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Alcatel-Lucent takes Qualcomm coin for personal 4G network tech

Chips lined up for future Small Cells

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Chip designer Qualcomm has taken a share in telecoms gear maker Alcatel-Lucent as the pair collaborate on Small Cells - despite the architectural differences of opinion.

Qualcomm will end up with less than five per cent of Alcatel-Lucent, a share the Financial Times described as "symbolic of a wider partnership". That partnership will put Qualcomm's FSM9900 family of mobile phone base-station chips into the next generation of Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio telecommunications tech, which shouldn't really need such special chips at all.

Not that there's anything wrong with Qualcomm's silicon - the chips feature a quad-core Snapdragon processor and can host Wi-Fi alongside the usual 2G, 3G and 4G telephony with the latter running up to 300Mb/sec.

It's just that lightRadio is based on a cloud-based so-called radio-access network (RAN). The base stations themselves are tiny cubes, with cleverly designed antennas, connected by fibre-optic cabling to a cloudy server farm that handles all the complicated business of running a network of small mobile phone cells.

The theory applies the central bank of processing power to busy cells and withdraws it from quiet ones. The reality is that no one has fibre to every base station and early deployments use the lightRadio antenna, not the cloud.

Qualcomm's chippery adds intelligence to the base station, which should make for impressively functional Small Cells even if they lack the cloudy ideal envisioned by lightRadio.

The market for Small Cells - each of which typically covers the area of a house or office - is expanding rapidly, and is only going to accelerate. Each cellular base station only supports a limited number of customers, and a limited quantity of data, so network capacity is largely governed by the number of base stations.

Small Cells are intelligent enough to configure themselves, so don't need expensive engineers to deploy, and generally use a standard mains supply with DSL or microwave backhaul, making them cheap and quick to fit.

All the infrastructure suppliers are looking to build market share in Small Cells, and the combination of Alcatel-Lucent and Qualcomm should prove competitive even if they are a little slow to the game. ®

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