lightRadio: the future of mobile base stations

lightRadio represents a new architecture where the base station, typically located at the base of each cell site tower, is broken into its components elements and then distributed into both the antenna and throughout a cloud-like network.

LightReading reports that the all in one micro base station from Alcatel-Lucent called lightRadio could be available as soon as the first quarter of 2012. The new device will dramatically reduce the onsite need for infrastructure and power.

From the product site:

“The benefits of lightRadio are dramatic:

  • Improves the environment: lightRadio reduces energy consumption of mobile networks by up to 50% over current radio access network equipment. (As a point of reference, Bell Labs research estimates that basestations globally emit roughly 18,000,000 metric tons of CO2 per year). Also, lightRadio provides an alternative to today’s jungle of large overcrowded cell site towers by enabling small antennas anywhere.
  • Addresses digital divide: By reducing the cell site to just the antenna and leveraging future advances in microwave backhaul and compression techniques, this technology will eventually enable the easy creation of broadband coverage virtually anywhere there is power (electricity, sun, wind) by using microwave to connect back to the network.
  • Offers major savings for operators: Thanks to lightRadio’s impact on site, energy, operations and maintenance costs; when combined with small cells and LTE, this new solution can lead to a reduction of total cost of ownership (TCO) of mobile networks up to 50% (as a point of reference, Bell Labs estimates that TCO spent by mobile operators in mobile access in 2010 was 150 billion Euros).
  • Enhances quality for end users: by doubling macro capacity and reducing the cost per bit lightRadio opens up the possibility to offer new services and price points.”

Key Components of the New Architecture

From Daily Wireless:

AlcaLu shunk the basestation, collapsing three radios into one tiny cube, 2.5 inches square. Each can operate between 1.8GHz and 2.6GHz. The end result: lightRadio cell towers don’t need huts, air conditioners and heaters, big amps, fans, or even local processing gear. Baseband processing moves closer to the data center and gets new capabilities like beamforming and load-balancing.

The lightRadio design uses a new system-on-a-chip (SoC) from Freescale along with compression and virtualization software is expected to shrink the base station to about the size of a Rubik’s cube. The lightRadio MetroCell is based on the Freescale SoC.

The cube — or wideband active array antenna (WB-AAA) — will follow sometime in 2012, reports Light Reading. “The commercial products are going to be highly tuned to operators’ needs,” suggests the AlcaLu spokesman.”

From the product announcement press release:

“Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio approach is a revolutionary step in evolving traditional telecommunication networks to more heterogeneous networks with higher capacity and lower cost,” said Lisa Su, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Freescale’s Networking and Multimedia Group. “Freescale is collaborating with Alcatel-Lucent to provide the chip-based architectures through our new system-on-chip technology that supports the highly-flexible, multi-standard, programmable capability required to make lightRadio a reality.”

“Communication service providers will be better able to meet the shifting and growing demands placed on their networks as a result of the new lightRadio product family from Alcatel-Lucent,” said Sandeep Johri (PDF), vice president, Strategy and Solutions, Enterprise Business, HP. “As part of the lightRadio evolution, HP intends to work with Alcatel-Lucent in a co-creation fashion around the use of cloud and virtualization technologies in the mobile access space.”

“The day has finally come when service providers need to take a serious look at the road ahead in terms of technology and their economic models,” said Phil Marshall of Tolaga Research. “To survive and thrive, service providers must evolve network designs, embrace small cell sites and all-IP architectures and replace traditional network designs with flexible cloud-like architectures that can truly meet the data demands of the future.”

For more information you can download the lightRadio Whitepaper (PDF)

As depicted in the right panel of Figure 8, lightRadio significantly reduces this problem. It also allows continued evolution in radio capacity, well into the future, by utilizing wider frequency band radios which can be incorporated into a smaller number of lightRadio RRHs.

About Daniel Davenport

Daniel is a digital media executive with internet and broadcast experience. Daniel is currently the executive strategy director at THINK Interactive.

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