Wim Sweldens: trials of Light Radio in Europe, Asia and
Americas later this year
The mobile telecoms industry should be able to reduce its
operating expenses by up to 60% and its energy consumption by
50% by rethinking the way networks are designed.
A project by three leading
vendors, announced today, suggests that operators should
change the traditional architecture of mobile networks and
break them up into individual components, with a cloud-like
approach to processing.
"Building and operating a mobile
network is expensive," said Wim Sweldens, president of the
wireless division of Alcatel-Lucent, one of the three companies
working on the project. "What we’re doing is
making the network less expensive."
The other two companies working
on the project — called Light Radio, to signify its
ease of deployment rather than any optical element —
are HP and Freescale, a semiconductor maker.
The project relies on research
by Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs, said Sweldens, and
is loosely related to GreenTouch, a multi-vendor project
started in 2010 by Bell Labs to reduce the cost and energy
consumption of telecommunications.
"GreenTouch is an industry-wide
project aiming at a dramatic power reduction in telecoms,
especially mobile telecoms," he said. "This Light Radio project
is a very specific Alcatel-Lucent product announcement in the
The vendor is even hinting that
its rethink of mobile architecture could diminish the dominant
role the base station has had for the past 15 years. Antennas
will be shrunk into small, multi-standard units that can be
installed wherever there is broadband and power, with the
control moved into cloud-based systems. "It is the death of the
base station," said Sweldens.
The company chose to announce
the project a full week before the start of Mobile World
Congress, in a deliberate attempt to win the race for publicity
ahead of Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia Siemens Networks and ZTE, all
of which have scheduled announcements for the first two days of
the Barcelona event.
Power is a key ingredient of the
Light Radio project. "We are announcing a system on a chip
which will work for 2G, 3G and 4G capacity in a fully
software-designed way," said Sweldens.
There is also a Light Radio
cube, an antenna plus radio, amplifier and other components in
cube with six-centimetre sides.
Sweldens confirmed that the
technologies are only just out of the laboratory. "We are in
close discussion with key customers and want to launch trials
of the active antenna arrays later this year. I’d
rather not name them at this point." The company expects trials
in Europe, Asia and the Americas later this year, he said.
The project is designed to
address three key problems that the mobile industry has
encountered, he explained: more energy consumption, the digital
divide caused by the rise of mobile data and the need for
bigger and higher towers to deliver services.
Alcatel-Lucent says that
networks will be redesigned as a system of federated broadband
hotspots that can be set up anywhere and can be powered by
electricity, wind or sun. This will be cheaper, said Sweldens,
claiming the company would reach a "50% threshold" in price
reduction by 2013.
Existing network architectures
would have to evolve to adopt the lessons of the Light Radio
work, he added, with much of the capability of the system
eventually moving to the cloud.
"There will be opportunities for
operators in the next renovation cycle to catch up with these
technologies. We’re expecting a factor of two
capability improvement." That means operators would be able "to
spend less to do the same" or — more likely, in the
light of continuing demand for data — "to spend the
same to do more". But the likelihood is that the industry will
continue to grow, but will look at the potential of Light Radio
to help fuel growth.
Alcatel-Lucent appears to plan
an aggressive programme for this project. It plans to establish
"a road map in September 2011", said Sweldens, followed by an
update every six months. "We want to create the value round
Meanwhile, also ahead of the
opening of Mobile World Congress, GreenTouch gave an account of
its first eight months’ work. Star of the
demonstration was a proof of concept of a large-scale antenna
system, which it claimed can perform as well as a conventional
antenna but using 1% of the energy.
Gee Rittenhouse, vice president
of research and Bell Labs — and one of the Global
Telecoms Business Power100 in 2010 — said the project
deliberately had ambitious goals. The initial work and projects
"show that GreenTouch is on track to meet its objectives", said
When Alcatel-Lucent CEO Ben
Verwaayen announced GreenTouch in January 2010 he said that the
goal was to reduce the energy used by communications by 1,000
"We think it’s
doable," he said at the time. "It’s a game-changer
for everybody. In five years’ time
we’ll have products that are affordable."
GreenTouch is working on or
considering more than two dozen research projects. Operator
members include AT&T, China Mobile, Chunghwa Telecom,
France Telecom Orange, KT and Swisscom, plus Huawei and Samsung
among vendors. GTB