Vendor giant Alcatel-Lucent yesterday unveiled lightRadio, a versatile new cellular portfolio solution designed to shrink and simplify the decades-old design of wireless infrastructures used by commercial and private carriers.

Scheduled to be shown next week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, lightRadio was developed by Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs unit and represents a breakthrough in cellular architecture, which has not changed significantly during the last 30 years, said Tom Gruba, Alcatel-Lucent’s senior director of product marketing. By combining disparate components currently housed in base stations and incorporating them into a small form factor with the antenna, lightRadio promises to bring a host of efficiencies to cellular operators, he said.

“We’re going to double capacity and reduce the cost per bit by half,” Gruba said, noting the need for more efficient networks to handle the explosion in mobile data traffic.

At the heart of the new technology is the lightRadio cube, which includes an innovative diplexer type, radio, amplifier, and passive cooling in a small cube that fits in the palm of the hand.
Locating the amplifier within the antenna drastically reduces the traditional loss experienced when a signal travels from an antenna at the top of a tower to the base station at the bottom of the tower, Gruba said. In addition, a single antenna can be used to support 2G, 3G and LTE systems leveraging multiple spectrum bands.

Overall, the lightRadio solution is expected to reduce a cellular carrier’s total cost of ownership as much as 50%, according to Alcatel-Lucent. Similarly, operators can reduce their energy consumption by as much as 50% compared to current networks.

“I got rid of the air conditioning, which saves power,” Gruba said. “I moved the amplifier up to the top of the radio head and can use an amplifier half the size, so that saves power. I no longer need the heating unit. I can take the baseband unit and pool them somewhere else, which is energy efficient from a different perspective.”

Indeed, this latter characteristic promises to have a significant impact on cellular operations, said Gruba, who envisions carriers establishing hubs that support the baseband processing functions of 25 to 30 cell sites in a single location.

“Two things happen: I’ve just reduced my maintenance cost, and I can do network changes faster than ever before,” he said, also noting that such an architecture could be used to enhance redundancy and to employ features such as load balancing.

Meanwhile, the small form factor of lightRadio should make it easier to get sites approved — always a struggle for the wireless industry — because they will be significantly less noticeable and will not require massive base-station equipment at each site, Gruba said.

Alain Maloberti, senior vice president of network architecture and design for France Telecom/Orange, expressed optimism about the unveiling of lightRadio.

“Alcatel-Lucent’s new vision and strategy of mobile broadband is quite exciting: the new wireless network architecture and innovative radio proposal will potentially help us to achieve significant operating cost savings and be better prepared for future challenges,” Maloberti said in a prepared statement.

The lightRadio wideband active array antenna will be trialed later this year and be commercially available in 2012. Additional products in the lightRadio portfolio will be available in 2012, 2013 and 2014, according to Alcatel-Lucent.

For more information on digital radios and radio over IP, attend these sessions at IWCE in Las Vegas, March 7-11, 2011.