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Mobile

Will lightRadio Become Urban Litter?

6:45 AM -- Does anybody else wonder who's going to pick up all the little lightRadio boxes when operators are done with them?

That question started as a joke. But when I ran it by some folks, including our own Michelle Donegan and Gabriel Brown, they didn't know the answer offhand. And the longer I thought about it, the more I started to wonder.

See, one way to use the little cubical antennas -- introduced by Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) last week -- is to hide them around a city: on lamp posts, on stoplights, on the sides of buildings, and so on, creating a widely distributed mobile network that's quickly upgradeable. (See AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station and The Lowdown on lightRadio.)

Fast forward 30 or 40 years, though, and these lightRadios might outlive their usefulness. Maybe operators could discover some centralized technology that makes lightRadios too much of a bother. Who knows? The point is that no technology lasts forever.

I pictured LightRadios ending up like old garage-sale fliers on telephone poles, or relics of defunct mobile operators, abandoned all over the city. I started trying to draw comparisons to Banksy.

To talk me down, AlcaLu got Marc Benowitz on the phone. He pointed out that carriers will be monitoring the lightRadios all the time; after all, that's how they'll know whether they need to add more lightRadios to strengthen a particular area. "They couldn't be 'forgotten' from that context," he said.

When lightRadios do become obsolete, they won't be abandoned -- and this was where Benowitz's role as senior director of reliability and eco-environmental engineering came into the conversation. Thanks to regulations such as the European Union's directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), old gear gets shipped back to AlcaLu, where it either gets sold as refurbished or gets recycled. Only 1 percent of it ends up in landfill, he says.

So, Bell Labs won't be leaving its mark in the form of abandoned little cubes all over urban centers. In a way, that's too bad. I pictured schoolkids in 2070 marveling at these weird artifacts from the days before cellphones were embedded in people's brains. Guess they'll just have to take their grandparents' word for it.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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