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Small cells

4G Startup Revs LTE Automation

Systems software startup AirHop Communications Inc. has arrived on the 4G scene and aims to take automated network planning to the next level for Long Term Evolution (LTE). (See AirHop Evolves SON for 4G.)

The startup is founded on the premise that LTE and future 4G networks will require a new network topology comprising many interconnected small cells to achieve the high-bandwidth promises of these next-generation radio access technologies. And those networks of small cell sites will need souped-up self-organizing network (SON) capabilities to operate effectively, which is where AirHop's software comes in.

AirHop calls it eSON -- that is, evolved SON -- because the software's features go beyond the SON elements that other vendors are working on today and what the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards body is adding to its future specifications, such as automated planning, installation, and configuration.

Beyond those basic SON features, AirHop's eSON does inter-cell coordination, coordinated resource and interference management, and automated installation and self-configuration.

"SON is not just nice to have -- it's a critical piece of the 4G network," says Yan Hui, founder and CEO of AirHop Communications. "With small, overlapping cells there will be so much interference." So, coordinated interference mitigation will be important, for example.

AirHop's system software will reside in base stations on top of the standard protocol stack as well as in network gateways. Alternatively, AirHop's software can replace a base station's radio resource manager module. The company will sell or license its software to base station manufacturers.

AirHop is also working with base stations' silicon vendors, such as Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), as well as other protocol stack software vendors to integrate its software with theirs. The software is available for lab demonstrations. (See TI Dives Into Femtos.)

The startup's founders are former Texas Instruments execs Yan Hui, Hanson On, and Edwin Park. So far, the company has raised $1 million from private investors. (See LTE Startup AirHop Debuts, Adds Execs.)

LTE goes distributed
The distributed network concept for LTE is gaining ground, as Verizon Wireless most recently added its voice to operator interest in the idea of deploying small cells for its ambitious next-generation mobile broadband network. The small cells in such a distributed network have been referred to by several different names, such as LTE femtocells, metro femtos, or metrozone femtocells, just to name a few. (See Verizon: This Is How We'll Do It, Thinking LTE? Think Distributed, and Operators Push for LTE Automation.)

By coincidence, another wireless startup that came out of stealth mode this week is also tackling the issue of deploying small cells in next-generation mobile network architectures. (See Look Out – Here Comes SpiderCloud!)

Femtocell chip pioneer Picochip has been early to further the LTE femto and has developed chipsets specific to this application. Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) is also talking up the concept. (See Operators Eye LTE Metro Femtos, Vodafone Dreams of Metro Femto, Backhaul Clouds Metro Femto Vision, picoChip Touts LTE Femto, PicoChip Does LTE Femtos, PicoChip Unveils LTE Femto Chipset, and CTIA: Qualcomm Bosses Think Small for LTE .)

PicoChip's VP of marketing Rupert Baines talked to Unstrung recently about the need for LTE femtocells. Click on the picture below to watch the video:



— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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