Sprint embraces Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio network gear

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) will take advantage of Alcatel-Lucent's (NASDAQ: ALU) lightRadio gear, which was introduced in 2011, to help it boost network capacity in high-traffic areas. The announcement that Sprint will use the vendor's lightRadio Metro Cells comes shortly after Sprint launched its LTE network as part of its Network Vision project, for which Alcatel-lucent is a vendor.

Sprint's initial deployment of lightRadio will focus on indoor applications, including entertainment venues, transportation hubs and business campuses. The carrier hopes to use the network gear, which can be deployed indoors or on outside fixtures such as lamp posts, to boost capacity and close coverage gaps in buildings and dense urban areas.

For Alcatel-Lucent, the deal is a major affirmation of its lightRadio concept, which it has been touting since early last year. However, the deal is not entirely surprising. In February Bob Azzi, Sprint's senior vice president of networks, said that using new technologies like lightRadio would help the company conserve spectrum and avoid capacity issues caused by the growing amount of data that is straining networks. Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Samsung are the main vendors for Sprint's Network Vision network modernization project, which primarily involves the deployment of new, multi-mode base stations that can support LTE.

LightRadio uses a Bell Labs-pioneered architecture to break down a base station into its component elements and then distribute them into both the antenna and throughout a cloud-like network. In addition, antennas serving 2G, 3G, and LTE and carrier-grade Wi-Fi systems are combined and shrunken into a single multi-frequency, multi-standard wideband active array antenna that can be mounted on poles, sides of buildings or anywhere else there is access to power and a broadband connection.

However, Alcatel-Lucent isn't the only manufacturer offering this type of product. Nokia Siemens Networks has also introduced a network architecture concept--called Liquid Net--designed to turn a traditional mobile network into a software-driven network capable of self-adapting to network loads.

Sprint's embrace of lightRadio is part of a broader strategy to deploy, through Network Vision, heterogeneous network (HetNet) technology that covers femtocells, picocells and microcells. The carrier made its case for its HetNet vision last month in a filing with the FCC, in which it outlined its concerns over Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) proposed $3.9 billion AWS spectrum purchase and business agreements with four cable operators. Sprint noted in the filing that it also now has 950,000 femtocells operating on its network, a substantial increase in just the past few months. In May the carrier announced that it had 600,000 femtocells in its network--which was a dramatic jump from the 250,000 femtocells Sprint said it had deployed as of March of 2011.

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