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Linley Wire

Qualcomm Aims Hexagon at Femtocells

October 31, 2011

Author: Linley Gwennap

Qualcomm is best known for its cell-phone processors, but the company has been producing base-station chipsets for decades. For most of this time, Qualcomm has focused on CDMA base stations, but more recently, it has seized an opportunity to expand into the femtocell market. The company’s FSM products support either CDMA or UMTS (also known as WCDMA), the two most common 3G protocols, and target residential and enterprise systems.

The FSM products use function blocks developed for Qualcomm’s cell-phone processors, including its Scorpion CPU, Hexagon DSP, and cellular-protocol hardware accelerators. This leverage, as well as Qualcomm’s huge engineering resources, enabled the company to quickly develop these products to target the growing demand for small base stations. Qualcomm joins Freescale, Picochip, Texas Instruments (TI), and several other competitors in this burgeoning market.

Hexagon is a new name for Qualcomm’s in-house DSP design. Until recently, Qualcomm wrote all the code for its DSPs, giving customers access only through APIs. Now, however, the company is opening its DSP architecture to outside programmers, expanding their ability to create innovative applications for Qualcomm’s processors.

The FSM9832 is Qualcomm’s newest femtocell processor. This chip is designed for enterprise femtocells supporting up to 32 users—an upgrade from earlier 8-user chips intended for residential models. The new processor supports CDMA 1x and EV-DO connections at up to 9.8Mbps. It is also available in a 16-user UMTS version that supports HSPA+ at up to 28Mbps in two-antenna (2x2) configurations.

Qualcomm’s lack of LTE support is surprising, given that the company is a leader in delivering LTE handset processors. The company’s roadmap includes LTE femtocell chips. In the meantime, the new FSM9xxx products are a good solution for residential and enterprise femtocells, offering a range of price points and supporting both UMTS and CDMA networks. Qualcomm offers a complete chipset, simplifying system design, and is working with third parties to provide a complete software stack. Thus, its solution is well suited to new entrants to the base-station market that are focusing on femtocells. Qualcomm’s FSM processors are already in production, and the company is working on higher-end products for next-generation base stations.