Freescale sticks a mobile base station on a chip

Freescale is showing off technology which stuffs an entire cellular base station onto a single chip.

Until now, researchers have emerged from smoke filled labs with small cells and femtocells and Kinder egg packages of disappointment. But at Mobile World Congress this morning, Freescale revealed it has reduced the baseband capacity of a tower-based macrocell to a system-on-a-chip (SoC) design and brought peace in our time.

This miniaturisation could kick off the next-generation of LTE deployments, because the cost of mobile networks will be reduced. A chip requires a lot less electricity to run than a phone tower too.

Freescale’s QorIQ Qonverge design sticks the chip in a motherboard and gives it the job of encoding and decoding radio signals. The new design stamps the shedloads of discrete components onto a single system-on-a-chip.

SoCs are relatively cheap to make and drain less power so a single QorIQ chip can support the capacity of a three-sector 20 MHz LTE cell site for a quarter of the cost. Freescale said that the integrated platform also drains three times less power, which will help operators design more energy-efficient networks.

The theory is that since they could build cheaper networks and cut their operating costs they could theoretically offer mobile broadband at cheaper prices.

It is ideas like these which will be important as the phone companies work out ways to bring in LTE-advanced networks. LTE-Advanced needs more than 100 Mbps bandwidth and Freescale thinks this development puts the company well ahead.

It is not entirely blue sky. Freescale said it has Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens Networks coming up with ideas based around the technology. So far, the ideas are called cloud radio access network, or cloud-RAN, which takes the base station away from the cell site. Operators could build signal-processing farms in a private cloud.

Freescale has been able to do all this by using its 28-nanometer process technology, allowing it to condense a lot more performance in much less space.