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PicoChip Unveils Low-Cost Femto Chip

Picochip has unveiled new system-on-chip (SoC) baseband processors for femtocells aimed at dramatically cutting the cost of the mini home base stations, a move that could help tempt operators to place high-volume orders and commit to commercial deployments.

The vendor's first new SoC product is designed for High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) femtocells, and supports 14.4 Mbit/s on the downlink and 5.7 Mbit/s on the uplink. PicoChip claims this chip enables the lowest bill of materials and lowest power for a femtocell available today.

“It improves performance, reduces power, and drastically reduces the bill of materials for a femtocell, but it’s based on what we did before,” says Rupert Baines, picoChip's VP of marketing. “This is not just because we’ve made the chip cheaper. A lot of it is integration.”

Baines says the new integrated chip can cut the bill of materials for HSPA femtocells by between 50 percent and 66 percent.

That magnitude of cost reduction is a big step on the way to reaching the magic sub-$100 price range for femtocells, the price point Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) has said is necessary before it would launch a full-scale deployment.

The move to cut femto chip costs also addresses one of Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)’s key concerns about the home base stations. The Swedish vendor has said that one of the reasons it won’t offer a 3G femtocell until 2009 is the high cost of femto chips. (See Vodafone CEO Seeks Cheap Femtos, Vodafone Eyes Femto Service This Year, V'fone Trials Femtocells, Femto Chips Too Costly, and Ericsson Stalls on 3G Femtos .)

But picoChip's development isn't likely to help manufacturers hit that price point just yet: Femtocells aren’t likely to cost less than $100 until after 2010, according to the recent Unstrung Insider report, "Femtocells: U.S. Market Prospects." The report estimates that the current total femtocell cost per port is about $160, and the bill of materials is $105.

And, as with most technology developments, there are some compromises to be made.

The cost of integration
With a more integrated chip, picoChip sacrifices some of the flexibility that was built into its previous generation of femtocell chips, which are used by numerous femtocell product firms.

“It’s no longer a completely programmable device,” explains Baines. “It’s flexible and software-defined, so long as what you want to do is WCDMA [HSPA].”

But that tradeoff is worth it, reckons Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown. He says it’s far better to have a chip that’s optimized and low-cost: “It’s essential,” he says. (See PicoChip Unveils LTE Femto Design and PicoChip Unveils Chinese Femtocell.)

PicoChip’s approach to femtocell chip development differs compared to other femto chip suppliers. For example, Airvana Inc. uses commercial components and adds its own software, while RadioFrame Networks Inc. designs its own silicon for its femtocell devices.

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AllKindsOfThings 12/5/2012 | 3:37:53 PM
re: PicoChip Unveils Low-Cost Femto Chip Are you referring to the approval of 3GPP luh Interface - isn't that still likely to happen by the end of this year?

Do you know that PicoChip has NOT invested in the right things or are you only assuming this?

After all, Ubiquisys, who seem to be listed as PicoChip customer, claims that they can upgrade from their lu based approach to luh by a remote upgrade of the femtocell software. If that was true, the issue may not be really dependant on changing anything grundbraking at the chipdesign level withing PicoChip itself... ?

I'd asssume there are also PicoChip competitors - what/how are they doing w.r.t. this interface?

BR, AllKindsOfThings
realworldguy 12/5/2012 | 3:38:05 PM
re: PicoChip Unveils Low-Cost Femto Chip It seems a bit premature to invest in a low-cost chip at this point. The interface to the Femto Gateway which is key to the implementation has not yet been agreed upon by vendors and providers yet. Several other aspects on the radio side have also not been firmed up. Its a bold move - but one that could be expensive in the long run.
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