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2/4/2011
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Alcatel Lucent Shrinks Cell Phone Towers

Light Radio Cube developed by Bell Labs promises to boost the capacity of broadband wireless networks and deliver content to mobile devices more quickly, with less environmental impact.

If you've been wondering whether to equip your roving workforce with iPads or other mobile devices, Alcatel-Lucent promises to make mobile computing cheaper, faster, and more readily available wherever you go.

Alcatel-Lucent today is announcing that its Bell Labs unit has invented a replacement for the existing cellular architecture, now showing its age after 30 years of operation without major change, according to Tom Gruba, senior director of product marketing for the company in Naperville, Ill. The next generation of mobile equipment will help suppliers deliver better service, while extending their capacity and coverage.

Alcatel-Lucent's new Light Radio product set can't be compared directly to existing equipment because it decomposes today's cellular architecture and reassembles it in a new, more space- and energy-efficient way, Gruba said in an interview.

Antennas, which used to sit as a lone component atop towers, have been shrunk in size and can now be combined with miniature amplifiers, which enable them to be placed discreetly in many existing locations, such as on a building, street lamp, or a flag pole, without the need for large towers filled with antenna spars. That move has already been afoot for three years as the first components became available, Gruba said.

At the same time, the new infrastructure separates the digital processing unit, which used to be closely linked to the amplifiers in a hut at the foot of a cellular broadcast tower, and relocates new Freescale-produced processors in consolidated facilities, such as a carrier's local switching and routing center.

This reconstruction of the cellular network results in a doubling of the capacity available to any given user, while cutting in half the energy consumed, claimed Gruba. The Light Radio product set will allow phones and other mobile devices to become smarter and more active without threatening the capacity of the cellular network, as they are starting to do today. With the rapid growth of smartphones, existing cellular providers were not going to be able to build towers with equipment huts at their feet fast enough to keep up, he said.

The equipment huts at the foot of today's cellular towers are used to house the amplifiers and digital signal processors. These, too, have been deconstructed. In the past, the amplifiers were connected to the antennas at the top of the tower by coaxial cables. On a 300-foot tower, that meant half the signal wattage was lost by the time it reached the peak. By moving the amplifier to the antenna and combining them as a new broadcast unit, this power loss is avoided. The antenna/amplifier combination is connected to the digital processor, now moved out of the hut to a central processing facility, by fiber optic cable. Fiber optic signal attenuation is less than coaxial cable's for the distances involved.

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