MWC: Ericsson introducing new compact radio head
Called AIR, the solution integrates antenna and radio, saving space on the tower and cutting power consumption
Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) stole the show when it came to overhauling its fundamental radio access architecture on Monday, but Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) is also rethinking some of the industry’s long-held principles of cell site design. Today Ericsson said it would launch next week at Mobile World Congress a new kind of radio head that incorporates the antenna into the radio unit.
Called antenna integrated radio, or AIR, the solution collapses the previous distinct elements at the cell site into a single elements. Radios typically sit on top of the base station at a cabinet at the foot of the tower o,r in newer deployments, are mounted on towers or other structures near, though still apart from, the antenna. Combining the radio head and antenna into a single unit was the next logical step, but it’s one that has considerable consequences, Ericsson officials said.
Fewer components mean fewer interconnections at the cell site, less installation time and lower deployment costs. But most significantly, by moving the power amplifier right next to antenna, less power is required to transmit at full power, reducing energy consumption. Smaller power amplifiers also mean less need for external cooling, which results in further energy cost savings. Ericsson estimates that the typical cell site could cut its energy consumption by as much as 42% with AIR due to that reduced feeder loss and simplified cooling.
There are some similarities between AIR and the cube modular radio architecture ALU announced Monday. Both combine antenna and radio elements to create a more compact and energy efficient radio architecture, but while Ericsson stops there, Alcatel-Lucent goes on to reconfigure the components of the radio access network (RAN) in radical ways. The cubes themselves are a low-power stackable radios designed to combined to form complex antenna arrays that can be sized to the particular circumstances of each cell site—the cube becomes the building block for marco-, micro-, pico- and distributed cell deployments. In Ericsson’s architecture, the baseband stays put at the foot of the tower, while Alcatel-Lucent removes the base station from the cell site entirely creating a virtualized baseband processing center in the cloud.
But Ericsson’s AIR concept could be a bit for practical for mobile operators. ALU’s new architecture changes the RAN so fundamentally that any operator deploying it would have to do so from scratch, making it ideal for only greenfield network builds. Ericsson’s AIR solution could be implemented at any existing cell site, hooking into existing base station and requiring that the AIR modules be mounted on a tower replacing existing antennas and radio units.
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