Nokia and Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent lay ground for new generation of radio network architecture

Radio - more distributed, more in software, more virtual?

Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Nokia all made announcements this week that promised to offer operators new ways to design, build and operate radio networks. All offered reduced operating costs, increased flexibility in deployment, and a forward path to new architectures as operators strive to meet growing demand for capacity and coverage in the most efficient way.

ericsson radio systemEricsson announced the launch of its Radio System, which it described as a new approach to how operators can design and build networks.

The company said the Radio System would introduce a modular aspect to building networks – essentially breaking up a monolithic base station into its constituent parts.

Its portfolio of products for the Radio System include a new, much smaller, Remote Radio Unit, a 2x5MW microcell (the Radio 2203) and a new 256 core baseband unit (Baseband 5216) that can control up to 24 macro radios, with 960MHz antenna bandwidth.

There were also new microwave backhaul links, and a new router series, the 6000 series  (formed of cell site, edge and aggregation nodes) that Ericsson said has been very tightly coupled with the Radio System from an architectural point of view, by offering “radio integrated IP transport”.

Additionally, Ericsson has added a literal interpretation of changing the way systems are installed, with a new “single-bolt” way of attaching radio units to a specially designed installation rail.

Ericsson’s claim is that this enables a much more flexible deployment of radio networks – both literally and architecturally – allowing operators to add extra units as they need to add more sectors or capacity, and to apportion baseband units to service combinations of either macro or small cells. There are also logistical elements, such as the easier installation and addition of power supplies and so on.

On some level, this is an extension along the existing industry direction of travel. Remote Radio Units, basebands operating as nodal points controlling clusters of radios, a concentration on site logistics; these are nothing new in the industry.

What Ericsson claims is new is the degree of flexibility that the Radio System gives operators in terms of site design and network planning and operation. (Sebastian Tolstoy, Head of Marcomms for Radio Business Unit, used the word “modular” to describe the  new approach but struggled to define further what that meant.)

It is also notable that the new Radio System will be available to Ericsson’s 15B network software approach – so that installed units can be upgraded for features such as simultaneous LTE FDD-TDD operation. The Networks Software 15B release also includes features such as a Service Aware Policy Controller  to handle WiFi calling and LTE handover, and unified network management. It is with its 15B software releases that Ericsson is delivering its Cloud and NFV capabilities. Other features enabled include a “retrofit” of CoMP to W-CDMA, to increase uplink throughput in 3G networks.

Alcatel-Lucent

Alcatel-Lucent also just announced a new eNobeB – the 9926 – that splits components up into a new Digital Baseband Unit and RF platforms (radio units). The new BBU (like Ericsson’s) supports up to 24 fully cells and 16, 000 users in one d2U chassis. It supports both TDD/FDD modes and can be mixed with existing BBUs. Alu also said it is “ready” for vRAN/5G – as it has been designed to allow operators to deploy a centralised network architecture, including the implementation of virtualised RAN.

Alcatel Lucent 9926

Alu also reached for the word “modular” to describe its RF platform, and like Ericsson said it had power amplifier and filter technology designed to fit common interfaces – to all addition of new frequencies and band retuning. Like Ericsson, it is also smaller, and easier to install, with PIM-free connectors allowing operators to mix and match radios to support active antennas.

Alcatel-Lucent also made mention of further remote radio head functionality – where it has introduced 4×4, 8×8 MIMO, and compatibility with active and smart antennas.

Nokia

Perhaps it is to be expected, then that there was more than an echo of this in Nokia’s radio announcement this week. Nokia framed its radio architectural announcement slightly differently, talking much more of its radio architecture in cloud and virtualisation terms, and bringing in 5G. The difference is that while Ericsson was delivering new products, and framing them in terms of a new way of building networks, Nokia was talking about its vision for designing radio networks that take advantage of cloud technologies, and said there will be commercial products from 2016 designed to this specification.

But there are similar elements are there: distributing resource – whether radio units, power, or computing – to where it is needed, delivering more in software, delivering more in the cloud. Nokia, however, was more explicit about its efforts to virtualise parts of the radio network as part of its overall Telco Cloud strategy. For example, it mentioned building a multi-layer approach to support both distributed or centralised deployments, and also flagged up using Ethernet as part of multiple fronthaul capabilities to support connectivity from pooled vBBUs to the radios.

Nokia also positioned cloud radio as part of its overall Telco Cloud strategy. It announced that is making its vEPC (Nokia Cloud EPC) available in Q2/2015, its Cloud Network Director in Q3/2015 and it is also announced the launch of its Nokia Cloud Security Director, a product that will be available in Q4/2015.

HYPE CURVE:

Ericsson’s Radio System is a “Generational shift in how mobile networks are built”. “This is our biggest launch in radio since the RBS6000 in 2008 (Ericsson’s most successful product ever) – Sebastian Tolstoy, Head of Marcomms for Radio Business Unit”

Nokia’s radio cloud vision is a “Breakthrough multi-layer architecture”, that  is “the first radio cloud architecture that offers a layered approach with different deployment models.” – Henri Tervonen, Vice President, Mobile Broadband Architecture, Nokia Networks.

Alcatel-Lucent’ new platform ” sets the stage for a smooth transition to a virtualized RAN and, ultimately, to a 5G family of solutions.” – Glenn Booth, Senior Vice President and General Manger of Alcatel-Lucent’s LTE Business Unit.

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