Alcatel-Lucent touts new radio interface for lower DAS power consumption, better performance

Better signal performance and lower power consumption are two features Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) promises to deliver in a new radio interface for distributed antenna systems (DAS).

In fact, the vendor said the new radio interface can reduce operational costs by as much as 90 percent when connecting subscribers in large public venues like shopping malls, hotels and offices. Product engineers believe they have come up with something their competitors cannot offer, including Nokia (NYSE:NOK), which is in the process of acquiring Alcatel-Lucent. If that's the case, the product stands a better chance of existing after the combination of the two firms.

"It is a unique solution in the market," replacing the big attenuators with this new DAS radio frequency module (RFM) product, said Tristan Barraud de Lagerie, director of product marketing. A Bell Labs study showed that, compared to a traditional remote radio head (RRH) and associated equipment, the new DAS RFM can deliver up to 30 percent cost savings in terms of wireless and DAS equipment required and up to 81 percent cost savings in terms of power and cooling.

Interestingly, he said they're also seeing another benefit: better battery life in the smartphones that are connecting to the DAS.  

Alcatel-Lucent is testing with the technology with one unnamed Tier 1 operator in the U.S. that initially requested the product, and the testing is almost finalized, with plans to validate the product by the end of November. It will be available for general usage around that time.

Traditional (left) architecture versus the new single-rack bay on the right. (Source: Alcatel-Lucent)

Alcatel-Lucent is not a DAS vendor per se, but it supplies the DAS RFM, a wideband low-power LTE interface card that removes the need for bulky radio technology in public installations. Based on Alcatel-Lucent's images, the space savings is significant -- rather than a long row of gear, the new radio technology stacks up to require significantly less space. The company said up to 40 radio sectors with associated baseband processing can be fitted into a standard 19-inch indoor cabinet; the DAS RFM operates in both indoor and outdoor racks.

In concert with Alcatel-Lucent's LTE radio access portfolio, the DAS RFM connects to Alcatel-Lucent's 9226 digital baseband unit, working directly with the analog DAS through RF signals that consume one-eighth of the power and heat dissipation of an average remote radio head.

The launch of the DAS RFM comes as demand for high-speed broadband access is growing in busy public locations, especially in the United States and China.

By providing a simple RF signal, Alcatel-Lucent said its DAS RFM maintains the host neutrality of a DAS system, allowing multiple operators to share a DAS system and recognize associated cost savings. That's likely good news for venue owners and managers.

Boingo Wireless CEO David Hagan said during the company's third-quarter conference call that the company is hearing from more venues that are fed up with single-carrier DAS, prompting them to look at adding Wi-Fi, which is seen as a more neutral technology that can serve more customers.

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