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- Published on Wednesday, 27 July 2011
- Written by David Chambers
I spoke to Nitin Pai, VP Marketing at Tata Elxsi, who have recently become more visible as an LTE femtocell software provider. He’s seen growing interest in LTE femtocells, uncovers how soon we’ll see commercial LTE femtocells in operation and discusses how the hardware chipset vendors are positioning in this emerging technology.
What is Tata Elxsi’s background in telecom software?
Tata Elxsi is the embedded software design arm of the Tata Group, the well-known Indian multinational. We’ve been involved in design and development of wireless RAN products for many years. We work with leading OEMs and wireless equipment providers and have been ranked within the top 3 R&D services companies globally for communication stacks and related products,. We’ve provided core software development, testing and field integration for 2G, 3G and 4G products and equipment, both on the base station and terminal side for over a decade now.
With over 85% of our revenues coming from product engineering services, we wanted to reposition ourselves as more than just a services business. We realized we would need to invest in software product development and saw the growing industry adoption for LTE.
We have made a strategic investment in both LTE and WiMAX software stacks and would reposition ourselves as protocol stack providers for broadband wireless and 4G communications, with complete system development and integration capabilities.
How do the LTE and WiMAX markets compare?
LTE is where all the fun is! It’s true WiMAX beat LTE to market, with live commercial deployments in large markets including America, India and Japan. Although LTE is highly likely to dominate long term, we do still see WiMAX being used for a variety of adjacent markets.
Examples of our software and technology being deployed in adjacent markets include smart grid boxes, tactical communications for defense and public safety applications, such as combining TETRA/WiMAX together. We have departed from the standards in certain cases to support specific requirements.
LTE is where we see the largest adoption and growing interest. Operators who have already launched LTE service are clamoring for LTE femtocells, which will allow them to provide enhanced consumer experience, speed and greater capacity.
What LTE investments have you made?
We’ve developed an LTE eNodeB and UE reference designs which provide the full 3GPP Release 8 compliant software stacks from Layer 1, 2 and 3 including a fairly sophisticated scheduler. Our customers have designed hardware based on our reference design from one of several LTE chipset vendors and used our software to create a working product quickly.
We expect all of our customers to make some customization to the base product, so that they can differentiate and/or meet specific operator requirements. This includes changing the form factor and physical appearance/styling as well as the software operation. We offer customization and support through our services arm.
What’s different about your software solution?
The product scope is a complete software solution, not just the protocol stack. There are some software vendors offering only Layer 1, or Layer 2/3, or SON framework – we offer the complete integrated package.
For example, our SON (Self Organising Network) capability is not just a framework, but the actual algorithms which implement the standards. In common with some of the larger equipment vendors, we have about 9 of the 12 specified in the standards today. We also fully support the TR-069 O&M interface for remote management.
Our Layer 2 scheduler – an important aspect of the system – is very sophisticated. This ensures improved resource scheduling which leads to better end-user experience and sharing of available capacity.
Our 3GPP Release 9 compliant software also provides complete EMS framework for LTE femtocells based on 3GPP specifications, and NMS software for managing LTE small cell networks.
Our biggest differentiator is the way in which we have architected our L1 and L2/L3 stacks to leverage multi-core processors and hardware acceleration engines in newer devices. This makes it easier for us, and our customers, to scale the solution to target products right from residential femtocells to higher capacity picocells or metrocells.
Which hardware platforms do you support?
Although our stack is designed to be portable across any LTE hardware platform, we’ve been working closely with Freescale and Texas Instruments. We have three customers for our LTE femtocell software, and 12 licensees overall for LTE. We are seeing interest in both enterprise and residential LTE femtocells, although public area femtocells are likely to be commercially deployed first.
How different do you think the LTE femtocell ecosystem will be compared to 3G?
Frankly, it’s a little too early to say. We expect the first LTE femtocells to be standalone, with dual-mode 3G/LTE following on behind. There are more LTE femtocell chipset vendors at this early stage compared to when 3G femtocells first appeared, so competition will be fierce. Also, silicon vendors are providing greater integration so as to provide complete base station-on-chip functionality. This helps bring down hardware costs though it may imply greater software complexity and development work being required.
This is why we see it being important to support several chipset vendors, providing our customers with the ability to target different segments in the small cell space with the same software and appropriate chipset platform for price and performance aspects.
Where and when will we see the first commercial LTE femtocell deployments?
Some of our customers are getting ready for field trials and are perhaps 2 or 3 quarters away from commercial product.
We are seeing network operators in the US and Japan being the strongest markets today, supplied by femtocell vendors worldwide.
Longer term, we expect LTE femtocells to be ubiquitous and incorporated into converged home gateways and even set top boxes, for a seamless mobility and connected experience even at home.
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