Feature Article

April 05, 2013

ABI Research Reveals Vendor Proprietary ASICs Dominate Metrocell Baseband SoCs

The expectation from ABI Research is that sales of baseband processors for small cells will follow two different roadmaps. One path is the baseband SoC for consumer and enterprise femtocell small cell. The target for this is cost-effective, very high volume equipment. The other path on the road is baseband SoC for public access or metrocell equipment. This is targeted at a higher price and feature points. It will sell in smaller volumes.

Small cells are low powered radio access nodes. They operate in licensed as well as unlicensed spectrums. They have a range of about 33 feet to over one mile. A femtocell is a small, low powered cellular base station. They are typically designed for either home use of a small business. Femtocell is a subset of small cells which connects to the service provider’s network through a broadband connection.

Metrocells are compact and somewhat discrete mobile phone base stations. They are usually inconspicuously located in urban areas. Most of the time you will see them mounted on lamp posts or attached to the side of a building. They are also used in indoor areas such as stadiums and airports. They deliver high data speeds and capacity with a range of about 10 miles. Metrocells are usually installed by the mobile network operator.

Nick Marshall, principle analyst at ABI Research said, “We believe the differences between enterprise and consumer small cell equipment and public access small cell equipment are such that the definitions of the SoCs that equip them will diverge with the differing price and performance points bifurcating the market. We have arguably witnessed the first step in this with Broadcom announcing RF transceiver integration on its 3G BCM61630, an industry first for small cell SoCs.”

The price point difference can be explained by the fact that business and consumer femtocells are consumer grade and have lower performance levels than metrocells allowing for more inexpensive components to be used. Since metrocells are used mostly outside, they are a lot more rugged in design. They also come with more advanced features allowing them to handle many simultaneous subscribers. This usually takes place in simultaneous multimode 3G LTE and Wi-Fi. This can be achieved at much higher RF power levels than a femtocell.

According to the ABI Research report, the analyst firm estimates that Mindspeed ranks as number one in small cell baseband market share. The company is followed by Texas Instruments (TI) and Broadcom. ABI Research also analyzed public access metrocells as a separate category, finding that Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) solutions attract the top market share followed by Freescale and TI.

Marshall added, “This is because vendors such as Huawei, Ericsson, and Samsung and to some extent, Nokia Siemens Networks, all are using ASICs in their designs, particularly in their picocell and microcell products.”

Protocols were also analyzed and the market share goes to Mindspeed, dominating 3G small cells. Coming in at a very close second is Broadcom. When it comes to LTE, Freescale gets a 50 percent share with TI coming in at the number two spot.

Edited by Jamie Epstein

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