Sunday, February 6, 2011

Alcatel-Lucent Charts New Mobile Architecture

Alcatel-Lucent unveiled a new radio access architecture based on several key innovations that promise to radically simplify the way that mobile networks are deployed and operated. At the heart of the new design is "lightRadio" -- a new concept whereby the base station, which is typically located at the base of each cell site tower, is broken into its component elements and then distributed into both the antenna and throughout a cloud-like network.

Bell Labs has developed a new cube-like, active element antenna that can be deployed in arrays using street poles, the sides of buildings or anywhere else there is power and broadband connection. This new software-definable antenna effectively replaces the clutter of antennas currently serving 2G, 3G, and LTE. The lightRadio Cube integrates a proprietary diplexer type, radio, amplifier, and passive cooling in a small cube that fits in the palm of the hand. An antenna array could consist of a handful to dozens of these cubes, providing flexible coverage that activates and scales as demand requires.

Equally significant, the Alcatel-Lucent lightRadio architecture leverages a software-defined baseband chip. This enables the baseband processing to be located where it fits best in the network -- either at the antenna or in the cloud. Antenna arrays could be connected via fiber to baseband units centrally located in the network. This eliminates the need to build and operate environmentally-controlled huts at each cell site, thereby drastically reducing ongoing operational costs. Network maintenance is also simplified by having fewer elements in the field and more of the processing platforms in a central location.

By centralizing the baseband processing, Alcatel-Lucent is also making it possible to load balance a mobile network's traffic. With current architectures, mobile networks typically see uneven traffic loads at various cell sites depending on population movements during the day. By centralizing baseband processing, Alcatel-Lucent said mobile operators will be able to much more flexible and efficient networks. The company noted that this is the first time that software-defined radios have been combined with software-defined baseband processing. The new baseband chip was developed in partnership with Freescale. The baseband virtualization capabilities are being developed with HP.

Alcatel-Lucent also believes its lightRadio design will set new benchmarks in terms of energy efficiency. The company calculates up to 50% reduction in energy consumption over current radio access network equipment.

The new architecture is being evaluated by major carriers, including Orange, Verizon Wireless and China Mobile.

The solution was unveiled at a major press launch event in London supported by partners Freescale and HP.

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