Base Stations Drive Wireless Economics

New technology such as WiMax and user trends such as increased wireless data downloads are changing the nature of base-station design, according to the latest research from the Unstrung Insider. The new report -- 3G Base Station Design & Wireless Network Economics -- highlights the steady evolution of a new breed of "faster, cheaper, smaller" base stations.

"With an emphasis on increasing data throughput for both 3G and WiMax, speed is certainly being addressed," writes the report's author, Simon Swales. "There is also a trend towards smaller base stations, with the idea of a zero-footprint base station gaining interest." These design concepts are gaining ground over previous, monolithic designs because the mobile operators that use the infrastructure are facing increasing costs associated with deploying cell sites. According to Swales, network operators need equipment that:

  • Is cheaper and easier to install and requires fewer sites
  • Uses power more efficiently, reduces site rents, and requires less maintenance
  • Uses future-proof technology, yet maintains backwards compatibility
Companies like Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and others are starting to adopt modular or split base-station designs, Swales points out, in order to support multiple radio standards in the smallest unit possible.

The report also identifies a move to even smaller "home base stations" -- known in the industry as "femtocells" -- that are installed at a user's residence and enable better wireless and data coverage in the home.

"Everyone is aiming for the home telecommunications market and bundling services across a single broadband data connection," Swales writes. "Television, Internet, and wireline voice services make up the so-called triple play, with mobile voice adding the fourth dimension."

Femtocells, however, could bring their own challenges for mobile operators. Swales notes that security, RF interference, and the need to synchronize the femtocell with the main network could all present difficulties if the tiny base stations become more prevalent.

Femtocells are also a possible application for WiMax metropolitan area networking as it evolves. "There are some [WiMax] products that more closely resemble the cabinet-based 2G/3G base stations, but the trend is towards more compact micro- and pico-style units and macros with remote radios," Swales notes. "Antenna arrays are also more prevalent, and almost a prerequisite to provide sufficient coverage with WiMax equipment in higher-frequency bands. The IP-centric architecture... lends itself to the home base station market."

All of these trends mean that smaller base stations and more distributed wireless networks will form a bigger part of the mobile future, according to Swales, although changes won't happen overnight.

"Base station architectures are slowly changing to meet operator needs. To the casual observer, they will not suddenly disappear from view, but they might start to look a little less out of place."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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