First 4G base station runs LTE and WiMAX

A U.K. company has announced the first base station for 4G wireless, and it’s covering more than one base.

PicoChip has made the first base station for the 4G mobile standard LTE – and announced that the device will also handle the rival mobile WiMax standard.

PicoChip, whose signal processor chips are in many WiMax base stations and femto-cells that are currently shipping, says it is first to the punch on LTE and can produce a dual-standard device, because it uses software, running on a very fast processor.

“Hardware vendors can just phone up, and we will ship them chips and software, and they’re away to the races,” said Rupert Baines, vice president of marketing at PicoChip.

The PC86xx design, which will be shown at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, uses software from LTE specialist MimoOn of Germany, and supports the full range of eNode specifications from the 3GPP standards group, extending from indoor femtocells up to large macrocells for installation on cell towers, and on all possible WiMax spectrum from 1.5GHz to 20GHz.

“A lot of big OEMs had assumed that LTE was going to continue the status quo,” said Baines. Base station manufacters have been “a cosy club” he said: “This reference design will reduce the barriers to entry dramatically.”

The design uses the same hardware platform as existing WiMax base stations, bearing out assertions from Airspan and others, that a WiMax base station can be sold as an LTE base station, using a different software load. “It’s just like a PC that can run either OpenOffice or MS Office,” said Baines. “We can build a card with the same hardware and run either WiMax or LTE.”

It can also support both the FDD and TDD vesions of both standards – and Baines agreed with other commentators that WiMax needs an FDD version to compete with LTE. “If FDD WiMax doesn’t happen, it will hurt mobile and fixed WiMax,” he said.

“The cellular world playing field has opened up with the transition to 4G and the battle lines for suppliers have never been more complex. Cellular giants have accelerated LTE at breakneck speed to shut out competing OFDM formats,” said Caroline Gabriel, research director for Rethink Research. “But WiMax has shown how new entrants have become credible suppliers even to top tier operators. Some had believed LTE would be less open, but the introduction of such a reference design and common platform will enable many competitors. The industry aristocrats need be concerned – the revolution has begun.”

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