The companies signed a memorandum of understanding that sets the framework for wide-ranging research collaboration on future mobile networks and builds on a research partnership that they announced in February.
One of the main areas for exploration is the evolution of radio access network (RAN) architectures, which will see the companies bring together the research efforts of AlcaLu's lightRadio and advanced antenna technology with China Mobile's own Cloud RAN (a.k.a., C-RAN) initiative.
Other areas for joint research include the structure of the core network based on network virtualization and alternative energy use.
Why this matters
China Mobile is the first operator to sign up to Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio concept in a formal research partnership. And as the world's biggest mobile operator with just over 600 million subscribers, that's a big endorsement.
It's important to remember that lightRadio and China Mobile's Cloud RAN are still in the research stage and that deployment of such a system carrying live commercial traffic is still some way off. But China Mobile's backing will add momentum to wider industry adoption of such new RAN architectures.
The cloud-based RAN concept isn't exactly new, according to Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown. But several technology developments could make the architecture more viable now, he explained. "The technology in the past hasn't been able to scale well to large cluster sizes," he said. "That's starting to change and now, instead of being able to support say five or six cell sites in a cluster it's more viable to support several dozens of sites, or even more.
"Over the long term the baseband pool concept is well suited to aspects of LTE-Advanced being introduced in 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 10," he added.
Radical changes to the traditional base station and RAN architecture are afoot and will continue to be a big theme this year in the mobile sector.
- MWC 2011: The End of the RAN as We Know It?
- Get Hip to the HetNet
- AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station
- The Lowdown on lightRadio
- Will lightRadio Become Urban Litter?
- Ericsson's Small Cells Come Up for AIR
- CTIA 2011: NSN Makes Liquid Radio Splash
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile