Huawei, VOD Go Soft in the RAN
The development, which was done in cooperation with Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), paves the way for future base station products from the Chinese vendor that can be software-upgradable from GSM and WCDMA to so-called 4G standard Long-Term Evolution (LTE).
The news also builds on Huawei's new 3900 multimode base station platform that supports GSM, WCDMA, WiMax, and LTE technologies, which the vendor showed off at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona earlier this year. (See Sarin: We Need 4G Convergence.)
Vodafone is trialing the new base station platform and is clearly keen on the new SDR technology.
"Vodafone has played a key role in helping to develop this innovative technology, which aims to deliver greater flexibility in terms of both running and planning increasingly cost effective networks in selected markets," said Andy MacLeod, global networks director at Vodafone, in a statement. "The ability to switch between different radio access technologies is designed to deliver a range of business benefits such as enabling the more efficient management of network capacity in appropriate markets."
This kind of single radio access network (RAN) approach could be interesting to more operators as they find themselves having to support many technologies at the same time: second-generation GSM, third-generation high-speed packet access (HSPA), so-called 4G LTE, and WiMax, just to name a few.
Also, in Europe, Huawei's new multimode 2G/3G base station and SDR will be targeted at those countries whose regulators are embarking on spectrum refarming -- that is, allowing operators to use 900 MHz spectrum, which is now dedicated to GSM, for 3G UMTS technologies. Operators will need new UMTS 900 MHz equipment to take advantage of the new spectrum usage. (See Elisa Launches 900MHz 3G, Down on the (Re)Farm, Ofcom Denies Spectrum Bundling , UK Operators Brace for Spectrum Struggle, Europe Waits for 4G Spectrum, and Ofcom Delays 2.6GHz Auction.)
"The rules have changed," says Tan Zhu, head of wireless marketing in Europe for Huawei. "Previously operators have had the approach of taking spectrum and putting technology behind the spectrum. Now they need right solutions behind them to eliminate that uncertainty."
Huawei says its single RAN solution can seamlessly migrate to next-generation LTE.
But while the single RAN approach sounds good in theory, it's not clear to what extent operators will embrace a strategy that ultimately leads to a full refresh of cell site equipment, according to Gabriel Brown, senior analyst at Heavy Reading.
"Some operators may prefer a more lightweight, over-lay approach using single-mode equipment as they move to LTE," he adds.
According to Huawei, it is the first big vendor to offer this 2G/3G SDR single RAN product, which will be generally available at the end of this year and early next year.
"All the major suppliers have initiatives underway to develop multi-mode radio modules, but again it’s not yet clear in what circumstances radios that mix GSM and UMTS will deliver appropriate price and performance," says Brown. "If [Huawei's] bet on reframing GSM spectrum for UMTS, will operators want to pay upfront for future capability that they might use? Or will the vendor have to swallow the extra cost?"
But there are some other multimode radio technology developments going on that could have big implications for operators as they deploy LTE, according to Brown.
"One area that does look promising for multi-mode radio is Multicarrier GSM, where infrastructure deployed over the next few years could be cutover to LTE at later date without an intermediate 3G stage," he says.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung