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Addressing the 3GPP next-gen mobile standard: - Manufacturers - Product trends - Are you there?

Who Makes What: LTE Equipment

Light Reading
5/7/2009
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LTE is horribly complicated when viewed as part of a complete architecture, as it forms Release 8 of the ongoing 3GPP series of architectural and standards developments for wireless networks. These standards by now embrace a huge array of network functional entities and interfaces (including the massive Internet Multimedia Subsystem – see, for example, What's Up With IMS?), and, even though the LTE development aims at simplification, it has to interwork with, and build on, the accumulated debris of earlier releases. So a fundamental issue for a Who Makes What is to decide what LTE actually means in terms of network equipment.

Figure 1 suggests that a possible way to do this is to concentrate on what is new in the architecture, as this will translate into new or upgraded equipment. On these grounds, LTE affects principally two broad areas of the network (tinted green in Figure 1):

  • The radio access network
  • The packet core network
Figure 2 shows in a little more detail what this view of LTE equipment covers, and how it relates to some of the other network functions and access and transport networks involved in the earlier Releases of the 3GPP series. The main points are:

  • The earlier 2G and 3G Radio Access Networks (GERAN and UTRAN, respectively) are replaced by the new E-UTRAN (Evolved UTRAN/RAN). In particular, the 3G base-station NodeB is replaced by the new eNodeB.

  • The General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) core network, which supports both the 2G and 3G RANs, is replaced by a new Evolved Packet Core (EPC, but known also as System Architecture Evolution, SAE, when the new E-UTRAN and other access networks are included with it). This uses two new functional elements: the Mobility Management Entity (MME) node, which handles control signaling; and the SAE Gateway (which can be split into a separate Serving Gateway and a Packet Data Network Gateway), which handles traffic and the data-plane aspects.

  • There are lots of new interfaces, many of them with existing network functional elements, as LTE makes full use of these elements and interworks with non-3GPP access networks, for example. Thus the MME node uses the existing Home Subscriber Server (HSS), although this is now done through Diameter signaling rather than SS7. The use of Diameter here is significant because it means that all the interfaces in the LTE architecture are now IP ones.

Although the 3GPP had many aims in developing LTE, a lot of them reduce to producing an architecture that can make mass-market ultrafast broadband services a commercial reality. So performance has to go up, costs have to come down, interfaces have to be open, and operations have to be simplified, to name only the most obvious. Figure 3, by making a comparison with 3G, illustrates some of the ways that the new architecture does this.

First, legacy ATM is dispensed with in favor of all-IP. Then the architecture is flattened and simplified by dispensing with the Radio Network Controller (RNC) – instead, the eNodeB connects directly to the SAE Gateway and the MME. Reducing the number of nodes involved in a connection improves scalability, performance, and cost-efficiency.

On the RF side, LTE introduces the use of Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM) radio access and Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) antenna technologies. Pure OFDM is used on the downlink from the base station to the terminal, and was selected for its cost efficiency in supporting the requirement for spectrum flexibility – from under 5MHz bandwidth to up to 20MHz, and for both Frequency-Division Duplex (FDD) and Time-Division Duplex (TDD) modes of operation. On the uplink from terminal to base station, LTE uses a special version of OFDM called Single-Carrier Frequency-Division Multiple Access (SC-FDMA), chosen for its lower power consumption, an important consideration for terminals.

Product classification
On the basis of these considerations, this Who Makes What classifies LTE products under five broad headings:

  • Access – the radio base stations and eNodeB equipment

  • Core – the new Evolved Packet Core nodes

  • Silicon, platforms, and subsystems – the new chipsets and other subsystems or devices needed to implement the LTE Access and Core equipment

  • Software and protocols – similarly for software and protocol stacks

  • Test and measurement – the new equipment needed by vendors and operators to test and monitor LTE Access and Core equipment

Here's what we're leaving out:

  • Terminals/CPE. These are obviously crucial and will be made in vast quantities, so their omission might seem surprising. But there is a simple reason – they don’t really exist in the commercial-product sense yet. Yes, it’s almost GSM all over again: The standards are done, the infrastructure equipment exists, but there is not much on the CPE side – and the first services are launching in the next 12 months or so. Of course, this will be rectified in time, but it is a useful corrective to the industry’s tendency to overhype LTE’s commercial mass-market readiness.

    In the meantime, there are demonstration devices and early platforms and chipsets (some of which are mentioned in the following pages). Given LTE’s high bandwidth capabilities and low latencies, and relatively limited early geographical coverage, most of the early CPE are likely to be data-type card dongles for laptops and netbooks, rather than flashy smartphones like the Apple iPhone.

  • Antennas. Although LTE brings new antenna technologies to mobile networks, these are not new per se – WiFi networks have used MIMO techniques for some time, for example – and arguably belong more to the general art of RF communications than to any specific application such as LTE. In the interests of manageability, they are thus omitted, but, for the record, relevant vendors include Ace Antennas, Cellmax Technologies, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT),Powerwave Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: PWAV), Radio Frequency Systems (RFS) , and Socowave.

  • Backhaul/aggregation equipment. This is another crucial part of any real LTE network, and doubtlessly will encourage specialist and optimized Ethernet/IP solutions because of LTE’s wholesale move to IP and the need for new backhaul/aggregation to match the rollout of new LTE base stations (RAD Data Communications Ltd. , for example, is majoring on this application for its Carrier Ethernet pseudowire technology). But, again, this is arguably a new application of an existing art, rather than a new LTE equipment category.

