Alcatel-Lucent: The Future is IP

12 Mar 2012

A while back, when I told one of my colleagues that I was having lunch with the new country manager of Alcatel-Lucent Thailand, her response was, “Why?”

True, Alcatel-Lucent has not exactly been winning many 3G roll-out contracts recently and their track-record in LTE seems to be concentrated to the Americas, but after touching base, I am happy to report that their enthusiasm and drive seems to be alive and kicking.

After meeting Sebestian Laurent, Alcatel-Lucent’s new President and Managing Director for Thailand, I left feeling quite convinced about how the vendor's vision of the future made sense. Radio was rapidly becoming a commodity and the future, the profit, is in innovation in the IP backhaul side.

He said that one statistic that few realised was that Alcatel-Lucent was now the world’s second largest IP vendor behind Cisco (I forgot to ask the actual metric used) and how Sprint’s LTE may have selected a number of radio vendors, but was using an all Alcatel-Lucent core.

Then there was talk of CDN Velocix, formerly Cachelogic, based in Cambridge, England. The idea of moving huge amounts of data, of caching huge amounts of data near as possible to the cellsite not only is the most cost-effective way to cater for the immense data needs of today’s users, but the only way to do so.

The other point discussed was the future of femtocells. Last month, Alcatel-Lucent signed a global deal with Telenor on the use of femtos across the Telenor countries. But, as usual, the devil is in the detail. Are femtos a base station and to be treated as such? Or are they no different from a Wi-Fi hotspot and a piece of consumer equipment?

Apparently it can be both. Alcatel-Lucent tells me that after a long and winding road of negotiations, the Thai regulator considers them as consumer equipment. However, when I asked, DTAC's CTO said that their concession-holder, state-owned CAT Telecom, considers them as a base stations and are to be paid for and transferred accordingly.

One more reason to get on with concession conversions and get everyone operating on licences, I am sure everyone would agree.

Offloading to a Femto is so much easier, so much more elegant than offloading to Wi-Fi. It is a pity that red-tape is preventing it from catching on in Thailand. DTAC is testing out Wi-Fi, but with a different vendor though.

Another nice factoid I gleamed from Alcatel-Lucent was how much the iPhone was an oddity.

In January, the last of DTAC's major outages (major being the imperative word, their network is suffering from transition pains) was caused by a certain parameter that knocked all iPhone 4 phones off the network.

I tried to ask Ericsson, who was performing the network upgrade, what they did that crashed the network. However, understandably, they were not eager to talk about it.

Laurent said that when he was in charge of the Pacific Islands, a small network he ran was incompatible with the iPhone when it came out and a major software upgrade on the network side was needed to get the phone to work.

Then there was the infamous fast dormancy issue that flooded EDGE networks with overhead intended to reduce power consumption but ended up saturating the network instead.

Nobody really knew what happened to DTAC’s network that day that knocked all the iPhones off it, but given the quirks and Apple’s track record, nobody was surprised.

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