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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.

The product set was dubbed Light Radio because of its lighter impact on the environment as well as for the fact that fiber optic light waves are carrying signals between antenna towers and consolidated processing centers. The antennas themselves have been improved so that they can broadcast a signal in the direction of the customer instead of in a 360-degree arc, the way present cellular systems do. The actual arc is 120 degrees, Gruba noted, and the antenna can switch direction in the midst of a call if the customer moves to the edge of the arc. The focused broadcast is another power and capacity saver, he said.

In addition, multiple towers may serve the same customer at the same time instead of one tower needing to own the customer, with the others contending in wasted signals for ownership. "Coordinated, multi-point antennas work in concert," noted Gruba. So a customer seeking information off a complex Web site can receive headers from one tower, ads from another, and content from a third, rapidly populating the screen of his device.

"The customer sees he's getting his bits faster. He doesn't care where they came from. There's more speed and volume. It will be more like a wired experience," Gruba said.

No carriers have implemented the new architecture yet. Alcatel-Lucent is just coming to market with the first product set that can be used to implement it. China Mobile and other industry leaders have backed the creation of the product set, he noted. Other telecommunications manufacturers will be bringing out their own product sets in the future, he acknowledged.

The new antennas may be configured to broadcast either 2G, 3G, or 4G signals, or any combination of two of them, and the antennas with their amplifiers may be built out in columns, like Lego blocks. The design will help ensure that carriers in the future will be able to place the right amount of broadcast power where it's needed, without a massive tower.

The approach will reduce the cost of cellular towers by 66% and the expense of sending field technicians on service calls by 60%. Energy costs for the same broadcast output will be reduced by 51%, he claimed.

Over time, the innovations represented by the architecture behind Light Radio will allow the full convergence of voice and data onto IP networks, Gruba predicted.

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