Alcatel-Lucent says small cells are needed for data demand

Mobile basestations are shrinking and it is all in the interests of meeting the needs of networks tottering under the strain of rapidly increasing mobile data usage.

Mike Schabel

Mike Schabel

The radio masts and basestations which make up today’s mobile networks are becoming small enough to be fitted to lamp posts, advertising signs and even bus shelters.

Mobile networks are becoming distributed to provide more data channels and hopefully to be less conspicuous.

Micro basestations, sometimes known as femtocells, have been used to boost mobile signals in buildings for some time.

What has changed now is that the explosion in the demand for data has made outdoor versions called small cells be seen as essential elements in future mobile network building.

“Without small cell basestations there would be capacity issues in future networks,” Mike Schabel, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent’s small cell business told Electronics Weekly.

With small cell basestations, operators can place capacity where it is needed in the network.

It will also mean that mobile services can be adapted and even new services created for specific locations such as shopping centres and sports arenas.

This cannot happen with today’s networks where basestation cells can be kiliometres wide.

“Small cells make possible in-building services and proximity-based services. Operators can add contextual elements within the small cell,” said Schabel.

According to Schabel, it is low power processors and software defined radio which is enabling the development of very much smaller and power efficient radio basestations, which can match the performance of their larger forbearers.

As a result Alcatel-Lucent’s latest small cell is half the size of existing metro cells.

Called the Compact Metro Cell Outdoor, the LTE basestation can support up to 200 mobile users with up to two channels of 2W output power. It is designed to be wall-mounted and hidden from view, with just the antenna visible.

Existing macro basestations can have as much as 10W output power power.

According to Schabel, the company has propriety software defined radio technology which can dramatically improve the power efficiency of the basestation.

“Power consumption is an important consideration for network operators,” said Schabel.

Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs research arm has worked with the Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institute in and Intel Mobile Communications in Germany GmbH on a future network design project which found that mobile networks which use a mix of macro and small cell radio base stations can see energy savings of up to 50%.

Alcatel-Lucent’s Compact Metro Cell Outdoor family is commercially available within the 1800MHz frequency, B7 operating band and 2600MHz frequency, B3 operating band, with a full complement of frequencies for FDD and TDD available throughout 2015.

Mobile World Congress 2015 takes place in Barcelona 2-5 March

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