Agilent will work with the operator's Research Institute to develop test methods for a cloud-based RAN (C-RAN).
In a C-RAN setup, the baseband processing elements of a traditional base station are centrally located and connected to smaller, distributed radios, often via fiber. The idea is that such a distributed network could be less costly to deploy for mobile operators because it could run on smaller cell sites. In addition, it could provide greater potential data capacity than a traditional architecture because the radio units could be more densely deployed.
China Mobile has been working on C-RAN technologies for at least two years. It's expected that the new architecture will support multiple technologies, including GSM, TD-SCDMA and LTE TDD as well as LTE TDD-Advanced.
With the addition of Agilent, China Mobile claims it now has a "complete industry chain from communication vendor to IT vendors to testing vendors to mobile operators" for the cloud-based RAN (C-RAN) program. And with those various partners on board, "realization of C-RAN will soon be possible," according to Dr. Chihlin I, chief scientist of China Mobile's Research Institute, although the official did not provide an indication of commercial availability for such a network.
Other companies that have also been working on China Mobile's C-RAN project include Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763). (See China Mobile Sees the Light(Radio) .)
Another supporter of cloud-based mobile networks is South Korean operator KT Corp. , which has devised its own similar architecture called "Cloud Communication Center" (CCC) in partnership with Samsung Corp. and Intel.
Why this matters
As the world's largest mobile operator by subscriber numbers -- the operator had 688.9 million customers at the end of July -- whatever China Mobile does matters.
A project such as C-RAN is important because it could lay the foundations for future designs of mobile networks to be deployed not just in China or South Korea, but in many markets. While the program isn't new, it appears to have momentum with the addition of test company Agilent. At the very least, it's an R&D project worth watching because it could soon move from the research lab and into commercial networks, which would create new opportunities for wireless equipment suppliers.
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- MWC 2011: The End of the RAN as We Know It?
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile