By Ernest Worthman…
As the small cell segment of the market continues to gain traction for real deployments in 2015, the industry is seeing an increased number of players getting in the game, as well as watching the expected players ramp up.
Latest offerings from the technology plate are what is being referred to as “multi-standard” cells. This is the next step in taking the present cache of Wi-Fi technology-only small cells and integrating them into cellular radio platforms. So what this new evolution of small cells looks like is that now the carrier is developing and deploying small cells with integrated Wi-Fi.
AT&T recently came out with a statement that the small cell component of their Project VelocityIP initiative will all be Wi-Fi enabled. Alcatel-Lucent, who is another frontrunner in the small cell/Wi-Fi integration game with its lightRadio, said it will integrate Wi-Fi solutions from Qualcomm and Motorola into its multi-standard metrocells.
Freescale has a small cell solution called QorIQ Qonverge that supports Wi-Fi integration but the present position of the company is not to integrate a Wi-Fi radio but to give OEMs more flexibility in deployments. Stephen Turnbull, director of marketing at Freescale’s digital networking division, says that customers regularly deploy Wi-Fi in implementations based on Qonverge in their networks. He further goes on to say that the reason Freescale doesn’t incorporate the RF integrated circuit (RFIC) is because not all applications demand it and the radio’s RFIC capacity does not always match the baseband’s capacity. Their approach allows for better customer flexibility cost options.
Their position is that within this rapidly changing small cell world, chip designers have to look at a number of options to meet customers’ needs. Having a menu of chip designs optimizes flexibility and time-to-market as mobile operators look for increased integration of small cells and Wi-Fi.
Another player, Qualcomm, recently launched its FSM99xx small cell chipset, which can host Wi-Fi at Layer 3. “We have two PCIE ports which can support Wi-Fi radios, and then we can aggregate and integrate the traffic at Layer 3,” said Nick Karter, vice president of business development and product management at Qualcomm Atheros. “The important thing about the fact that we are hosting at Layer 3 is that you can integrate the traffic and do connection management.”
There are a number of other players, such as Texas Instruments, who are staging for Wi-Fi integration into their chipset, using various options but are taking more of a conservative approach to keep their options open and not create hard devices that could lock them out of potential designs. For them, Wi-Fi integration is a bit further down the road.
However, to keep their toes dipped in the small cell arena, TI has upped the 3G/4G ante with its TCI6630K2L system-on-chip, which is a 28-nanometer chip that can support dozens of 3G and/or 4G connections and is targeted at the small cell market.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cells magazine. He can be reached at AGL Media Group