Ericsson's Small Cells Come Up for AIR

The trend for smaller, integrated mobile access infrastructure continues as Ericsson unveils its antenna integrated radio

February 8, 2011

4 Min Read
Ericsson's Small Cells Come Up for AIR

The race, it seems, is well and truly on to create the technology that will enable the most efficient, flexible macro wireless communications networks of the future.

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) has unveiled its antenna integrated radio (AIR), which combines two radio access network (RAN) elements that are currently separate -– the antenna and the radio unit -- into a single, tightly packed network element. (See Ericsson Waves New Antenna.)

The move comes only a day after Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) unveiled its "lightRadio" development that heralds the "death of the traditional base station." (See AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station and The Lowdown on lightRadio.)

The Swedish vendor claims the new product, which is being shown off at next week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and will be commercially available during the second half of this year, reduces the deployment and operational costs of installing cell sites as it cuts installation times and power consumption.

Jan Häglund, deputy head of the vendor's IP and broadband division, tells Light Reading that AIR, which was developed with antenna partner Kathrein-Werke KG , has gone through "proof of concept" trials in South Africa. He adds that Ericsson is planning to offer AIR in a format that allows network operators to build the combined antenna/radio unit using "Lego-like" building bricks, adding interconnected block-like modules as more capacity is needed in a cell.

That makes AIR, which Ericsson will promote as part of its Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) offering, a prime candidate for small cell deployments.

The converged antenna/radio unit concept isn't new, notes Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown, as German specialist vendor Ubidyne GmbH has been developing this type of RAN product for some years, and has been working closely with Nokia Networks , Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) on its development. (See Ubidyne Integrates With ZTE and NSN, V'fone Demo Active Antenna.)

Brown also notes that Ericsson's move is related to AlcaLu's lightRadio development. "Alcatel-Lucent has mapped out a longer-term vision that is more ambitious and different in terms of its detail, but the concepts are similar –- fewer components and modules on site, more flexible to deploy, and it's software-defined," enabling the provisioning of multiple standards across multiple frequencies from the same RAN element.

Why this matters
Ericsson is the global mobile network market leader, so pretty much any strategic technology development it unveils is worth looking at. However, this plays right into the heart of what every mobile operator is looking for: a way to build more flexible and cost-efficient networks that can be fine-tuned, in terms of planning and deployment, to meet their growing capacity requirements as mobile data traffic volumes continue to grow.

The timing and nature of this development, though, make it even more interesting.

Ericsson's announcement comes just one day after AlcaLu unveiled its "mobile infrastructure of the future" roadmap, which shows that the major vendors are racing to lay out their next-generation mobile access network visions in front of the world's operators as they consider the migration from 3G to LTE and beyond. It's reasonable to expect further visions from other major vendors in Barcelona next week.

It also, notes Brown, marks Ericsson's renewed engagement with small cell infrastructure. "It's not Ericsson's first foray into small cells, but it certainly gives them more vigor in this area -- this is important because it's the market leader coming back into small cells."

The Heavy Reading man adds: "It's also interesting because it could potentially be deployed with existing networks, as an overlay for operators looking to migrate from 3G to 3G-plus to LTE."

And for the Light Reading team, Ericsson's news is particularly noteworthy as it instantly brings to mind the musical migraine that is Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight," though at least these days we can at least picture this startling simian interpretation.

For more
Small cells, HetNets and self-organizing network (SON) systems are hot.

  • Get Hip to the HetNet

  • Study: Small Cells to Dominate 4G

  • AirHop, picoChip Scale Back to 3G

  • AlcaLu Doesn't Expect LTE Small Cells Until 2011

  • AirHop, picoChip Scale Back to 3G

  • BelAir Pitches Wi-Fi/3G Picocell At Cable

  • Startup Challenges AlcaLu's Single-Vendor LTE

  • Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

  • AirHop, NetLogic Team for Small Cells

You can get all the pre-event news, and coverage from Barcelona once the doors open on Feb. 14, at our special Mobile World Congress Show Site.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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