The wireless industry needs to quickly figure out how to enable 100 percent year-on-year growth, meaning the myriad solutions that might enable this rapid transformation must be assessed in real time, according to an Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) executive.
"We're going through, as an industry, a very large transformation, to say, 'How do we pull in that capacity in a smart, intelligent way so operators can scale reasonably year-on-year 100 percent instead of 10 percent. That's hard for this industry," said Michael Schabel, Alcatel-Lucent vice president, small cells, wireless business line.
"We're all looking for that formula that says, 'This is specifically how you do it.' I think we have to appreciate that since the rate of change is so fast, lots of clever ideas are coming to the table, and we need to sort it out. But we're sorting it out in real time because we can't wait for the master blueprint," Schabel told FierceWirelessTech on the sidelines of the recent Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.
Everyone is trying to solve the same problems, but the approaches may differ depending upon vendor and carrier perspectives. Ultimately, however, the mission is to treat modern wireless networks like the IP networks they need to become. "When you're building an IP network, the RF is being solved around it," Schabel added.
He said wireless networks will start scaling like "ultra-broadband" networks, using a term favored by Alcatel-Lucent to describe the next generation of broadband networks and the connected society. "We need to make sure we know how to build that network," Schabel said.
He described three primary approaches to building capacity: Adding spectrum and/or base stations; adding spectral efficiency; and adding spatial efficiency. The first two options are quite pricy and are increasingly difficult to leverage for any long-term improvements.
However, new approaches, such as virtual radio access networks (RANs), can add not only better spectral efficiency but be cost-effective as well, "because some of the things you can do with a virtual RAN you can do with general-purpose processors," Schabel explained.
Spatial efficiency can involve adding equipment such as small cells, distributed antenna systems (DAS) or Wi-Fi. Schabel said a basic aid in creating the most appropriate network design is to consider the bandwidth per square meter, or capacity per unit area, that needs to be delivered as an initial step in network design. Such an approach can provide answers regarding the best technology choice for a particular deployment, whether that involves serving 80,000 people in a stadium or a handful in a rural area.
Schabel observed that Wi-Fi spectrum is "really important and useful" as a complement to licensed spectrum. He said Alcatel-Lucent "absolutely supports" Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) effort to see LTE enabled for use on unlicensed bands such as Wi-Fi spectrum. That's not surprising given that last summer, Qualcomm bought a small stake in Alcatel-Lucent as part of a joint business venture aimed at developing indoor multi-standard (3G, LTE and Wi-Fi) small cells.
"If we come up with a more clever way to use that spectrum, maybe we can get higher throughput out of it," he said.
LTE is a very spectrally efficient technology, so it makes sense to eye it for use in unlicensed spectrum. "Wi-Fi plays very nicely. It's a very well-behaved protocol," Schabel said.
"If you go in and start operating LTE over a slice of the spectrum, Wi-Fi can adapt and it will adapt," he added. "You're compressing the Wi-Fi a little bit in certain cases, but you're also using the other portions of it in a much more efficient way, so you get a higher result."
Ultimately operators could blend Wi-Fi spectrum with the licensed spectrum via carrier aggregation to create wider bandwidths, Schabel said.
"We need all of the spectrum in the transition to wireless ultra-broadband," he added.
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