Motorola aims to ease wireless development

Motorola Inc. will help wireless infrastructure vendors build products at lower cost and with more flexibility through software and hardware, the company announced this week at its Smart Networks Developer Forum in Dallas, company officials said Monday.

The Schaumburg, Ill., network equipment company Monday announced RCF (Reconfigurable Compute Fabric), an alternative to ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) for processing the data coming into wireless base stations from antennas. At the forum, it demonstrated development tools and silicon based on RCF technology. RCF chips are designed to sit on the front lines of base stations, where data pours in quickly from antennas.

System makers typically use ASICs to handle the high volume of computations required for this job, said Arif Ahmed, strategic marketing manager for Motorola’s radio frequency and DSP (digital signal processor) division. ASICs are relatively inexpensive but typically can’t be reprogrammed to do new things or handle new protocols. RCF chips will be nearly as inexpensive as ASICs but will be much more flexible, he said.

There are three major standards for 3G (third-generation) mobile data, Ahmed said: WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access), CDMA2000 and TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous CDMA). Makers of base stations that want to be able to supply all types of networks today would have to develop three different ASICs or buy them from different vendors, Ahmed said. With RCF, they could use the same hardware and program it differently for the various standards. RCF chips also could be updated to support new capabilities, such as “smart antenna” technology for reducing call interference. By avoiding long hardware development cycles, system makers could bring new products to market more quickly, he said.

The RCF chips won’t require HDL (Hardware Description Language) coding and will be fully programmable in C and assembly languages. Metrowerks Inc. expects to offer for RCF programming its CodeWarrior development environment, which also can be used for DSP and central processor software development, according to Motorola.

Motorola DSPs and RCF chips together will be able to perform all elements of 2.5G and 3G baseband processing, according to Motorola. They also can work in conjunction with Motorola PowerPC processors in base stations that communicate with mobile devices and control the communication, Ahmed said.

Motorola expects to announce specific RCF products at its Smart Networks Developer Forum Europe in June, according to the company.

Also Monday, Motorola announced its Smart Wireless Network Interface (WNI) version 1.1. This software package for Motorola’s programmable NPUs (network processing units) is intended specifically for deploying those NPUs in wireless infrastructure systems.

WNI is the first of many software offerings for using Motorola NPUs in various kinds of network equipment, said Bob Gohn, vice-president of marketing for Motorola’s C-Port family of NPUs. The C-Port family includes the C-3e and the more powerful C-5e, both of which are shipping in sample quantities now and will ship in volume next month. Both use the same software architecture.

NPUs are intended as a more flexible alternative to ASICs, saving network equipment makers time and money in the development of routers, switches and other gear. Originally seen as best suited to routing platforms, they may be ideal for other devices, such as ones that take in traffic from a mobile operator network and send it on to a wired infrastructure, Gohn said. A vendor making such a box has to be ready for many different kinds of interfaces just to plug in to the wired network.

“It really is the ultimate nightmare of TDM (time-division multiplexing) interfaces, Ethernet, SONET (Synchronous Optical Network) interfaces, IP (Internet Protocol) and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) on those interfaces, and all the weird and wonderful permutations there, which is the perfect thing for a network processor,” Gohn said.

WNI 1.1, set to be released Thursday, is the first fully debugged, product-quality version of WNI, Gohn said. A reference version of the software has been out since September. WNI is compatible with C-Ware Software Toolset version 2.2, a software development kit for building applications for Motorola NPUs. Products that use WNI 1.1 may be in use in carrier networks by the end of this year, he said.