AlcaLu lightRadios Go Live at MWC
BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2012 -- On the eve of the mobile industry's largest annual gathering here in Barcelona, Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) announced on Sunday that it had switched on what it calls the world's "smartest" 4G network using lightRadio small cells from Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU).
As part of its pilot Long Term Evolution (LTE) network in the city, Telefónica has deployed 11 lightRadio metrocells in the Fira convention grounds, as well as at hot spots in the city such as the Camp Nou football stadium, the Diagonal 00 tower and the Ayre and Arts hotels. (See Telefonica Picks AlcaLu for LTE Pilots.)
The small cell pilot marks Telefónica's first step toward an LTE Heterogeneous Network (HetNet), in which the metrocells are working alongside LTE macrocells in the same 2.6GHz frequency and without interference. But the operator would not commit to a time frame for when such a network would be commercially launched in Spain or its other European markets, such as Germany and the U.K. It also has not yet selected its commercial small cell suppliers.
Samsung Corp. has supplied the devices for the trial: the Galaxy S II LTE smartphone and the Galaxy Tab 8.9 LTE tablet.
The growth in mobile data traffic has forced Telefónica to look for different ways to add network capacity and coverage. According to Telefónica CTO Enrique Blanco, there is already around 4 or 5 petabytes of traffic on the operator's networks, and that amount is increasing rapidly. To address this data traffic growth, the operator can acquire more spectrum, upgrade network technologies and deploy additional macrocell sites, but it needs to do more than that.
"We need a new approach," said Blanco, addressing a press conference here in Barcelona. "In addition to adding capacity, we can deploy small cells."
The benefits of small cells, as Telefónica sees them, is that they get capacity closer to the customer, improve coverage and performance, support fewer customers per cell and they're "lightning fast."
For the lightRadio pilot, each metrocell supports 30 people at the same time with average downlink speeds of 30Mbit/s, for example.
The fast network speed in a small cell deployment comes partly from the fact that they are deployed close to the operator's existing fiber assets, according to Blanco.
"We know the customer experience with fiber," said Blanco, adding that he wants to get to the point where users "cannot distinguish if they are using mobile or fixed-line networks." And that's where the vision for an LTE HetNet comes in.
Blanco told Light Reading Mobile on the sidelines of the press conference that there were still challenges to overcome with this deployment scenario and that the operator was considering options for backhaul for the small cells, such as microwave, Wi-Fi and fiber.
"We're trying to find backhaul solutions and mix them with fiber capability," he said.
"There are a lot of challenges," he said. "It's a new technology and a new network infrastructure that we're trying to deploy in a different way."
Telefónica has deployed LTE in Germany and has pilots underway in the U.K., Spain, Argentina and Brazil. According to Blanco, the operator is evaluating the small cell products from AlcaLu, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Nokia Networks and Samsung. (See Telefónica Kicks Off LTE Trials.)
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile