CTIA 2011: NSN Makes Liquid Radio Splash

ORLANDO, Fla. -- International CTIA WIRELESS 2011 -- First there was lightRadio from Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), then there was AIR from Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and now there is Liquid Radio from Nokia Networks .

Nokia Siemens splashed the news about its new radio access architecture, called Liquid Radio, on Monday as the CTIA 's tradeshow got underway in Orlando, Fla.

Following similar announcements from rivals AlcaLu and Ericsson last month, NSN is the latest vendor to introduce a distributed, flexible approach to radio access networks, which is designed to help operators meet the insatiable demand for more mobile data capacity and better coverage. (See AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station and Ericsson's Small Cells Come Up for AIR.)

The idea behind Liquid Radio is that it will allow "capacity and coverage to flow where it's needed," according to the vendor. The architecture comprises three main elements: baseband pooling, active antenna systems and Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) management.

Baseband pooling basically enables some of the digital signal processing functionality that resides in the baseband part of traditional base stations to be centrally located and shared among several cell sites. Sharing this processing power makes network capacity flexible so that it can be increased at busy cell sites as needed. Also, the baseband pool supports any radio technology from GSM to LTE-Advanced. NSN's Flexi Multiradio 10 Base Station makes the baseband pooling possible because the radio and baseband elements of the base station are separated into two different modules.

Another element of Liquid Radio is the new Multiradio Antenna System, which combines antenna and radio functionality into one unit and enables a technique called beamforming, which focuses and directs a particular radio connection to a specific user. NSN claims beamforming can get a capacity gain of up to 65 percent.

The HetNet management capability uses self-organizing network (SON) features so that base stations of all different sizes that support different technologies and frequencies can be managed as one network.

Why this matters
Liquid Radio is the latest example of the new wave in radio access network (RAN) equipment. NSN has morphed the traditional base station and turned it into "Liquid," making the RAN more flexible and distributed in order to help operators meet the demand for more capacity in mobile data networks. (See CTIA 2011: Decoding Distributed Radio Access Networks and Get Hip to the HetNet.)

[Ed note: And if there's a classical elements theme going on here, we eagerly await the next and hottest new distributed architecture: "Fire"!]

Nokia Siemens had some low-profile exposure of Liquid Radio at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, but decided to save the big splash announcement for the U.S.-centric CTIA show this month. Bareld Meijering, head of market channels for network systems at Nokia Siemens, said the vendor wanted to test the concept at Mobile World Congress. And he insisted that Liquid Radio is not in response to Ericsson's AIR or Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio.

For more
For more on the radical changes going on in the radio access network and the new equipment that will meet operators' mobile data capacity demands, please see these stories:

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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