Ericsson laid out the rump of its Mobile World Congress agenda early Thursday with a swathe of product and strategy announcements that includes a portfolio shift that will be of interest to hundreds of mobile operators worldwide.
The highlight is the update to its radio access network (RAN) portfolio, but there were other interesting announcements too that set the tone for the Swedish giant's presence at the Barcelona event.
It's all about the base (station)
Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) has been very successful with its multi-mode RBS 6000 base station technology for the past six or so years and now it is following that with its Radio System, with what it claims is a more efficient and certainly more physically compact offer, including a new way of mounting small base station units on a (supplied) rail with just one bolt for fixing that could boost the potential capacity from one tower/mast by as much as five times, claims the vendor.
The way base station units are fixed to poles may sound rather dull, but it's the kind of logistical and operational change that can have a major impact on radio network planning and improve the efficiency of mobile network engineering and maintenance teams, which can have a major impact on operational costs. In addition, the smaller size also increases the number of locations where radio access equipment could potentially be located, which is especially important when it comes to urban coverage and adding capacity in high usage areas, though of course there are still power supply and backhaul considerations to take into account.
In addition to providing a new way to mount its technology and making its RAN units smaller by up to 50%, Ericsson is claiming to have boosted the network capacity it can offer from each unit (three times more in the same space compared with current products), to have improved the cooling capabilities (enabling operators to stack the RAN units closely together) and to have reduced power consumption requirements. It has also increased the number of form factors, offering small macro cell products (with a range of tens of kilometers) to microcells (small cells) for boosting local capacity and with a range of up to 2 kilometers.
The physical revamp is accompanied by the vendor's Networks Software 15B (2015, release B), which enables simultaneous LTE FDD and TDD operation and supports the introduction of a number of new features and applications such as the company's virtual router (plus broader support for the management of virtualized functions), voice-over-WiFi, cell sharing, IoT/M2M device management and much more.
You can read full details of the new RAN gear (available from the third quarter of this year) and the 15B release offer in the following official announcements, in which Ericsson notes that these advances are part of its roadmap towards a 5G environment:
Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown, who has tracked the radio access market for more than a decade, is impressed. "We've only had a fairly quick preview of the new portfolio so far, but my immediate reaction was, 'What incredible attention to detail across the portfolio and life-cycle.' The way Ericsson has integrated advanced radio technology with the practical issues related to deployment and maintenance really stands out. In this sense it looks like a refinement of the extremely successful RBS 6000 product line. The one-bolt mounting, the air cooling, the power supply, the multiband RF modules, are all very nicely packaged. And you get the capacity gains from new hardware and new features with the 15B software release," stated Brown.
He added: "One area I'd like to understand better is how this product portfolio will support C-RAN [cloud RAN]. In terms of system architecture, Ericsson doesn’t appear to have proposed anything too radical. For example, it appears to be sticking with CPRI [Common Public Radio Interface] fronthaul, which is challenging from a transport perspective. I can see why it hasn’t adopted a so-called 'split architecture' at this stage, but given that Ericsson positions this portfolio as helping operators 'on the road to 5G,' the market will want to know more about the C-RAN options. I'd expect to see more on that at MWC," added Brown, practically inviting himself to be strapped down and smothered by technical advisors in the Ericsson "village" during the upcoming Barcelona show. (See What the [Bleep] Is Fronthaul?)
Next page: Beefing up the backhaul