The new products, both set to be tested by operators in 2012 and become commercially available in 2013, are:
AtomCell: Designed for indoor and outdoor use, this (currently) 6-inch square, 1-inch deep mini base station/small cell module can be used to add very localized coverage in 3G and LTE hotspots (Wi-Fi capabilities are in development). It supports the 2.1GHz and 2.6GHz bands that are used for 3G and LTE in Europe and has been built using the Atom, which combines three Huawei proprietary chips (power amplifier, radio frequency and baseband), combined with a transmission and antenna unit. The AtomCells can be stacked together (two or four units combined) to enable active antenna capabilities: Combining four units in a single location enables 360-degree (or "four-sector") coverage. The AtomCell is also designed for "beamforming," a directional signal transmission technique particularly useful in hotspot areas. It can be powered over Ethernet so in terms of deployment would need just a single cable to be powered and connect back to the aggregation network, though the unit also supports microwave backhaul.
Adaptive Radio Unit (ARU): While the AtomCell is designed to help operators add extra small pockets of coverage to their networks, the Adaptive Radio Unit (ARU) is a new macro RAN product for more regular wide-area coverage in urban areas but in a much smaller form factor than traditional mobile network products as it combines Adaptive Antenna System capabilities with the RF (radio frequency) unit in a product that looks not dissimilar to a regular mobile tower antenna. Apart from the physical efficiencies, Huawei has worked hard on making a product that has multiple deployment possibilities: It supports three technologies (GSM, UMTS and LTE) and three spectrum bands (1.8GHz, 2.1GHz and 2.6GHz). The Adaptive Antenna System capabilities enables targeted sector coverage while Huawei claims that its 1.6 Gbit/s downlink and 1 Gbit/s uplink make the ARU the "highest capacity radio unit" available.
The new products will be managed by Huawei's SingleSON (self-organizing network) Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) software, which manages interference cancellation among many other things, and are part of the vendor's Giga World vision. (See Huawei's 'Giga World' Vision.)
Why this matters
As one of the world's leading RAN equipment vendors, any new product from Huawei is worth noting. In this case, though, these are particularly key products as they address the pressing need of nearly all mobile network operators for more efficient additional coverage in high-traffic areas, especially as data and video traffic volumes ramp up.
And while Huawei claims (as it would) that its new products are a few steps ahead of those being developed by its rivals, the AtomCell and ARU are broadly similar in nature to those unveiled a year ago by Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). (See AlcaLu's lightRadio Set for Early 2012 Debut, AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station , Ericsson: Coming Up for AIR in 2012 and Ericsson's Small Cells Come Up for AIR.)
Such developments are to be expected from all the main players in the RAN market, though, points out Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Patrick Donegan. "There are pretty close parallels between the product portfolios of most of the RAN vendors and that's extending into the small-cell range, in much the same way as the macro and micro ranges."
Indeed, Nokia Networks also announced a new small-cell product this week as part of its Liquid Net strategy. (See NSN Pours Small Cells in Liquid Radio and NSN Hangs Its Future on the Liquid Net.)
But are Huawei and NSN a bit slow off the mark? Not really, says Donegan.
"In the sense of the half-a-watt to two-watt products that we are typically talking about, the market for 3G and LTE public access small cells is very much an early, nascent market," he says. "Huawei is a mature vendor these days. It doesn't need to be first to market in everything the way it used to. I suspect its market timing will align pretty well with real market demand."
Operators in North America (where Huawei is at least heavily involved in mobile operator developments in Canada, if not in the U.S.) need not get excited just yet, though, as Huawei doesn't have any information currently about when these products might be made available for the spectrum bands used in that region.
Multi-mode small cell technology is set to be a very hot topic at Mobile World Congress 2012:
You can get all the pre-show news, as well as reports from Barcelona during the event, at our Mobile World Congress Show Site.
- MWC 2012: Wireless Tapas
- MWC 2012: Small Cells, Wi-Fi and VoLTE
- Ruckus Packs Wi-Fi & LTE Into Small Cells
- Femto Firm Preps LTE Small Cell
- AlcaLu CEO Unveils New Vision
- Ubiquisys Uses Intel for Small Cells
- Virgin Tests LTE Small Cells
- Small-Cell Startup Goes Big On Backhaul
- AirHop, Airspan Build an LTE HetNet