  • Existing functional entities interfacing to EPC. The new interfaces between the EPC and entities such as the HSS, PCRF, AAA, and so on (see Figure 2) will obviously require vendors of products providing these entities to make changes. However, these are not specifically new LTE functional entities, and, as these products are very numerous, they are treated as beyond the scope of this Who Makes What.
Table 1 lists vendors against these five broad LTE product categories.

Table 1: Vendors of LTE Equipment
Vendor Access Core Silicon / Platforms / Subsystems Software / Protocols T&M
4M Wireless Yes
ABIT Yes
Aeroflex Yes
Agilent Technologies Yes
Alcatel-Lucent Yes Yes
Allot Communications Yes
Altair Semiconductor (Yes)
Altera Corporation Yes
Analog Devices Yes
Anite Yes
Anritsu Yes
Aricent Yes
AT4 Wireless Yes
AXIS Network Technology Yes
Azimuth Systems Yes
BitWave Semiconductor Yes
Blue Wonder Communications Yes
Catapult Communications Yes
Cavium Networks Yes
Cisco Systems (Yes)
CommAgility Yes
CommScope/Andrew (Yes)
ComSys Yes
Continuous Computing Yes
Dyaptive Systems Yes
ERCOM Yes
Ericsson Yes Yes
Freescale Semiconductor Yes
Fujitsu Network Communications Yes Yes
Gambit Communications Yes
Hitachi Communication Technologies (Yes) (Yes)
Huawei Technologies Yes Yes
IntelliNet Technologies Yes Yes
IPWireless Yes (Yes) (Yes)
Keithley Instruments Yes
Kineto Wireless Yes
LG Electronics Yes
Lime Microsystems Yes
LNT Infotech Yes Yes
LSI Corporation Yes
MimoOn Yes Yes
Motorola Yes
MYMO Wireless Technology (Yes)
NEC Yes Yes
NetHawk Yes
Nokia Siemens Networks Yes Yes
Nomor Research Yes
Nortel Yes Yes
Panasonic Mobile Communications Yes
Percello Yes
picoChip Yes
Polaris Networks Yes
Powerwave Technologies Yes
Prisma Engineering Yes
Qasara Yes Yes
Qualcom Yes
Radiocomp Yes
Rohde & Schwarz Yes
RMI Yes
Samsung Electronics Yes Yes
Sandbridge Technologies Yes
Sanjole Yes
Setcom Wireless Yes
Signalion Yes
Sonus Networks Yes
Spirent Communications Yes
Starent Networks Yes
ST-Ericsson Yes
Stoke Yes
Tata Consultancy Services Yes Yes
Tecore Networks Yes
Tektronix Communications Yes
Texas Instruments Yes Yes
Traffix Systems Yes Yes
Ubidyne Yes
Wavesat Yes
WiChorus Yes
Wintegra Yes Yes
ZTE Yes Yes
Parentheses indicate products planned or in development.
Source: Light Reading, 2009


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siraj.sailor
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siraj.sailor,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:22:58 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment


Can you please restore the images referred in this article ? Thanks

telecomtest
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telecomtest,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:05:15 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment


I was surprised that NetHawk was not listed as a test and measurement vendor for LTE testing. NetHawk offers protocol simulation and monitoring products for LTE and other wireless technologies. Although the RF testing of the LTE eNB is important (and seems to be the focus of the vendor list), it is also important to simulate and monitor the EPC that the eNB terminates to and to test the interoperability and handovers with legacy networks. From the NetHawk news releases it looks like a number of companies are already choosing NetHawk products for LTE testing. I would recommend others to look at NetHawk products when considering LTE test tools.

hills@lightreading.com
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hills@lightreading.com,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:05:11 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment


telecomtest


Thanks. An oversight. I shall add company to list.


Tim Hills

Raj Patel 1980
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Raj Patel 1980,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:05:09 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment
I noticed one more vendor missing - Traffix Systems, they supply Diameter solutions for LTE, we been trialing some of their stuff. I think this is one of the only places where you can find full LTE Diameter interfaces.
hills@lightreading.com
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hills@lightreading.com,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:05:06 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment


Raj


Thanks. I shall investigate and adjust the Tables accordingly.


Tim Hills

inlight
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inlight,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:04:55 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment
Hi,

I noticed that LSI is missing. They announced Multicore NP and DPI etc.

inlight
hills@lightreading.com
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hills@lightreading.com,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:04:53 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment


inlight


Thanks. Will investigate and fix as appropriate.


Tim Hills

lairdtechnologies
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lairdtechnologies,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:03:36 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment


This article was very good reading and perhaps in the future, technical enhancements about the impact of antenna design and selection specific for LTE could be beneficial for the readers.&nbsp; Please update and add to your list, Laird Technologies as having LTE ready equipment.&nbsp; Thank you.

hills@lightreading.com
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hills@lightreading.com,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:03:34 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment


lairdtechnologies


Thanks. Antennas were deliberately omitted from the article to keep it manageable. But we may well extend the scope in a future revised version.


Tim Hills

mibarkway
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mibarkway,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:03:11 PM
re: Who Makes What: LTE Equipment


Great article with lots of good information. I did notice that you omitted Qasara (www.qasara.com) from your list of vendors. We have an LTE protocol stack that's making a real impact in the industry, passing conformance tests and selected by two major semiconductor vendors. We also have a range of other products in LTE which you can find on our website.


Hope you will add us to your list - its not complete without us..!

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