With mainstream base station technology becoming commoditized, suppliers are looking for margin, and differentiation, in new architectures. In particular, they are looking for projects that will bring them a close relationship with a key operator, and allow them to compete on more than just price.
Green technology is one of the main areas of activity, with large operators aiming to reduce energy consumption and increase cost efficiency. One such initiative is NICE (Networks Innovation Center), set up by Nokia Siemens Networks and Vodafone to focus on "joint innovation around new concepts, products and architectures".
That was only announced in June, but has already delivered its first results, in the shape of the first use of active antenna technology in commercial W-CDMA networks.
This approach aims to reduce the base station footprint and lower power consumption by incorporating base station elements and an amplifier within the antenna. The partners have worked on this technology in Madrid, and say it will reduce carbon emissions and improve cost effectiveness. It will be marketed to the whole operator base, not just Vodafone, and was tested last month on the cellco's commercial 3G network in Italy.
The active antenna system, which will be incorporated into NSN's Flexi Base Station range for GSM, W-CDMA and LTE, conforms to the industry Single RAN specification. Vodafone was a key contributor to this standard, which is geared to including multiple air interfaces and functions within one base station design, supporting approaches like software defined radio. One of the first vendor collaborations that Vodafone announced in this area was with Huawei, which worked with Vodafone to create a Single RAN software defined base station, unveiled last year.