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Cloud-based LTE networks, where basestations are located in central data centers and connected to tiny small cells via fiber, are gaining traction, according to Alcatel-Lucent. When small cells are controlled by centralized basestations (Cloud RAN), then small cells can be small and cheap. At least that’s the vision.

Alcatel-Lucent has added 19 companies to its CloudBand Ecosystem Program NFV (Network Functions Virtualization), the first open community of platform and virtual application vendors and service providers.

Alcatel-Lucent’s Light Radio uses smart active antenna arrays to deliver multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) gains and sophisticated beamforming in a very small footprint. RF energy can then be dynamically beamed where it is needed based on changes in cell loading and traffic density.

Saudi Arabia’s Mobily is the first service provider globally to deploy Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio Wireless Cloud Element Radio Network Controller (WCE RNC), a new platform that underpins Alcatel-Lucent’s virtualized LTE RAN activities.

Alcatel-Lucent is collaborating with Intel to speed industry move to cloud-based radio access networks while China Mobile conducted a proof of concept demonstration of Lucent’s Cloud RAN at Mobile World Congress 2014.

Alcatel-Lucent and Qualcomm are collaborating to develop small cell base stations that enhance 3G, 4G and WiFi networks to improve wireless connectivity in residential and enterprise environments.

Small cells aren’t just about adding coverage. Location-based services with targeted marketing and advertising are big drivers.

Whether the current 20 million DirecTV subs or 14 million Dish TV subs will sprout small cells on their rooftops is anybody’s guess. Fiber to the home may have to come first.

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