Alcatel-Lucent launched what it is calling the Metro Cell Express solution based on its lightRadio hardware to help network operators improve capacity and performance in densely populated gathering places such as train stations, sports venues, etc. At first glance not much about the announcement appears to be new; the lightRadio assets were launched at Mobile World Congress 2011; ALU’s backhaul solution (termed “META”) dates back even further; the vendor has offered consulting and optimization services for years. However, the steady maturation, and subsequent blending of these three components is what makes the Franco-American vendor’s announcement interesting.
Small cells are big news. However, as more attention is paid to small cells, the more widely known it becomes that hardware is only part of the equation. To be sure, radio access and backhaul are essential pieces of the puzzle. Just as radio access hardware must be cited and deployed, so must backhaul via microwave or fiber in places that aren’t necessarily conducive to microwave tower citings or fiber trenching. These are challenges that must be overcome for small cells to succeed.
That said, software-enabled resource scheduling is vitally important in order to orchestrate the radio resources in a way that improves, not degrades, overall capacity. Additionally, consulting services related to site acquisition, construction, planning and design are absolutely critical to help operators deal with a myriad of design considerations and permissions from both public and private sector stakeholders.
At the end of the day, many large infrastructure competitors will claim to offer equally robust solutions that are both as broad and deep as Alcatel-Lucent’s. In most cases, these will be fair claims. Differentiation, then, comes from the operational capabilities found within each company, and in the execution on a project-by-project basis.
Here’s where Alcatel-Lucent can claim some strengths. Bell Labs is one of the venerable R&D organizations in the industry. From here, ALU not only performs hardware and software work, but also leverages deep experience in designing and deploying networks to enhance the processes associated with its managed and professional services offerings. These latter offerings are what help operators with the complexity beyond the hardware.
To this end, the increasing maturity of Alcatel-Lucent’s hardware, and the ability to orchestrate the three key aspects of hardware, software and services is a good reason why the market should pay attention to this announcement. As small cells become increasingly mandatory, meaningful expertise in all three areas will be a must.
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