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LTE-A Components Deliver on Bandwidth, IoT

Simon Stanley
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Simon Stanley

The latest LTE components support the LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) functions required to deliver high bandwidth up to 600 Mbit/s at one extreme and very low-power sub-1 Mbit/s for IoT/M2M applications at the other extreme. Highly integrated handset devices feature up to ten 64-bit processor cores and LTE-A modems, and the latest devices for LTE-A base stations integrate up to 64 64-bit cores with support for virtualized base stations and cloud RAM.

LTE is the world's fastest-growing mobile networking technology. There are now more than 750 million LTE subscriptions worldwide, and more than 400 commercial LTE networks have been launched since 2010. Carriers are now upgrading their LTE networks to support LTE-A functionality, extend coverage and deploy new services including voice over LTE (VoLTE) and LTE broadcast (eMBMS). LTE-A covers a significant number of developments including carrier aggregation, improved spectral efficiency, higher-order MIMO and new categories of user equipment. The deployment of basic LTE-A functionality and further enhancements already planned will enable carriers to support handsets and other user devices with bandwidths of 300-600 Mbit/s and to connect low-power user devices including watches, smart meters and other appliances for IoT/M2M applications. The deployment of LTE-A will also help carriers switch off older, less efficient, 2G/3G networks and move towards the deployment of 5G services.

Integrated base station devices, initially developed to implement small cell base stations, have been further developed to implement the core functionality for macro base stations with a greater number of higher performance cores and significantly enhanced hardware acceleration. Most base station SoC vendors now have a complete range of products that covers femtocells, small cells and macro cells. Integrated LTE handset devices cover a wide range performance with most integrating at least a quad core 64-bit processor and 150 Mbit/s Cat 4 LTE modem, and several integrating eight or ten 64-bit cores and Cat 6-13 LTE-A modems supporting up to 600 Mbit/s with carrier aggregation.

Heavy Reading's new report, LTE Base Station, Handset and IoT/M2M Components: A Competitive Analysis, identifies and analyzes the full spectrum of vendors developing integrated LTE silicon solutions. The report profiles 29 key vendors and analyses more than 130 different products and product families, identifying the key features and highlighting the advantages they hold for carriers, and base station and handset manufacturers. The report includes not only granular information on the components themselves but also insights into how the overall market and ecosystem is developing.

Base station devices are available from multiple vendors including Broadcom, Cavium, Freescale, Intel, Octasic, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Most vendors have several highly integrated devices that cover a range of applications from femtocells and small cells to macro cells, supporting up to 3,600 active users. The latest devices will support up to 12 sectors and can be used in many deployment scenarios including those using virtualized base stations and remote radio heads connected as a Cloud RAN.

Integrated LTE devices are available from just four vendors, HiSilicon, Intel, MediaTek and Qualcomm, following the exit of Broadcom and nVidia from this market. Most of these vendors also have separate LTE modem and application processor devices for use in tablets and other user equipment. Other vendors, in addition to smartphone manufacturers Apple and Samsung, with LTE modem or application processor devices include Altair, Leadcore, GCT, Marvell, Rockchip, Sequans and Spreadtrum although Marvell is expected to exit this market. Analog Devices, Lime Microsystems, Maxim and Rising Microelectronics along with some of the leading base station and handset vendors are shipping RF devices for base station or user applications.

Altair, GCT and Sequans have focused on LTE only applications that do not require support for 2G and 3G networks. This approach is particularly applicable to IoT/M2M applications and both Altair and Sequans have introduced LTE baseband devices specifically designed for this market. This is a growing market that demands innovative solutions to reducing power consumption and cost.

This is a market that is changing rapidly. The latest LTE components are enabling a wireless infrastructure that can deliver greater bandwidths than many wired broadband services and will support a huge range of wireless user devices from premium smartphones down to the humble smart meter. Some of these devices will also support the shift to a virtualised wireless infrastructure. Integrated LTE devices now cover the full range of smartphones, from premium down to budget, giving many more subscribers access to 4G services.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst at Large, Heavy Reading

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