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ALU extends China Mobile small cells deal

Firms will work on lightRadio trials and alternative energy sources, TD-LTE version sure to be next


Published: 20 April, 2011

READ MORE: China | Alcatel-Lucent | R&D

Alcatel-Lucent has extended its agreement with China Mobile, focused on developing a new breed of compact base stations for new-style 'cloud RANs'. ALU made a splash at February's Mobile World Congress with its lightRadio launch, which integrates the antenna, radio and amplifier in a tiny six-centimeter cube, while doing baseband processing remotely or in the cloud. China Mobile was announced as the first supporter, and the two firms have built on that to create a full co-development program.

This could help Mobile - which is struggling with the TD-SCDMA technology forced upon it for 3G - to leap ahead at the 4G stage, with a whole new approach to building networks, saving cost and power and harnessing the carrier's extensive fiber network (required to connect the tiny base stations to the baseband processing centers).

Although lightRadio will not be a commercial reality until next year, it will now gain credibility from being tested in a network the size of Mobile's. The two companies will also work together on expanding the concept further, particularly by adapting alternative power sources such as solar and wind for small base stations.

"You don't want to have a tiny cube and then this huge battery, or a tiny cube and a huge windmill, so we have to think about non-traditional approaches to sustainable energy for the cube architecture," Gee Rittinghouse, head of R&D at ALU, told NetworkWorld. ALU was a founder member of the GreenTouch consortium, which aims to reduce RAN power consumption dramatically over the coming decade.

Although the latest pact with China Mobile comes hard on the heels of an announcement that ALU would take part in its TD-LTE trials, the firms say they have not yet decided whether they will co-develop a TD-LTE lightRadio cube. Initially, cube tests will take place in the 3G network. But China Mobile insiders were talking mainly about 4G when they were discussing the new partnership, so we can assume a TD-LTE version will not be far behind. Most carriers and vendors believe small base station designs will really come into their own for 4G build-outs, because the LTE and LTE-Advanced standards focus on areas that will make dense networks of tiny cells more practicable - for instance, self-organizing networks (SON) and Hetnet (heterogeneous networks).

ALU may have stolen the thunder, but other vendors are chasing the deconstructed base station too. Nokia Siemens unveiled its own approach, Liquid Radio, at the CTIA Wireless show last month and even Ericsson demonstrated an integrated architecture called AIR at MWC. US carriers seem less enthusiastic than their European and Asian counterparts, largely regarding lightRadio-style networks as something for the future, but Huawei recently launched a range of microcells for US cellcos, which it says are ready to deploy now and bring some of the benefits of more far-out architectures immediately. And vendors like BelAir, with its Strand Picocell, are moving in on cellular networks from the metro Wi-Fi space.

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