Intel and Ubiquisys put Atom in a base station
Combining Atom with a femtocell aims to create 'edge clouds' for wide range of data tasks and applications
Published: 25 May, 2011
UK femtocell start-up Ubiquisys is certainly adding weight to the idea that a technology devised for the living room can be stretched to meet the needs of the carrier's data network. Hard on the heels of the firm's move into small base stations for metrozones, in partnership with Texas Instruments, it has announced another alliance, this time with Intel. The idea is to put a heavy duty processor and storage into the base station, to support applications and data processing at the edge of the network.
The two firms will co-develop a range of dual-mode 3G/LTE small cells running Ubiquisys software and Intel's processor architecture. The results will be demonstrated before year end and reference designs will be made available to manufacturers in 2012.
The cellcos have been pursuing the idea of deploying a dense group of small cells to create a zone of coverage and capacity for 3G and/or 4G. However, Intel's interest is to go a step further and create a 'cloud' of IP processing power at the same time, to handle network tasks and data apps.
This is the reverse of another popular trend among cellcos, the Cloud RAN, in which the ultimate goal is to centralize the processing load of large numbers of base stations in a data center cloud. In the Ubiquisys/Intel approach, an 'edge cloud' is created, pushing processing and intelligence into the base station itself and turning it into a computer.
Both routes will be valuable in maximizing the carrier's capacity and flexibility, but the edge-based option has the advantage of not requiring investment in high performance fiber backhaul or huge servers, as C-RAN - which will mainly be used for LTE build-out - does. Intel, of course, is active in both areas, and is working with China Mobile to push its cloud computing platforms into large mobile operators.
The key, points out Ubiquisys' CTO and co-founder Will Franks, is finding the best place in the network to do particular tasks. Just as small cells bring the wireless signal closer to the user, helping to improve data rates and quality of service, so localized processing power and memory can enhance the mobile experience a carrier can offer. Effectively turning the small base station into a powerful computer could enable applications such as local caching or uplink spooling, to improve video upload and download speeds and reduce backhaul bottlenecks, or Wi-Fi offload.
These are classic tasks for the network edge, but Franks sees a far wider range of applications developing thanks to the involvement of Intel and its huge developer base. "The great thing about Intel is that its Developer Forum can come up with its own ideas for the edge cloud," he commented. "We've talked about applications for femtocells for a long time."
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