Alcatel-Lucent Helps Carriers Find Sites for Small Cells

The database being created by Alcatel-Lucent will help mobile operators improve the performance of their 3G and 4G networks.

Alcatel-Lucent wants to make it easier for mobile operators to locate places to site small cells in urban areas to improve the performance of their wireless networks.

The networking equipment vendor is rolling out its Metro Cell Express Site Certification Program, which will create a database initially of about 600,000 places worldwide, more than half of which are in the United States.

The goal is to simplify what can be a complex and difficult process of finding places to site small and metro cells, which essentially are smaller base stations that enable mobile operators to boost the capabilities of their 3G and 4G broadband networks.

"Wireless operators have embraced small cells as an essential part of their ultra-broadband wireless network, but they must adapt to the new challenges associated with building, operating, and maintaining these new small cell networks," Michael Schabel, vice president of small cells at Alcatel-Lucent, said in a statement. "In order to accelerate and simplify the deployment of small cell networks, we have solicited the help from companies who have assets to contribute to the solution."

The vendor has pulled together nine initial members for its site certification program, with plans to include more in the future.

"While no company alone can address the 4P’s necessary for small cell deployment—people, power, poles and ports—the group working together creates tens of thousands of qualified and available small cell sites, and we will further add to that by continuing to add members to this program,” Schabel said.

Inaugural members include companies that own sites that can be used for small cells, including Crown Castle, EdgeConneX, Knight Enterprises and Zayo. In addition, there are unnamed cable operating companies in the United States, a global outdoor advertising company, systems integrators, managed service providers and site acquisition specialty firms.

Mobile operators are seeing growing demands for bandwidth due to the rapidly growing numbers of mobile devices—such as smartphones and tablets—that are connecting to their networks and the rise of such capacity-hungry applications as video communications and social media, according to Alcatel-Lucent officials. That demand will only grow as more intelligent devices and systems—from cars and appliances to manufacturing machines and wearable computers—become connected, part of the Internet of Things trend.

Cisco Systems officials expect as many as 50 billion devices to be connected by 2020.

Small and metro cells can help carriers address the capacity demand, the officials said. The technology is solid, but a challenge is gaining access to the types of places—from light posts and bus stops to buildings and utility poles—that can be used to deploy it, the company said. According to Alcatel-Lucent, about 60 percent of mobile operators say that site acquisition and backhaul are the top two hurdles to small and metro cell deployments. The certification program means carriers will get access to more than 600,000 qualified sites in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, with more expected.

Leveraging the certification program will speed up time-to-market by as much as 40 percent, and lower deployment costs by at least 20 percent, company officials said.

Those 600,000 qualified sites include 325,000 street assets, including outdoor advertising sites, 30,000 rooftops, more than 150,000 serviceable on-net buildings and 10,000 fiber-to-building assets, according to Alcatel-Lucent. The program members also can offer access to public utility rights-of-way in many U.S. urban areas, more than 200,000 route miles of fiber in urban and suburban markets in the United States, and experience in such areas as indoor and outdoor backhaul construction and operations.

The focus on ultra-broadband access is part of Alcatel-Lucent's larger Shift Plan, a restructuring initiative that includes shifting the company's efforts away from being a general telecommunications equipment provider to honing in on high-growth areas. It also includes cutting as many as 10,000 jobs to help save as much as $1.36 billion by the end of 2015.

Some analysts have said the Shift Plan is beginning to show signs of helping Alcatel-Lucent, which has had difficult financial times since it was created in 2006.