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Small cells

AirHop, picoChip Scale Back to 3G

AirHop Communications Inc. and Picochip are joining forces to bring the power of self-organizing network (SON) technology to picocells -- but on 3G networks, not 4G.

Specifically, AirHop will integrate its evolved SON software into picoChip's 3G picoXcell PC302 high-speed access (HSPA+) platform.

The partnership, being announced tomorrow at 4G World, is targeted at helping wireless operators manage interference in real time and optimize spectrum reuse in heterogeneous networks, including crowdsourced small-cells. (See Startup Challenges AlcaLu's Single-Vendor LTE .)

It's the issue that startup AirHop was founded to address in 2007 for Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, but Garrett Choi, AirHop's chief operating officer, says it's a 3G problem too.

AirHop addresses the need for distributed networks and interference mitigation via small cells in LTE, where RF parameters are more complex. But an unprecedented increase in small-cell density has spurred the need for more advanced SON software in 3G networks, Choi says.

"This problem is not something we can wait around for," he says. "It's a 3G problem that hopefully 4G can make better."

AirHop's eSON can scale back to 3G, but with less functionality. Choi says that when the market is ready for LTE, AirHop will be able to update its software quickly. When that will be, however, is unclear. He guesses it will happen sometime after macrocells are in place, since that's the technology most operators are focusing on first.

Current Analysis analyst Peter Jarich says it could be about two years before small cells go commercial for LTE.

"As far as operators go, it's unclear for them when that time [for small cells] hits them," Jarich says. "It's not from the beginning, but when it becomes important is unclear."

The Femto Forum Ltd. is hoping to speed up that process with its announcement today of new APIs for interoperability between femtocell semiconductors and protocol software stacks from different vendors, of which there are many.

AirHop and picoChip teamed up back at the Mobile World Congress and Spring CTIA to demonstrate how SON principles can be applied to femtocells to manage interference, but this is the first time the two are announcing the technology's integration in picoXcell. (See 4G Startup Revs LTE Automation, picoChip Showcases LTE Femtocell Silicon, and MWC Preview: Femtos Go Macro.)

The companies are working together because they both approach the industry from the small-cell perspective, rather than trying to miniaturize macrocells like some competitors do, Choi says. picoChip has also been one of the vendors leading the charge in femto chips with a specific focus on SON applications. (See Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says, PicoChip Unveils LTE Femto Chipset, and PicoChip Bags $20M, Plans IPO.)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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