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Alcatel-Lucent: “An evolution from current network design is insufficient”

Wim Sweldens, president of wireless solutions at Alcatel-Lucent

We speak to Wim Sweldens, president of wireless solutions at Alcatel-Lucent, which won the category ‘Broadband Access Network Technologies and Services – Wireless’ at this year’s Broadband InfoVision Awards for its lightRadio portfolio of solutions.

Can you tell us more about your entry?

The wireless market is facing unprecedented demand that is straining mobile networks and exhausting capacity. At the same time, the digital divide is widening, with millions of people still without mobile broadband, impeding social and economic development.  Adding capacity where it is needed seems like the obvious answer, but it is difficult, expensive and time-consuming.

Pressures will only increase.  We know the current situation is not sustainable since, by 2015, we expect:

– 18 times more smartphone devices
– 30 times more wireless traffic
– 32 times more smartphone usage in urban areas.

As a result, mobile operators need a radical new approach to help them expand network capacity, reduce operating costs, reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions and bring connectivity to everyone.  lightRadio provides that radical new approach – it is an innovation that will enable operators to meet customer requirements, while becoming more green, invisible and inclusive.

Why do you think the judges selected your entry for this award?

lightRadio addresses several of the key mobile industry challenges: firstly, it reduces the increasing clutter of proliferating wireless antennae by making the radio small enough to be nearly invisible. Secondly, it reduces the power consumption of telecoms networks, enabling a greener and lower cost network for consumers to enjoy

Thirdly, the same technical principles that lightRadio uses to build capacity in dense urban areas (which are experiencing exploding demand for capacity, like developing local networks with very small cells) can be applied to rural environments for provide low cost coverage.  This is central for ensuring that remote rural communities are included in the mobile internet revolution.

Finally, the modular nature of lightRadio makes networks simpler to deploy and maintain, allowing these networks to be repaired and upgraded by skilled local workers, rather than by sending out operator engineers to rural locations

What recent industry developments does it specifically address?

It is increasingly the case that all devices will be connected… Not just phones and computers, but all other consumer electronic devices, and potentially a much wider range than that.  This will create greater capacity and signalling load on the network that must be addressed by deploying more radios, closer to the user. This is enabled by lightRadio’s small footprint and simple architecture.

In the next 10 years, operators around the world will be running four wireless networks in parallel: 2G, 3G, 4G and WiFi.  lightRadio allows all of these networks to be run in parallel over a similar hardware and software platform.  This simplifies and reduces the cost of the network, and reduces the clutter of network equipment in our skylines.

What plans do you have to improve in the next few months?

Alcatel-Lucent has set an ambitious challenge to disrupt the industry with a radical portfolio of new technologies that we call lightRadio.  Our portfolio has been met with such enthusiasm that we have accelerated our rollout plans to meet demand.  In the coming months we will be introducing WiFi into the portfolio, and testing our lightRadio products in Tier 1 networks.

What changes do you believe are ahead for the broadband industry as a whole?

Firstly more traffic: a more than 30 fold increase in urban areas will strain current networks. Secondly, more people will move to urban centres: as much of 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.

Thirdly, there will be more pressure to extend network reach to rural areas , which will challenge current economic models. Fourthly, more awareness of environmental and societal factors will increase pressure for sustainable design. And finally, more aggressive public broadband agendas will drive adoption and plan scrutiny.

What will be the single biggest challenge to the broadband industry in the next few years and why?

From a technology perspective, the largest challenge for mobile operators will be to manage the cost and complexity of networks running on four technologies (2G, 3G, 4G, WiFi) with a significantly larger number of cell sites (up to 10x in urban locations), while keeping pricing affordable.  What operators need is a radical new architecture that not only simplifies and modularises the hardware, but also uses single, all-IP management system to rationalise and automate the management of these network elements.  This is precisely what the lightRadio architecture achieves.

How do you think the industry should start preparing to meet this challenge?

The telecommunications industry needs to think carefully about whether legacy architectures can satisfy the huge capacity demanded by consumers, the competitive return on capital profile required by investors, and the environmental credentials required by the world at large.  Alcatel-Lucent believes that an evolution from current network design is insufficient and that a revolutionary approach to the network of the future is required.

How does being chosen for this award benefit your business?

The benefits that lightRadio brings to our customers – and society as a whole – outweigh any benefits our business will derive. lightRadio gives our customers fundamental improvements in network design and service delivery, providing an architecture that addresses today’s challenges as well as the demands of the future.

At the same time, the innovative lightRadio design radically shrinks and simplifies current base stations and massive cell site towers, helping reduce the energy consumption of mobile networks by up to 50% over current radio access network equipment. In addition, the lightRadio product line for mobile and broadband infrastructure equipment offers a way to satisfy the needs of mobile data users and network operators everywhere, including under-served rural areas.

This year’s Broadband InfoVision Awards were announced during a gala dinner held aboard a river cruise in Paris on September 27th, 2011. For a complete list of winners, please click here


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