Ever since the inception of the mobile communications industry, base stations have been designed pretty much the same way, complete with coaxial feeder cables, remote electrical tilt assemblies, and amplifiers on antenna towers and masts. But a small start-up called Ubidyne is well on its way to dramatically changing the design of base stations in a way that will reduce both capex and opex for operators deploying the GSM family of technologies, including LTE, while maximizing bandwidth.

Ken Hawk, CEO of privately held Ubidyne, said the company uses so-called active antennas that use closely attached amplifiers to receive signals before they travel along a transmission line. The transmission line is the point where the signals are hit with interference and loss. Hawk said that half the signal typically is lost when it runs through a coax on a traditional base station. Using an active antenna system, however, eliminates the need for coaxial feeder cables, amplifiers and other bulky equipment, while improving radio performance and reducing energy consumption, he said.

All an active antenna base station now needs is a fiber-optic cable and a DC power cable to enable an operator to incorporate GSM, UMTS, HSPA and LTE in the same box, which is wall-mountable.

The bottom line: Capex can be cut by one-third and operating costs can be reduced by half, Hawk said.

Ubidyne, founded in 2005, had a bit of a tough sell early in its inception. Working in stealth mode in 2007, the company hit resistance from engineers who had declared that active antennas didn't work. But Ubidyne developed its own application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to deal with the interference problems many engineers had experienced.

"We spent four years developing custom chips, algorithms and a unique filtering technology," Hawk said. "We've filed over 50 patents and will have 80 by the end of this year. We're solving the daunting technical challenges associated with this technology. We had to incorporate our own chips because there was nothing off the shelf that could do what we needed."

It's a bold concept because Ubidyne's technology requires half of an entire base station design to be altered to incorporate a digital architecture that uses low-power chips. So, Ubidyne needs the buy-in of base station vendors.

That can be a tough sell to a major equipment manufacturer, but Ubidyne has had the world's largest operator, Vodafone, in its corner since 2007. The operator is now requiring that its manufacturers incorporate the technology in the base stations it is deploying. In fact, Vodafone assisted Ubidyne in creating specs and the design for Ubidyne's uB900 active antenna system. To date, three major OEMs — Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia Siemens Networks and ZTE — are incorporating the technology. More will follow because of Vodafone's requirements.

"NSN and others are in the managed-services business, and they feel the pain of being an operator," Hawk said. "They are wanting the same thing operators want."

Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless will be incorporating the technology for its 700 MHz LTE deployment. It plans to roll out LTE in 25 to 30 markets in the fourth quarter.

Hawk said volume production of active antenna base stations is expected by the end of this year, with volume shipments coming in the second quarter of 2011.

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