Alcatel-Lucent claims it’s got the drop on its mobile infrastructure competitors by being the first out of the traps with what it claims will be the next generation of low-powered, small-sized, small-cell, light-weight and highly-integrated mobile base stations. By Ian Scales.
Technology stories always work best when the things in question can be picked up and showed off. Think of Steve Jobs standing on stage and holding aloft his iPhone or his iPad.
And that's been a problem for other parts of the mobile ecosystem because, up to now, most product on the infrastructure side of the business was always about as far away from a Jobsian object of desire that you could imagine. ‘Unsexy’ doesn’t really bring out the full horror .
To ram that point home Alcatel-Lucent had today hauled the flabby (actually, distinctly ugly) old fridge-freezer style base station onto the stage to act as the ‘before’ image.
The ‘after’ shot was what we were there to see: a radically slimmed-down base station (pictured left) which Alcatel-Lucent claims is going to be in the vanguard of the next generation of mobile infrastructure and may eventually see off the ugly cell tower for good.
This is its LightRadio. To say it does much more with far less is an understatement. The Alcatel-Lucent sales pitch is cramed with doublings and halvings. ‘Radically’ smaller means 300 gms - not quite as small and as sexy as an iPhone but close to being in the same ballpark.
Sexy? Well, if a base station can be sexy, this one probably qualifies – the arty bit on top is the antenna array. Alcalu says the unit can be deployed wherever there is power and broadband available, so it's been designed to appear in public places, on the sides of buildings and even on much slimmer and more unobtrusive masts.
Despite being tiny, it can support 2/3/4G in all the frequencies, configurable at the “flick of a swich”; it halves the carbon footprint of the conventional base station it replaces: reduces total cost of ownership for the operator by another 50 per cent, and through all this it can be deployed ‘everywhere’ to effectively double the amount of bandwidth on offer to the mobile broadband end-users.
The key to all the goodness is Alcalu’s move to a ‘system on a chip’ approach which has been pulled together in partnership with processor specialist Freescale Semiconductor; deployment and opex costs are also constrained by the use of ‘virtualisation’ techniques, courtesy of its technology partner, HP.
This has enabled an architecture in which processing platforms such as controllers and gateways can be sited in the ‘cloud’ rather than having to occupy a specific slot in a network hierarchy, as is demanded by conventional 2/3G networks.
The word for some time has been that LTE (and HSPA+ ) deployment is going to be about next-generation equipment and small cells more than anything else and Alcatel’s decision to release its next gen small cell offering in the week before Mobile World Congress might indicate that it expects its competition to be hot on its heels and making similar announcements.
It could be that this year at MWC, instead of fancy new smartphones supporting ever-grander (and more bandwidth-gobbling) applications, we’ll be talking about new, efficient, infrastructure designed to support them.
The LightRadio is will be available for trial in September this year and full rollout in 2012, Alcalu is claiming interest from Orange, Verizon and China Mobile.
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