6:05 PM -- This was one tough category to make a definite choice in. The mobile product market is so fluid in many senses, yet currently dominated by Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android on the consumer device side.
Still, we decided to cast a wide net for this year's finalists. We were looking for products that are setting the stage for product innovation in the wireless network and over the air in the next few years:
Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio -- The lightRadio design involves a new system on a chip (SoC) from Freescale Semiconductor Inc. , along with compression and virtualization software that, eventually, will shrink the base station to about the size of a Rubik's cube. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) has been testing and developing products with China Mobile Communications Corp. and other carriers. The first lightRadio product available will be a small cell in early 2012.
Bluwan S.A.'s Fibre Through The Air (FTTA) 42 GHz PMP Backhaul -- Backhauling the kind of small cells that AlcaLu and others expect to emerge in the second phase of Long Term Evolution (LTE) deployments is a tricky proposition. Any small-cell backhaul system has to be inexpensive to deploy and operate, have high enough capacity to support LTE, and maintain reliable connectivity to the tiny radios. Bluwan S.A. 's FTTA could be an early contender in this area. The system operates in the 42GHz frequency band and uses TDD spectrum to deliver multi-gigabit throughput to multiple base stations in a single sector.
Ericsson AB's AIR (antenna integrated radio) -- This box is Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s attempt to shrink the big iron in a wireless network as it combines two radio access network (RAN) elements that are currently separate -– the antenna and the radio unit -- into a single network element. Ericsson says that product will reduce deployment costs and installation times as operators can use the elements like Lego blocks to add more bandwidth as needed.
Motorola Mobility Inc.'s DROID BIONIC 4G LTE smartphone -- The fact that it's the first LTE phone from the first cellphone maker that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has tried to buy alone might make this 4G phone worthy of consideration. The phone boasts several other firsts, however. It is the first LTE phone with a dual-core processor on the Verizon Wireless network; the first pre-installed with Android 2.3; and the first with Motorola Mobility LLC tweaks to improve battery life on these power-hungry phones. These features and others are already being refined in the Droid RAZR and other manufacturers' phones in this fast-moving market, but the BIONIC helped set the template for the LTE phone going forward.
Nokia Siemens Networks' Liquid Radio -- The third contender that could help reshape the wireless network of the near future. Nokia Networks 's Liquid Radio includes three main elements: baseband pooling, active antenna systems and Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) management. Basically this comprises antenna systems that include the radio and antenna, the ability for nearby base stations to work together and self-organizing network (SON) features so that base stations of all different sizes that support different technologies and frequencies can be managed as one network.
NovAtel Inc.'s MiFi 4510L 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot -- Our practical pick of the year, we've seen this mobile hot spot in airports, conference centers and press rooms all over recently. There's a simple reason for that: Public Wi-Fi can still be spotty, but -- within 165 cities and towns in the U.S. -- the MiFi can get Verizon LTE downloads at 5Mbit/s or more to your laptop or other devices or at least revert to 3G.
Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s Galaxy Tab 10.1 with 4G LTE -- This one's pretty simple: We picked this Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) tablet because it is the first commercially available LTE tablet. It may never outsell the iPad 2, but it is setting the early standard for 4G tablets, months -- or maybe even years -- before Apple's answer arrives. Oh, and the Media Hub multimedia entertainment center is pretty cool, too!
Stoke Inc.'s XGLC20 Packet Processing Card -- The dark horse of the pack, the Stoke Inc. card is one of those behind-the-scenes network elements that will enable LTE networks to work smoothly as the subscriber base increases. The card can handle 20Gbit/s packet processing, up to 240,000 concurrent active sessions and figure out QoS policy on more than 1 million flows per interface. Whew!
Don't forget: Leading Lights winners will be announced at an Awards Dinner at Hudson Terrace in New York City on Nov. 8, following the first day of Light Reading's Ethernet Expo Americas 2011 event.