Mobile data usage is on the rise, I’m talking one of those meteoric rises that only comes once in a generation. Mobile data usage is expected to grow 30 times in the next four to five years and a mind boggling 500 times over the next decade, according to Alcatel-Lucent. Normally, we wouldn’t believe data about something from a company that supports one of its own products but I don’t think they are off one bit. The issue here is that as that usage continues to grow, carriers are forced to grow their network in order to keep up which requires building more cell towers and buying more spectrum. The global wireless industry is spending $210 billion a year to operate their networks, and $50 billion to upgrade them, according to Alcatel-Lucent and PRTM. The end result is that they pass the additional cost down to us the consumer in the form of expensive data plans and even more expensive overage fees. And don’t even get me started on the data-capping. All is not lost it seems as a little tiny cube might just save us from even more expensive fees in the future.
Alcatel-Lucent calls it lightRadio, a Rubik’s cube-sized device that takes all of the components of a cell phone tower and compresses them down into a 2.3-inch block. lightRadio is the polar opposite of today’s huge power sucking and highly efficient cell towers, its small, has tons of capacity and sips power like a Prius. Through a combination of miniaturization and cloud technology, lightRadio might give carriers what they need to keep up with that oncoming demand while allowing them to keep our monthly bills reasonably priced.
The guiding principle behind lightRadio was to keep it simple, strip out all the heavy power modules that control today’s cell towers and centralize them. Since modern cell towers are highly inefficient from a power standpoint anyway, with only about half of the power from cell towers’ base stations actually making its way up to the antennas at the top of the tower. By pulling out this highly inefficient component, Alcatel-Lucent was able to reduce the size of the unit tremendously, allow wireless companies to control the cubes remotely and make the antennas on the cubes up to 30% more efficient than current cell towers. The lightRadio units also contain multi-generational antennas that can relay 2G, 3G and 4G network signals all from the same cube. That cuts down on interference and doubles the number of bits that can be sent through the air. For comparison, today’s cell towers send power in all directions and require separate antennas for 2G, 3G and 4G networks, which can cause interference problems.
lightRadio trials are set to start this September and Alcatel-Lucent expects the cubes to go into mass production by 2012. Since each 1.5-Watt lightRadio cube only powers about a two-block radius it won’t replace modern cell towers but it should provide a powerful tool for carriers to augment their current operations and become much more efficient. They can be easily and cheaply deployed in urban areas, throughout a city or stacked in blocks at stadiums or other areas that need extra capacity. In rural areas, they can be deployed atop existing cell towers in arrays to provide coverage in places where it was once too costly. lightRadio and technology like it could be the next big thing in mobile, what do you think?
Find out more about lightRadio here.