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Femtocell chip set to change mobile network

Picochip has announced the first of its next generation picoXcell femtocell chips. Rupert Baines, vp of marketing, noted: "The PC3008 is a third generation product intended for high volume mass market products and could be used to enable a basestation on a usb stick."

According to the company, the PC3008, the 40nm device, which features Picochip's PHY and an ARM11 processor running at 950MHz, integrates the key components of a 3G femtocell into a 12mm square aQFN package. "We want to make femtocells cheap and easy," said Baines. "Some operators like that because the chip doesn't need flash memory or a power supply."

In Baines' view, the wireless industry is changing in much the same way as the computer industry changed in the late 1970s. "We're seeing basestations moving to be based on COTS technology. As part of this move, femtocells will replace the whole of the network because they are made from standard silicon and made in their millions."

Baines believes operators will either create usb based devices for use with domestic routers, which typically have four usb ports, or will integrate the functionality into similar products. "In this way, up to eight users can get 3G coverage at home without any configuration," he said. Another potential application is to create a '3G bubble' in rural areas.

Picochip claims the network of mobile phone basestations could, in theory, be swept away; replaced by femtocells in a range of guises. "Too many people need capacity," said Baines, "and that has until now been solved by adding basestations. But femtocells can be put where basestations aren't feasible and they change the economics; instead of $200k, it's $2k."

Graham Pitcher

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