Small cell pioneers ip.access announced selection of Qualcomm's FSM chipset for their latest generation of 3G small cell products. We asked their CEO, Simon Brown, to explain the reasoning behind that choice and how it fits into their wider evolution plans for the business.
He explains how they adapted their software to become portable across multiple silicon platforms, reveals some unique benefits that Qualcomm bring, and sets the stage for their future small cell roadmap. He believes the small cell industry needs to talk more publicly about its success, pointing out that few of their 40 recent sales can be publicly quoted today.
Why work with another silicon provider?
We are always looking at how the small cell industry is evolving and how best to respond. We've methodically and purposefully assessed where we need to be positioning in the market, partnering, manufacturing and making component selections. That includes ensuring diversity in the supply chain and the ability to port solutions across different silicon providers to get the best overall product profile for our target markets.. This announcement comes after a decision made some 12 months ago, since when we've worked steadily to make the right chipset selection and translate that into product.
Firstly, we ensured that our software codebase is silicon agnostic and can run on any silicon platform. We've considered all three major 3G Small Cell SoCs and concluded that Qualcomm offer the best price/performance today. Some might simply compare datasheets and pricelists, but we have an extensive testing and verification lab that drills down using a huge range of scenarios that reflect real-world operation.
Qualcomm's platform also includes the RF front end, which in our earlier designs would require an RF chipset from a different specialist supplier. This new design is very compact, tightly integrating everything from the Ethernet port to the RF stage – I wouldn't quite say that you only need to add power, but it does dramatically reduce component count affecting overall size, power consumption and the manufacturing process.
What is the new product and where does it fit in your portfolio?
The S2-08 is an 8 concurrent user 3G small cell aimed at the high end residential and SoHo/SME (Small/Medium Enterprise) indoor market, supporting up to 21 Mbps HSPA+. Depending on the Mobile Operators requirements, the small cell can be configured in open or closed mode offering added flexibility and making this an ideal product for both SoHo and residential deployments. The product has completed design, development and manufacturing verification stages and is in the process of being transferred into high volume manufacturing. We have already pre-sold the product into a number of recent contract awards and it will be commercially deployed in volume during Q1 2014. You can see it working live on the Qualcomm booth at the Small Cells Americas show in Dallas next week.
Our existing 3G small cell portfolio based on Mindspeed/Picochip silicon continues to be available and supported. Current customers will not be affected by this announcement apart from the fact that they now have a new product to consider for deployment. We fully support existing customers and all current products, this is an expansion of our portfolio.
Having started work on this product about a year or so ago, it has been thoroughly planned, organized and executed throughout. I'm delighted with how smoothly the design and development project has proceeded. We've worked well with our partners to make this a reality and believe it is an excellent example of best practice in how to take product from concept to reality. I'm confident it will do a great job in the field.
What do Qualcomm uniquely contribute to the solution?
They have added value in many areas, but I'd single out smartphone compatibility and high speed download performance. Qualcomm are the most significant supplier of smartphone chipsets today. With the majority of today's cellular data traffic originating from smartphones, they bring that expertise to bear on the network side. There have been many 3GPP standards developed for the latest generation of smartphones to improve data performance, extend battery life and optimise signalling traffic.
They've helped us to make full use of the full smartphone feature set.
Qualcomm has also made a significant investment into this joint product development and have provided considerable support from their Engineering and Product groups throughout the programme. Qualcomm remains one of ip.access largest shareholders and continues to make additional investments in the company.
You previously announced Freescale as your vendor for LTE products. How does this announcement affect that choice?
We have developed an LTE product using Freescale silicon and this is commercially deployed in the field and in several test labs.
Our philosophy of code independence enables us to select the most appropriate silicon provider for an application when we need to. The fact that we have already worked with Mindspeed, Freescale and Qualcomm gives us great flexibility and we will be making more announcements early next year.
It's about getting the price/performance mix right for what you want to do, and that doesn't always mean choosing the cheapest option. Some excellent products aren't always right for every price/performance point.
The other critical factor is timing the market need and requirement – not simply aiming to meet the market desire to have something to play with in the test lab, but delivering fully stable and high performance products that are actually suitable to be mass deployed in the field. Today, we are all waiting for fully qualified, commercial grade silicon capable of 3G/LTE dual mode operation. That needs both 3G and LTE to be working in parallel, thoroughly validated and verified, fully ready for field deployment and to meet real-world network performance objectives. We believe we will win that race hands down with a shorter design to delivery cycle time.
Why have you excluded Wi-Fi in this latest product launch?
We are not currently including Wi-Fi in this product since it is in the launch format aimed at meeting current demand. We have a Qualcomm Wi-Fi option available from launch via the manufacturing partner's customisation cycle. While it's relatively straight forward to add a Wi-Fi access point into the small cell itself for residential and SoHo applications, it's quite a different thing to provide a full end-to-end Wi-Fi solution in the Enterprise segment.
Wi-Fi, 3G and LTE are all different technologies, but the real differentiator is that 3G and LTE are licensed, which brings different requirements. The whole point being that you have to be very careful on how to deploy, manage and understand how to align with the macro network. Many of our customers expect to deploy licensed Enterprise solutions first, then add Wi-Fi in a controlled manner afterwards rather than the other way around. In the mid to long term, I see Enterprise Wi-Fi sitting alongside our products for specific applications but there is plenty to be fully thought through first, for both vendors and operators.
Few operators have been publicly announcing small cell deployments lately. Is this a shrinking or expanding market?
We have been seeing considerable activity across our entire portfolio and witness decently sized and priced deals going through, particularly for Enterprise licensed small cell applications. Operators are very conservative about what they say externally, and so we have seen few operator announcements. Recently, we've signed over 40 new customer contracts of which only a few are public. It is an important issue that the industry needs to talk more openly about its success. New residential small cell deployments are going ahead but often are kept quiet, perhaps because operators fear negativity about the poor indoor coverage issues they address. We see the message as very positive since it reflects their investment in improving the indoor customer experience.
Our extensive customer base enables us to have a very good understanding of current and future market requirements and timing. We are not as large as some of the majors we compete against, so we need to be especially accurate in making the correct strategic decisions and being efficient with our design, business processes and investments. The good news with this latest product is that we know our market, we know who's buying what and what they are doing. We have already pre-sold this product into several of our recent customer wins, and are lined up to expand into significant volume production during 2014.
Read the full product details on ip.access website
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