Ubiquisys targets capacity crunch with small cell launch
Harnesses many features of its femtocell platform to reduce cost, but turns to Texas Instruments for silicon
Published: 11 May, 2011
Shrinking the base station is one of the cellcos' favourite themes as they grapple with the mobile data boom, but few products have yet appeared for the outdoor network. Deconstructed RAN architectures like Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio will clearly embrace dense networks of small cells in future. But for a low cost, low power solution to add capacity to conventional networks, operators may look to the femtocell vendors, which are working on making their residential platforms suitable for carriers' outdoor metro roll-outs. Coming from this camp is UK-based Ubiquisys, which has announced a dual-mode W-CDMA/LTE 'metrocell'.
The company's CTO and co-founder, Will Franks, said the product draws heavily on the experience in residential and enterprise femtocells, particularly in techniques to reduce the cost of adding capacity - lower capex, as well as opex improvements such as self-organizing networks (SON), or use of consumer class broadband for backhaul. "There is a large amount of heritage from the consumer and enterprise markets," he said. "Some things need to be done differently, but not dramatically."
In particular, he says carriers want to use their femtocell infrastructure when they add small cells to boost 3G capacity (and upgrade to LTE eventually). This reduces cost, and this requirement provides the main opportunity for specialist suppliers like Ubiquisys to play in a market where they will increasingly run into the base station giants. While these OEMs have picocells to offer, these are integrated into the traditional macro infrastructure such as RNCs, limiting the cost and flexibility advantages. Many carriers are keen to create a separate 'layer' of small cell capacity.
"The crossover point will be different for different operators but many will use the femtocell back end, at least at first. Some big players have femtocell gateways but only Alcatel-Lucent, and possibly Huawei, are really in the femto world," said Franks. This could open up opportunities for OEM or distribution deals for smaller players.
However, while the product may be using the surrounding connections of a femtocell, it has not gone as far as to use a pure femtocell system-on-chip, instead opting for the recently announced small cell platform from Texas Instruments, based on its KeyNote technology. Ubiquisys' current residential and enterprise products are based on the Broadcom/Percello femto SoC, but Franks cast some doubt over notions that specialist femtocell designs are ready to be scaled up to the main carrier network, saying "we wanted a partner with knowledge of the macro network, of scaling up the raw horsepower. TI knows how to shift that huge amount of data around". He said Ubiquisys conducted an eight-month evaluation, in which it also examined the much publicized new single-chip offering from Freescale, which is targeted at small cells and underpins Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio.
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