Freescale has launched a system on a chip that includes a full base station, which will allow vendors to build smaller, greener and cheaper units while maintaining performance for 3G and 4G networks, the company said this morning at Mobile World Congress.

To handle growing data volumes, mobile networks are being transformed with the addition of different kinds of smaller cells. But the traditional large base stations will still form the backbone, and it's how these are put together that Freescale wants to upend with the QorIQ Qonverge B4860.

"We have gone from the days of five, six, seven, eight different components and several thousands of dollars worth of materials that goes into a macro base station channel card to now a single device," said Scott Aylor, general manager for the Wireless Access Division at Freescale.

That could help improve current mobile networks in several ways. First it lowers the cost, from "thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars," for the B4860 compared to the cost of corresponding components in a traditional base station, Aylor said. It also improves power consumption and how big the base station ends up being, he adds.

That will in turn allow operators to put base stations in places where they haven't been feasible before, and also help accelerate the roll-out of new technologies such as LTE (Long Term Evolution), according to Aylor.

Because the B4860 comes with so many features integrated, base station vendors will be able to develop new products faster. But it also opens up opportunities for more vendors to start building these kinds of products, Aylor said.

The B4860's ability to support virtualisation using the Linux-based KVM hypervisor also opens up some interesting avenues, including using caching at the edge of the network to improve download performance of popular content, according to Aylor.

These scenarios are some way off. The first samples of the B4860 will ship in the second quarter, and the first products based on the chipset will arrive in the first half of 2013.

Besides its system on a chip base station, Freescale also powers the E-100 Access Point from ip.access, a small cell product that will be compatible with 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks, as well.

On paper, the E-100 will provide speeds at up to 150M bps (bits per second) for LTE users and 42M bps speeds for 3G users, according to Freescale. It can be used by mobile operators provide high-speed data and improved voice services in offices, shops, hotels and other hard-to-reach indoor locations, Freescale said.