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Qualcomm Upgrades FSM for 5G-NR

June 26, 2018

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Looking forward to the commercial debut of 5G-NR cellular networks in 2020, Qualcomm is readying its first small-cell base-station processors for the next-generation standard. Scheduled to sample next year, the FSM100xx-series is the first major upgrade of the FSM family since 2014. The new chips are designed for a range of wireless base stations, both indoors (e.g., homes and offices) and outdoors (e.g., dense urban areas and fixed-wireless installations). They also target remote radio heads (RRHs).

Qualcomm is withholding most specifications for now but has disclosed some details. Like its existing base-station processors, the new products will be merchant-market ASSPs that handle both Layer 1 and Layer 2 functions by integrating DSP and CPU cores. Unlike some competing products, the company’s FSM chips also integrate a digital front end (DFE) to reduce system cost.

Although the 4G market for integrated small-cell processors never achieved the predicted volumes, 5G should generate more demand. Coverage will be spotty, especially at first, encouraging more small-cell infills. We also expect less processor competition as Broadcom and Intel exit the market. The remaining major contenders are Qualcomm, Cavium, and NXP. Assuming Qualcomm closes its NXP acquisition, the field could narrow to only two, with Qualcomm at the top.

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