Optical/IP Networks

NSN Beefs Up Its Unified Base Station

"Use one base station instead of three to support 2G, 3G, and 4G networks." That's what it says on the box for the new Nokia Networks multi-radio base station that's being announced today.

Ahead of Mobile World Congress, the wireless industry's annual jamboree in Barcelona later this month, the vendor unwrapped its latest Flexi base station product, which has a software-defined multi-radio unit that supports not only UMTS and Long-Term Evolution (LTE), but now GSM, too. Previously, NSN's multi-radio base stations supported only UMTS and LTE. (See MWC 2009 Preview.)

Such multi-standard radio access network (RAN) products can potentially help operators save on opex and capex costs as they migrate to next-generation broadband technology LTE.

As a result, NSN isn't the only company to have sunk some R&D into the technology -- Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Vanu Inc. , and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) are also active in this niche. (See Ericsson Intros Base Station, Huawei, VOD Go Soft in the RAN, Vanu Opens in Delhi, and ZTE Shows Off.)

But these all-in-one RAN solutions are new territory for operators, and deploying them could be challenging. (See LTE Base Station Strategies.)

"There's always been a performance compromise in the past that's been too heavy to bear," says Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown and author of the report, LTE Base Stations & the Evolved Radio Access Network.

"If you can make it work efficiently, there's a big opportunity to save costs," adds Brown

With multi-standard products like NSN's, operators face new network deployment dilemmas over whether to roll out discrete, overlay LTE networks alongside their legacy GSM and UMTS networks, or roll out multi-standard base stations that support LTE as well as the legacy networks. There are pros and cons to both approaches, according to Brown's report. (See Operators Face LTE Deployment Dilemma.)

The overlay approach is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to roll out LTE. But this would lead to higher overall opex and, in the long-term, higher capex.

The multi-standard RAN scenario would have lower opex, better coordination among the 2G, 3G, and 4G networks, and one backhaul pipe instead of three.

NSN's new multi-standard base station will be commercially available in 2010.

Operators "want the flexibility to use as much of what they have," says Marc Rouanne, head of the vendor's radio access business unit. "Every operator today is asking how LTE is going to make their network evolve in terms of access, transport, and spectrum.

"For us, discussing LTE is discussing higher bit rates and higher spectrum efficiency. Offer operators something that optimizes spectrum efficiency and data rates in an economical manner, and that's all they want."

NSN's LTE credentials include contract wins at NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) for base stations and Evolved Packet Core equipment in partnership with, respectively, Panasonic Mobile Communications Co. Ltd. and Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY).

In addition, Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) is putting NSN's equipment through its paces in the joint trial with Verizon Wireless . (See DoCoMo Does LTE With NSN and Huawei Joins Vodafone LTE Trial.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

In-depth profiles of the eNodeB product strategies of all these LTE vendors are provided in the new Heavy Reading report "LTE Base Stations & the Evolved Radio Access Network." For additional information, or to request a free executive summary of this report, please contact:

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