Articles by Joe Madden
It's funny to watch the industry hype machine at work. Every new idea that comes along is promoted as the "next big thing." In the case of Cloud RAN, we have seen several vendors promoting their trials and initial deployments, and we have all heard about the savings available in baseband pooling. Cloud RAN will make dense urban networks possible, and putting the baseband processing together will make LTE-Advanced features possible.
During the past three years, the number of femtocells shipped has outstripped the number of macro base stations. We've all seen this in the news, but it really doesn't mean very much. A macro eNodeB carries far more capacity than a femtocell. After all, a million base stations cover a billion people, while a million femtocells cover a few million people. And all of the femtocell startups know the painful truth: So far there has been no tectonic shift toward capital spending for small cells. In short, comparing sites makes femto vendors feel good but it's essentially meaningless.
Despite the strong demand for mobile data worldwide, the mobile infrastructure market has been depressing recently. Last year, there was a drop in the number of radio transceivers shipped compared to 2011, despite some bright spots with LTE deployment in Asia and North America. Prominent companies such as Alcatel-Lucent are bleeding money, and struggling to raise cash.
Consumer femtocells are cool. Active antenna systems are cool. HetNets are cool. But the mobile infrastructure market is not a consumer market, where "cool" devices go viral. In the mobile infrastructure game, it's important to remember that all of the technology we invent has one purpose: Get the bits from Point A to Point B, faster and cheaper than before.
For many years, the mobile infrastructure market has been structured around the primary customer relationship between a mobile operator and its primary network OEM: Verizon and Lucent; Vodafone and Ericsson; SK Telecom and Samsung. The bonds between these companies are strong because the legacy networks in place require service, and any new equipment must interoperate with the existing gear.
Everyone has seen the famous Cisco VNI curve, which shows mobile data demand doubling every year for the next four years. Mobile video and Web applications are heating up the airwaves, and the geometric growth of the market won't stop anytime soon.