SoCs come with production-ready software.

TI claims them to offer the highest performing devices available for small cells. Both chips will be sampling in the third quarter of this year.
The new SoCs consist of a mix of processing elements including radio accelerators, network and security coprocessors, combined fixed-and floating-point digital signal processors and an ARM RISC processor.

They are designed to offer foundation for layers 1, 2 and 3 and transport processing for high performance small cell base stations.
Both SoCs use TI’s C667x DSP family based on its KeyStone multicore architecture, integrating both fixed and floating point capabilities in its multicore DSP. Under the architecture, a multicore navigator ensures that the DSP core can maximize the throughput of on-chip data flows and eliminates the possibility of bottlenecks.
Dual mode
Noting that there is no one-size-fits-all chip for small cell base stations, since operators’ network needs and configurations vary, TI’s Glinsman laid out how the two SoCs can be used in different scenarios.

The TCI6612, consisting of dual C66x DSP cores and ARM Cortex A8, can run one standard at a time – out of 2G, 3G, HSPA+ and LTE, while supporting 64 users.

On the other hand, the TCI6614, featuring quad C66x DSP cores and ARM Cortex-A8, offers simultaneous dual mode, meaning that it can run two standards at the same time –running both LTE and WCDMA simultaneously, for example. The chip can support 128 users, according to Glinsman, while providing advanced features such as advanced interference cancellation algorithms, and Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MIMO) for using multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to improve communication performance.
Last month, TI picked up Ubiquisys, the developer of 3G and LTE cells, as its partner for developing intelligent small cells. The plan is to develop an adaptive small cell that provides maximum performance and capacity, by combining TI’s proven carrier-grade infrastructure solutions with Ubiquisys’ adaptive and self-organizing capabilities, according to the two companies.
Both TI and Ubiquisys see that dual-mode WCDMA/LTE small cells can offer a number of advantages to mobile service providers preparing for unprecedented growth in mobile data consumption. The dual-mode small cells can “provide a smooth migration to LTE, whilst providing the near-term need for WCDMA capacity and maintaining support for voice services,” according to a Ubiquisys statement. “There are also significant power consumption and Capex advantages over separate systems.”
Operators’ needs
The network issues operators care about are many, but when it comes to metro, pico and enterprise small cell base stations, the number boils down to a handful.
According to Stéphane Téral, principal analyst at Infonetics Research, there are three key issues operators are battling with.  First, indoor coverage in large buildings, second, coverage of a large venue such as a convention center or a stadium during a major event gathering thousands of people – many trying to send SMS’s at the same time, and third, outdoor coverage in hotspot and dense areas such as Central London, Hong Kong Central, Singapore, Manhattan, etc., where smartphone usage is high, creating network congestion, Téral explained.
For each of these key issues, network operators are using a variety of cells and their base stations. Such definitions tend to get blurry. “Enterprise/femto” networks, for example, largely address the indoor coverage on an office floor by installing a WiFi box in a ceiling, explained TI’s Glinsman. Meanwhile, “pico” is often used for building coverage for hotels and a large campus. “Metro,” on the other hand, is for “spot coverage” in outdoors, for example, in one block in New York City. “This is where the interference management is the hardest,” said Glinsman. In Metro cells, base stations are attached to a lamp post or a building, and once the signal goes beyond spot coverage, it is handed off to “macro” cells.
As there exist many different network architectures (and separate devices for each), customers face more choices. The key to TI’s SoCs for small cells is that “software is totally portable,” said Glinsman. “Customers can move software back and forth.” The SoCs’ pin-compatibility also allows customers to “put more horse power when needed,” he added.

Competitive landscape on small cells

Infonetics’ Téral sees “Freescale, Picochip and TI as the most visible” in the market place, as they are “involved with major Radio Access Network (RAN) vendors in miniaturizing Base Transceiver Station (BTS).”

BTS is the networking component of a mobile communications system from which all signals are sent and received.
However, generally speaking on the LTE small cell/femtocell front, he added, “you have Altera, Picochip, DesignArt, Freescale, Mindspeed, Qualcomm, Texas Instrument, and Xilinx.”

What separates TI’s SoCs from others, though, is the scalability, noted Téral. “That’s one major difference.” TI’s SoC offerings can “scale from enterprise femto all the way up to macro,” noted.  “Another one is the number of users supported by the SoC.”