Goodbye, base station

Jessica Scarpati
22 Feb 2011

From car phones to cell phones to smartphones, mobile operators have always rolled with the latest mobile gadgets, but basic RAN architecture hasn't changed a bit. Operators still encumber their cell towers with bulky and costly base stations.

With the range and impact of mobile services, applications and devices escalating exponentially, mobile operators are recognizing that decades-old RAN architectures are in desperate need of an update. Alcatel-Lucent has proposed a new product portfolio that claims to lower RAN expenses and improve performance by downsizing and eliminating base stations.

Alcatel-Lucent claims its new lightRadio portfolio can eliminate the need for carriers to purchase and deploy separate sets of RAN equipment for each generation of wireless technology. Used together, the lightRadio products also eliminate the need for base stations at a cell site by consolidating some of their functions into antennas and distributing other functions to a central, cloud-like processing center.

This new radio access network architecture would lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the RAN by 51% for carriers, said Tom Gruba, senior director of product marketing at Alcatel-Lucent. Mobile operators would spend less on equipment, reduce power consumption and lower rack space and cell site rental requirements, he said.

"It's just like having a 30-year-old refrigerator, air conditioner or car. It's not as efficient. They're not as green. We can do better," Gruba said. "If we cut even a small percentage [of base stations], it's a big number."

"Anything that makes the radio network more cost-effective is good for operators and more importantly, it's good for the market because it keeps operators from having to generate revenue solely from increases in price," said telecom consultant Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. "This could mark the beginning of a real shift."

Radio access network architecture is "the most important but most problematic part of mobile broadband," Nolle said.

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