Alcatel-Lucent has launched lightRadio, a new mobile technology designed to replace traditional large base stations and antenna masts and enable mobile operators’ to reduce their infrastructure costs and power consumption by up to 50%.
The company has radically shrunk the cell site into a 300g cube that fits into the palm of a hand, which makes it very easy to deploy. Alcatel-Lucent believes this will help bridge the digital divide by making it simple to provide broadband coverage anywhere there is power available – be it from traditional power sources or wind and sun.
The company has signed up five major mobile operators to begin trials in September 2011, including Orange in Europe, Verizon Wireless in America and the world’s largest operator China Mobile in Asia. The product is expected to come on line commercially in 2012 with Alcatel-Lucent rolling out new products every six months.
The product was developed by Alcatel-Lucent’s R&D arm Bell Labs in conjunction with chip manufacturer Freescale Semiconductor and Hewlett-Packard (HP). The lightRadio communicates with the operator’s network by either using an IP connection or via microwave wireless.
At a presentation on Monday 7 February in London, Wim Sweldens, President of the Wireless Product Division at Alcatel-Lucent (pictured), said: ‘The lightRadio Cube can address 2G, 3G and 4G. It can move between them or do all at the same time. And with a click of a button it can address any mobile frequency used by any mobile operator anywhere in the world from 400MHz to 4,000MHz.’
Sweldens said that the lightRadio cube’s single Bell Labs designed multi-frequency, multi-stranded wideband active array antenna will do away with the current bulky base stations and large antenna masts. Its small size means it can be easily deployed ‘pretty much anywhere’, such as on buildings, telegraph poles, lampposts and other street furniture. He added that they system can be scaled up by just using more cubes, either spread out or racked and stacked together.
The system-on-a-chip jointly developed with Freescale replaces all the traditional functions and processing power used on conventional base stations into one small chip. This means processing can be placed where it best fits the network – at the antenna or in the cloud.
Alcatel-Lucent has collaborated with HP to develop virtualized processing platforms to enable a cloud-like wireless architecture for controllers and gateways. It says this will improve the cost, availability and performance of wireless networks.
Bell Labs estimates that mobile base stations globally emit roughly 18 million metric tons of CO2 per year. It believes that the lightRadio access equipment will cut mobile operators’ energy consumption by 50%.
Research by Bell Labs suggests that the total cost of ownership spent by mobile operators in mobile access in 2010 was 150 billion Euros. But lightRadio’s impact on site, energy, operations and maintenance costs, when combined with small cells and LTE, should cut the total cost of ownership of mobile networks by 50%.
Sweldens said: ‘End users are facing a demand for data rising by a factor of 30. Our product can buy more capacity and more coverage to deal with that factor of 30 in a cost effective way.’
The antenna allows vertical beam-forming, which will improve capacity in urban and suburban sites by about 30%. Sweldens said that operators can ‘mix and match the lightRadio with their existing equipment as they upgrade different parts of their network’.
He said that the new technology was not designed to replace fibre. ‘It will augment it. Operators can combine the technologies and re-use the fibre infrastructure for something else.’