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MWC 2011: The End of the RAN as We Know It?

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile Column
Michelle Donegan

The cloud, distributed radio access networks (RANs), antenna integrated radio (AIR), lightRadio, Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) and small cells -- these are just some of the mobile infrastructure buzzwords that will be pinging through the halls of the Fira this week at Mobile World Congress 2011. And they are some of the technologies that could one day transform the mobile broadband access network as the industry knows it today.

Before the mobile industry's great and good descended upon Barcelona, several major vendor announcements showed that radical change is in the air.

First, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) unveiled its lightRadio vision that entails replacing the monster base stations of today with 5-centimeter cubes that house both antenna and software-defined radio (SDR) technology. In addition, the company has enlisted Freescale to develop a complete baseband processing system-on-chip (SoC). (See AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station , The Lowdown on lightRadio and AlcaLu Unveils lightRadio.)

Next up, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) took the wraps off its antenna integrated radio (AIR) product that integrates the antenna and radio unit of a base station into a compact piece of kit, which the vendor claims will reduce deployment times and operational costs of installing cell sites for operators because it cuts power consumption and installation times. (See Ericsson's Small Cells Come Up for AIR.)

Beyond these developments from suppliers, SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) revealed that it is working on adopting what it calls a "Smart Cloud Access Network" (SCAN) for its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. The operator describes this architecture as a cloud-based network that centers on the deployment of remote radio heads and antennas separately from the rest of the traditional elements of a base station. The operator has selected Samsung Corp. , LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) and Nokia Networks as its equipment suppliers for its LTE network. (See SKT Unveils LTE Plans, SK Telecom Picks LTE Vendors and NSN Wins LTE Deal at SK Telecom .)

And let us not forget the HetNet and femtocells, which stand to play a role in shaping future RAN design as the movement for smaller, flexible, distributed and efficient equipment gathers pace. (See Get Hip to the HetNet.)

So the lingering question about all these technology developments is, what's an operator to do? And, are these developments coming from vendor push or operator pull? Light Reading Mobile is here at Mobile World Congress 2011 and we aim to find out.

Follow Light Reading Mobile's coverage of Mobile World Congress at our dedicated show site right here, where we'll report all the goings-on at the industry's largest event.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:12:52 PM
re: MWC 2011: The End of the RAN as We Know It?


the ALU and Ericsson announcment signal a HUGE change in the overall vendor solution.  I think vendors have been looking at the way Operators were being forced to deploy WiFi to cope with load they could see their business dwindling as WiFi, (the competing small cell solution), took over.  The vendors have had no choice but to innovate and take on the challenge.  It is great to see how ALU and Ericsson have come out with what can only be described as a huge change in their roadmap.  The wireless vendors have a real chance to offer a fantastic seemless experience to their users unlike the "best effort" (and sometimes frustrations) that wifi offers customers today.

I still have questions of how this will fit with Femtos.  ie.  Will these small cells use self organising network (SON) features and will they use a standard interface like IuH.  It is my view that without SON these small cells cannot re-use frequency bands and thus the solution isn't scalable.  Also without a standard interface there is no ability to compete and drive competition which ultimately drives down the price of equipment and the service.

Finally, as small cells are essentailly comodotized units - will the companies that provide the components (chip vendors) really be providing commodity prices like femtos?  I have my doubts that the SoCs from Freescale and TI can compete with Broadcom and Qualcomm's femto chips here in the medium term - especially when the volume ramps.

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