Alcatel-Lucent has launched a modular scalable mobile network base station and antenna array system that fits into the palm of a hand, but provides more functionality than a standard base station, with a promise to halve the lifetime cost of ownership of mobile network assets.
Orange, Verizon and China Mobile will this year trial the system, launched in London on Monday. Two more mobile network operators are believed to be ready to sign up. Commercial roll-out of the new technology could start early next year.
The multi-frequency, multi-standard wideband active array antenna can be mounted on poles, sides of buildings or anywhere there is power and a broadband connection.
It required different thinking to overcome a 30-fold growth in demand for bandwidth in four years without blanketing the country in transmission masts and power lines, said Javier Gomes, who led the system's three-year development.
Scientists at Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs redesigned the components of the standard mobile base station and antenna array and shrank them into a 300g cube. A smaller application-specific integrated "system on a chip" made by semiconductor maker Freescale provides the processing capacity.
The system will support 2G, 3G and 4G LTE transmissions, either concurrently or by flicking a switch. The processor can be housed locally with the cube, allowing backhaul via DSL cable links, or remotely, which will require high-speed microwave or fibre connections.
The system represented some 900 patents granted and applied for, said Wim Sweldens, president of wireless wctivities for Alcatel-Lucent (pictured). He believed this would allow the company to maintain its technology lead for "some time".
As well as being cheaper to make, the new units were cheaper to run, he said. They produced half the carbon footprint of base stations of equivalent capacity and occupied a tiny fraction of the floor space.
The units could use conventional electricity or solar or wind power, thus allowing operators to provide mobile broadband even to remote areas.
Asked if the company was marketing the system as a replacement to local access networks, Bell Labs' Tod Sizer said it depended on the network operators' business model.
He said it was as strong possibility, especially in developing markets where local access networks did not exist, but added the lab was working to extend transmission speeds of 500Mbps over copper pairs from the present 800m to 1km. "There's still a lot of copper out there," he said.
Gomes said LightRatio incorporated the latest thinking in virtualisation, cloud computing, compression technology and base station element design. He said Alcatel-Lucent was using its 10 year strategic partnership with Hewlett-Packard to leverage its network design and information processing expertise for customers.