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Femto Firm Preps LTE Small Cell

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

U.K. femtocell pioneer ip.access Ltd. announced on Thursday plans for its first Long Term Evolution (LTE) product and a new chipset supplier for its next-generation small cells.

The new small cell, dubbed the E-100, is an indoor access point targeted at enterprises and public areas (like shopping malls), and it's powered by Freescale Semiconductor Inc. 's QorIQ Qonverge PSC91332 chip.

The product will be a dual-mode 3G/LTE device that can support 32 3G users and 64 LTE users at the same time. Maximum downlink speeds supported will be 150Mbit/s in LTE mode and 42Mbit/s in 3G mode. There will be three different versions, each supporting four spectrum bands for the U.S., European, and Asia/Pacific markets.

In addition, the vendor plans to add a PCI Express interface so that third-party Wi-Fi modules could be installed to add another wireless access option.

The E-100 is slated to go into operator labs later this year and field trials are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2013.

Why this matters
This is one of the first announced small cells for LTE, and the news shows just how early it is in the development of these kinds of products for next-generation mobile networks. Indeed, the E-100 won't start operator field trials until about a year from now. It's an indoor enterprise product, so we're not talking about tiny base stations deployed on lampposts here -- that vision is still some way off for LTE.

So why focus on an indoor product for the enterprise? Because that's where all the data usage is, according to Andy Tiller, senior VP of product strategy and marketing at ip.access. Also, he explained, when deploying small cells outside among existing macrocell base stations, "the self-organizing RF techniques needed get more sophisticated." The automation isn't there yet for deploying and configuring a lot of small cells outdoors, which means there would be a good amount of costly manual work for an operator pursuing that path.

Another interesting element of this news is that Freescale is a new chip supplier for ip.access. The vendor's 3G femtocells are built on chipsets from Picochip , which has been acquired by Mindspeed Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: MSPD). But Tiller said the selection of Freescale does not mean his company is abandoning Picochip. (See Mindspeed Snaps Up Picochip for $51.8M.)

Freescale's other publicly announced femto customer is Airvana Inc. . (See Airvana and Freescale Deliver LTE and Femtocells and Second-Gen Silicon Drives Enterprise & Public Femtos.) For more
The E-100 will be on display at Mobile World Congress, so it marks one of the first LTE small cell sightings for the show.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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