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Freescale develops small-cell SoC

11 Apr 2014  | Jessica Lipsky

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Freescale Semiconductor unveiled at its annual tradeshow an SoC for multi-standard wireless base stations developed in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent. The QorIQ Qonverge B4860 is designed for use in gear for dense urban areas where cellular data use can swamp traditional networks.

"We've gone through a pretty big transition in wireless from voice to data technology. Users are sending broadband traffic over wireless networks," said Mike Shabel, Alcatel-Lucent senior VP of small cells. "We'd basically need to put a cell tower every half football field to handle the volume, so we made [base stations] smaller."

The SoC supports 20MHz of bandwidth, targeting base stations designed for approximately 200 users. It includes four 64bit Power e6500 cores running at 1.8GHz along with six fixed/floating-point digital signal processing cores running up to 1.2GHz.

 QorIQ Qonverge B4860 block diagram

QorIQ Qonverge B4860 block diagram. Source: Freescale

The B4860 consumes 30W to 35W and integrates a digital front end. It broadcasts over a relatively short range of about 1.2mi, managing spectrum from 3G to LTE and LTE Advanced.

Freescale has advocated for a "scalable, heterogeneous" set of chips that would allow carriers flexibility in determining small-cell needs. The company offers SoCs for a range of small cells geared for indoor and outdoor use.

"We look at that as a giant challenge for our customer base—they have to design these different base stations," Tom Deitrich, Freescale senior VP and general manager of Digital Networking, said at a lunch event. "The only thing that makes this practical for OEMs is scalability. From small devices to big devices, a customer has to be able to use their software to scale these things up and down."

Connecting different IP and I/O across devices, testing and integrating with software remain major challenges in managing spectrum efficiently, Steinheider said. Freescale's customer base wants software that's both highly integrated and optimised, as well as easy to use.

"Ninety per cent of what we do is software. That's why it's so important that we work together as partners to build silicon architectures that are easy to build, to customise so I can add my IP to the solution," said Shabel of Alcatel-Lucent, speaking at Wednesday's keynote.

Carriers must also look beyond small-cell technology to maximise power. Small cells are a small part of a larger wired and wireless ecosystem, Deitrich said at a lunch event.

"It's going to be a combination of things depending on the assets that the carrier has, as well as what their population density is, and where they have fibre," he said. "Small cells are a weapon that can be used to fight" network crowding.

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