MWC – ALU’s Radio Cubes and Radio Network Evolution

Light-radio-cube "We are killing the base station" was the title of a post over at Light Reading about Alcatel Lucent's recent announcement about a new base station and radio network design. A strong statement that caught my attention and so I had a closer looking while being in Barcelona. You can get the full story on the Alcatel Lucent website via this link so I just focus on the things in this post that particularly stand out for me.

The first thing is the new antenna design, if you can call it that. Instead of today's flat panned containing one or more antennas for different frequency bands and technologies, ALU has developed small radio cubes with the antenna in front and three small power amplifiers behind it for different frequency bands for an output power of two watts and different concurrent radio technologies (GSM, UMTS and LTE). Good enough for very small cells but not for a typical macro cell. For macro cells, many of the small cubes are put together and then used as a single antenna. The design then leaves the choice to have the base band unit (the digital part of a traditional base station if you will) close beside like today and connect the resulting cell back to higher layer nodes via an IP connection.

The second concept foresees the use of fiber links and an enhancement of today's CPRI radio interface between the baseband (the digital part) and the radio component (the analog unit, part of the antenna cubes) which then runs over a fiber connection to a centralized location that homes an array of base band units. That array can then be flexibly assigned as needed to provide processing power for the different cells, presumably as traffic demands. Reminds me of "cloud services" but it's probably a bit difficult to pull off due to the very high data rates required on the CPRI fiber interface between the centralized base band cluster and the antenna / radio head equipment.

As always, the devil is in the detail and so it will take some time to see if it's a concept that delivers significant advantages over the traditional radio infrastructure in place today. In any case a refreshingly different thing!