July 8, 2010
By Caroline Gabriel
The race to get silicon into LTE devices is heating up, with several carriers stepping up the pressure to have smartphones on the market a year or so from now. For now the focus is on dongles and data cards, but the need to get a variety of products to carriers as quickly as possible is urgent and many are turning to partners to accelerate their efforts. The latest is ST-Ericsson, which has announced an alliance with device maker Sagem Wireless, which could get its multimode platform into dongles by the end of this year.
The two companies will collaborate to create multimode LTE/HSPA+ reference designs, designed to speed time to market. They will support HSPA+, W-CDMA and GSM as well as LTE, and will be targeted initially at dongles. Sagem said it also plans to use the platform to produce “versatile modules that can bring high speed mobile connectivity to laptops, netbooks, tablet computers, M2M applications and other devices.”
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The French firm’s EVP of strategic planning, Yves Portalier, said in a statement: “ST-Ericsson’s single family of platforms will enable Sagem Wireless to produce a wide range of devices faster and more cost effectively than if we had to juggle multiple incompatible platforms.”
These multimode systems will be important because most LTE deployments will be by 3G carriers and require roaming to their wide area networks. TeliaSonera, the first commercial LTE operator, recently launched its first multimode dongle, having initiated its services with LTE-only data devices, but the 3G/4G handset will be a key milestone towards market mass. Some vendors are hoping to leverage the experience of specialists in multimode devices created for WiMAX/3G carriers like Sprint, working with those 4G pioneers, including Sequans (whose chip is in the HTC EVO for Sprint) and Beceem.
Another WiMAX player, Israel’s Altair, is pursuing a strategy of bringing its expertise to LTE partners. It has announced a new deal, focused on LTE modems running in FDD and the emerging TDD mode, with IPWireless. The latter is a specialist in TDD networks, and is hoping this expertise will bear fruit as the TD-LTE technology comes closer to reality. The companies will codevelop a suite of multiband LTE modems supporting both modes and various frequencies – initially 800MHz, the international digital dividend band; plus 2.6GHz and the 3G overlay band 1.8GHz. It will follow up with US specific versions for the 700MHz and AWS frequencies.
Samples of the device will be available by September, with commercial availability before the end of the year.
The device will be marketed by IPWireless to its customers – mainly using its TD-CDMA and LTE systems in areas like public safety and industrial applications – and to partners. It will run on Altair’s FourGee-3100 baseband and FourGee-6200 RFIC plus IPWireless’ software. The baseband supports a 20MHz MIMO receiver and Altair’s secret sauce, the O²P software defined radio processor. This claims to deliver higher performance at far lower power than traditional communications DSP cores. It can work in any 3GPP LTE frequency band from 700MHz to 2.7GHz. The devices will also include a customized multiband MIMO antenna to improve cell edge and peak rate performance.
IPWireless will also use the FourGee architecture for its PCI Express Mini Card for LTE. These are targeted at a wide range of devices including laptops, public safety devices, M2M units and residential broadband routers.
IPWireless’ COO Malcolm Gordon said in a statement: “Altair’s flexible chipset architecture enables us to rapidly develop devices that meet mobile operators’ growing demand for high quality LTE devices that support multiple spectrum bands, including the newly released 800MHz digital dividend spectrum band.”