Alcatel-Lucent Unveils lightRadio, Next-Gen Wireless Architecture

  • FTTH
  • Mobile Backhaul
  • Wireless
PARIS and LONDONAlcatel-Lucent's new lightRadio infrastructure will power the mobile networks of the future - and incidentally will encourage the buildout of fiber to the home.

The new system, pioneered by Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent’s research and development arm, will miniaturize today's massive base stations and cell site towers, the most expensive, power-hungry and difficult-to-maintain elements in mobile networks.

In the last few years, the explosion of mobile devices and data has all but brought wireless networks to their knees. Providers have been upgrading to 4G (LTE and WiMAX) as fast as they can, beefing up backhaul and even limiting subscribers' data allotments. None of these approaches has solved the problem, because the underlying wireless architecture is three decades old and in need of replacement. In fact, today's wireless networks won't be capable of upgrading past LTE-Advanced, the next step after LTE.

A global industry consortium led by China Mobile reached agreement on a new architecture that can support continued mobile growth and technology advances; Alcatel-Lucent is the first vendor to release products that implement the new architecture. Other vendors are expected to migrate to similar equipment over the next few years.

No More Base Stations or Ugly Cell Towers
With the new architecture, unsightly base stations at the bottom of cell site towers will disappear. Today, these base stations house amplifiers and baseband processors (which do the analog-digital conversion). With lightRadio, the amplifiers will be integrated into antennas and the baseband processors will be removed from the cell towers and centralized at the Internet point of presence.

Today’s cluttered mass of antennas serving 2G, 3G, and LTE systems will be combined and shrunk into a single powerful, multifrequency, multistandard Wideband Active Array Antenna that can be mounted on a pole, the side of a building or anywhere else there is power and a broadband connection.

The antennas' power consumption will be reduced by about half as a result. In addition, by limiting cell sites to antennas and by leveraging future advances in microwave backhaul and compression techniques, the new architecture will allow operators to place cell sites nearly anywhere. Cellular coverage will become close to universal.

In combination with small cells and LTE, this new solution can reduce total cost of ownership of mobile networks up to 50 percent.

Alcatel-Lucent is in advanced planning with China Mobile and a number of other carriers about field trials of lightRadio. France Telecom and Verizon have both expressed enthusiasm about the solution.

Enabling FTTH
And how does this wireless architecture enable fiber to the home? It's simple - the traditional copper-based T1 lines used today for most cellular backhaul will not work with this architecture. Except for the most remote sites, which will be served by microwave, an operator will have to build a fiber link from each cell tower to the nearest point where clouds of baseband processors are located. And once fiber is extended into every neighborhood to support cell sites, serving nearby homes and businesses with fiber will require only a short hop.

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