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Qualcomm Launches 5G Small Cell Radio Chips

by Chris Taylor | May 31, 2018

Qualcomm introduced the FSM100xx platform, a family of 5G NR radio chipsets for small cells and remote radio heads (RRHs).  Built on the company’s experience with its FSM chipsets for 3G and 4G small cells such as used in the Sprint Magic Box (Airspan), the FSM100xx family will support 5G NR in both sub-6 GHz bands and mm-wave bands.

Some of the key features include:

  • Up to 6.5 Gbps claimed data throughput for use in high congestion areas.
  • Low power consumption, allowing PoE (Power over Ethernet) operation.  Qualcomm mentioned locating a small cell using the FSM100xx on light poles as a typical PoE application.  Note that PoE can supply 12.95 watts, PoE+ can supply 25.5 W, 4PPoE can supply 51 W, and 802.3bt Type 4 PoE can supply 71 W.  Qualcomm did not say which version of PoE will apply to small cells using the FSM100xx platform.
  • Fabricated in 10 nm CMOS, the same as Qualcomm’s X50 family of radio chipsets for user equipment.
  • Supports MIMO depending on customer requirement.
  • Enterprise-grade security and management features.
  • Initial mm-wave support at 24 GHz and 28 GHz.
  • Optimized to work in self-contained systems such as small cells, and in systems with various L1, L2, and L3 physical layer splits including conventional BBUs (baseband processor units) to RRH, and C-RAN CU (centralized unit) connected directly to RRH via fiber-optic transport.

With the FSM100xx and X50 platforms, OEMs can offer 5G small cells and 5G smartphones that work together right out of the box.  Qualcomm said it would ship samples of the FSM100xx platform in 2019.

The FSM100xx family is intended for indoor or outdoor small cells, which suggests enterprises, stadiums and urban centers.  Wi-Fi excels in high density environments, and many argue that Wi-Fi has impeded the development of the small cell market thus far.  So, with the higher speed and capacity of 802.11ay and 802.11ay Wi-Fi about to launch in commercial systems, will we really need 5G small cells?

In tandem with Qualcomm’s announcement of the FSM100xx, the company also announced the QCA6428 and QCA6438, the company’s first pre-standard 802.11ay chipsets.  The company went on to say that the chipsets could support 10 Gbps in line of sight (LOS) backhaul to a range of 100 meters using 60 GHz, with > 1 Gbps still possible at 1 km LOS.  This makes the company’s 802.11ay chipsets potentially very useful when paired with the company’s FSM100xxx chipsets for 5G NR / Wi-Fi access points with built-in support for wireless backhaul.

Qualcomm promotes both cellular and Wi-Fi without prejudice, and understandably, the company can make more money if it sells two chipsets into each device, one for cellular and one for Wi-Fi.  With 5G NR and advanced Wi-Fi widely available, the limitations of a user’s device and the available networks would determine whether 5G, Wi-Fi or both would get used.

It isn’t clear from Qualcomm’s announcement whether the company will offer different part numbers and reference designs for FSM100xx family members operating in the mm-wave as opposed to sub-6 bands, or whether each and every chipset will do both with appropriate transceivers and RF front ends.  In early roll outs of 5G in 2019, it appears that operators will mainly use ~3.5 GHz macrocells for mobile device coverage, and shorter-range mm-wave for fixed wireless access, two separate uses with distinctly different user equipment.

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