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Small cells

Ericsson's Radio Dot Receives Mixed Reception

Ericsson's Radio Dot is a ground-breaking innovation… or a simple product redesign, depending on whom you ask.

The equipment giant announced its new small cell system Wednesday, claiming to have solved the challenges of interference and distortion to provide cost-effective, high-performance indoor cellular coverage. In addition, the device has a sleek design, supports multiple cellular standards and (in the next release) WiFi in a small, compact disc. (See Ericsson Boasts Small Cell Breakthrough.)

This is something the wireless operators have asked for, according to Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s Head of Networks Johan Wibergh. Indeed, an executive from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was quoted in the product press release stating an interest in the development, while Verizon Wireless welcomed the initiative in a statement issued Thursday.

The Ericsson Radio Dot system "has the potential to meet customer needs for a flexible, cost effective solution, while also allowing for faster deployment," states Tom Sawanobori, vice president of corporate technology for Verizon, adding that the carrier will trial Radio Dot with Ericsson, although that won't take place until the second quarter of 2014 when the vendor says trials are slated to begin.

But, at least one company -- a competitor, naturally -- takes issue with Ericsson's claim to be breaking new ground. SpiderCloud Wireless chief marketing officer Ronny Haraldsvik writes in an email to Light Reading that, in his view, Radio Dot is nothing more than a redesign of Ericsson's DAS (distributed antenna systems) radio head, and one that looks awfully similar to the Nest thermostat at that.

"Ericsson's 'Johnny come lately' DAS-approach highlights that they know they have an indoor problem and their way of fixing it is to add coverage bars inside for 3G but not add capacity or the ability to enable managed services for mobile operators," Haraldsvik says.

His contention is that since the Dot device links to the basestation, it's taking capacity from the macro cellular network. Behind the sleek device is a wiring closet and dedicated fiber backhaul that's needed to the cell site, he says.

But Current Analysis analyst Ed Gubbins points out that while Dot can be used with existing macrocells that are deployed on top of buildings, thus splitting the capacity, it doesn't have to be that way. In many cases, perhaps even most, Gubbins suggests, operators could deploy a baseband unit in the basement and not use the existing macrocell at all.

SpiderCloud has its own, comparable system for indoor coverage that relies on buildings' Ethernet cable to power its small cells, and it's not the only one. Ericsson's prime competition is Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and potentially Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and the Radio Dot aesthetics are already drawing comparisons to Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s lightRadio set up. (See Vodafone Deploys SpiderCloud's Small Cells, Huawei Unveils Innovative LampSite Solution for Deep Indoor Coverage at MWC, Cisco: Multimode Small Cells Coming Early 2014, and AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station.)

Early analyst reactions seem to suggest it's the right move for Ericsson, whether or not it is unique to the market. Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown calls the system well designed and flexible, and Gubbins adds that the system is innovative and a significant departure from Ericsson's current indoor small cell offering.

But the big question will be whether enterprises mind being tethered to just one operator, which is not the case with distributed antenna systems (DAS).

"It's not a neutral multi-operator system like DAS," Gubbins writes in an email to Light Reading. "So will building owners want to let Verizon put this in their building when the people in the building may not all be Verizon subscribers? Will the performance benefits this system yields outweigh the fact that it's not multi-operator?"

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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