Alcatel-Lucent says it is on track to launch its first commercial multimode enterprise small cells with partner Qualcomm in January of next year.
Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) joined forces in July of 2013, promising to build multimode (3G, 4G, WiFi) small cells based on Qualcomm Technologies' chips and AlcaLu's lightRadio radio access network (RAN) architecture. Mike Schabel, vice president of small cells at Alcatel-Lucent, told Light Reading in February that the first of these small cells would be available in the market mid-year: However, he now says the plan was always for commercial trials at this point with commercial launches in the first quarter of 2015. (See AlcaLu's Small Cell Menu: Stake and Chips and Joint Qualcomm & AlcaLu Small Cells Due Mid-Year.)
"We hit customer labs and delivered fully functional products in July, exactly on target," Schabel says. "Now we're going through qualifications for a global customer launch in the first quarter."
AlcaLu is introducing the 9962 Multi-Standard Enterprise Cell based on Qualcomm's FSM9955 chip, which packs in six carrier bands, as well as smaller versions of LTE-only and multimode small cells for the residential market. In homes, Schabel says, the move to voice-over-LTE is necessitating small cells that can support both 4G and 3G fallback, whereas it's all about capacity in the enterprise.
"It comes down to a segment of the market who are going to be aggressively migrating over to VoLTE and their reason is so they can switch from circuit switched to VoLTE," he explains. "To do that they have to put voice in the home over LTE. That's an important business driver. Not all are doing it but some really important [carriers] are."
AlcaLu is billing its forthcoming small cell as the first of its type to support 3G and 4G on a single piece of silicon that also uses carrier aggregation, but it's a safe bet the rest of the market is not far behind. Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and SpiderCloud Wireless are among the other vendors targeting similar launches with similar time tables. With LTE buildouts nearing completion, VoLTE launches starting and voice-over-WiFi growing in popularity, the demand for indoor improvements in both the enterprise and residential is growing as well. (See Indoor Market Driving LTE Small Cell Push.)
For its part, Schabel says that its tight partnership with Qualcomm, which also took a small stake in AlcaLu, will set it apart from the competition, enabling it to build the lowest-power, smallest-form-factor, software-configurable small cells. They can be configured to support 3G, 4G or a mix of both so that they're still relevant as operators refarm their 3G networks for LTE. Even with Qualcomm on board, however, Schabel says it was the hardest thing AlcaLu has ever had to build.
"We made something that's really quite innovative in the market in the context of feature performance functionality," Schabel says. "It was a hell of a lot of work to pull it off. But, that market is taking off."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading