Picochip

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Picochip was an independent chipset design company founded in 2000 and based in Bath, UK. A leading baseband chip vendor for femtocells, their reference designs formed the basis of many femtocell and small cell vendor products. Their solutions replaced more costly DSP chips with an highly efficient array processing architecture. In 2012, Mindspeed acquired Picochip for a price between $50 and $75 million.

 

Many of the early 3G UMTS femtocell designs were based on the PC202 and related chips. This continued to be used as a mainstay for rapid product development of new technologies due to its flexibility through software configuration. At the same time, Picochip invested to specifically optimise the PC3xx series to meet the needs of lower cost femtocells.

picoChip enabled very small cells through two product lines:

  • picoXcell. Specificially optimised chips for femtocells, the PC302 supports 4 concurrent users while the PC312 supports 8.
  • picoArray. Based on the original PC2xx series of chipsets, this provides flexibility for rapid development of new products, addressing all major standards including GSM, HSPA, CDMA and WiMAX but with a strong focus today on LTE.

Their PC202 baseband processor chips incorporated an incredible 308 processors each clocked at 160Mhz. This technology is highly applicable to 3G and 4G femtocell requirements, providing enormous concurrent processor power at relatively low cost and size.

The company created a range of reference designs which could be adopted by femtocell manfacturers and incorporate related hardware and software components from a number of partners. These included a design for the Chinese 3G TD-SCDMA technology, which was adopted by the vast majority of vendors in that market.

For example, the PC8209 software reference design was a complete architecture for femtocell, supporting HSPA using the PC302. The design was compliant with 3GPP release 5, supporting 4 simultaneous users and up to 7.2Mbit/s download and 1.5Mbit/s upload data speed. The design includes all baseband processing, MAC layer and framing protocol functionality - in other words all the workhorse, processor intensive computing required for the application.

In 2008, announced an HSPA reference design complemented by 3rd party software vendor Continuous Computing (now part of Radisys) who provide the associated control plane processing (protocol stack software) required for a complete femtocell product. A standard interface to the RF chip allows freedom of choice from leading manufacturers including Maxim, ADI, Lime Microsystems and Bitwave.

The company claimed their chipset could be software upgraded/adapted to process other radio interfaces, including GSM, WiMax, LTE, TD-SCDMA and cdma2000 - demonstrations of several of these were available but not all are fully developed for commercial use.

picoChip's chipset is incorporated into 3G small cells from ip.access, Alcatel-Lucent, Contela and many other vendors femtocell products, dominating the 3G HSPA and TD-SCDMA market.

Picochip was acquired by Mindspeed in in 2012 for a price between $50 and $75 million.

Read our comment on the acquisition and our interview with Raouf Halim, the CEO of Mindspeed shortly after the deal completed.

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