How will ‘lightRadio’ change NBN economics?


blog Fascinating post over at Technology Spectator, where commentator and telco consultant Andrew Harris discusses a new invention coming out of Alcatel-Lucent; an invention, he surmises, which would be a good fit for Telstra. We recommend that you click through and read the whole article. He writes:

“Light Radio is a new product that Alcatel-Lucent claim will fundamentally shift how mobile networks operate, delivering increased network capacity through Rubik’s cube-sized modules that combine 2G, 3G and 4G wireless capability into a single module. As they put it, the product heralds “the death of the basestation” – a claim to take seriously from a group whose track record includes inventing the transistor and the laser, along with building the first communications satellite and commercial cellular network.”

It appears the technology shares a great deal with the femtocells which telcos like Optus and Vodafone have already started using in Australia; but taking the idea of dispersed mobile networks a great deal further. It conjures up the idea of Telstra scattering these Alcatel-Lucent ‘cubes’ everywhere it needs more or strengthened mobile coverage — like scattering grains of salt on a meal.

It’s hard to say how this could affect the NBN’s economics, apart from to trot out the old line that wireless and fixed broadband technologies are complementary. However, there’s no doubt that this type of mobile technology hasn’t yet been discussed in the NBN context. And judging from a brief overview of the technology, unlike femtocells, it won’t be dependent on fixed broadband backhaul.

What do people think?

Image credit: gerard79 (photographer’s site), royalty free


  1. The technology looks great. But even if it does help improve the wireless network (something I’m very happy to see), it’s not going to reduce the cost of wireless. As long as wireless is still exorbitantly priced, the NBN doesn’t have anything to worry about.

  2. There is still a fundamental limit as you how much data you can shove into the air in a particular space. Sure, if every house had one of these bad boys then the residents would get enough data. But you still have to link them altogether into a network.

    Telstra’s mobile data is much better than Vodafone and Optus for the simple reason that they have much better backhaul, that is they have much better connections from their base stations into the network. They use fiber for almost all of their links.

    The base stations still need to be connected together by a network, so even if everyone was getting their data wirelessly they are still going to need significant fiber links to get the data to the base stations!

  3. This technology is pretty awesome in what it does if I understand it correctly. It reduces the footprint of a mobile tower from the current metre-cube shack with tower to a small cube weighing 300g with a fibre line to a base station handling multiple “towers”. It still doesn’t overcome spectrum issues, but it will go far to reduce the blackspot problem of current mobile networks.

    I don’t think this technology gains to add much to the wireless vs fixed debate, the same problems with wireless still apply, it just means the technology is cheaper to deploy, which in itself is a good thing considering how much the consumer pays for mobile broadband as it is. I can’t see providers increasing quotas, as quotas are used in the mobile broadband sphere to keep the network relatively contention free, but I can see them dropping prices in reflection to this.

    The advantage of fixed line will still be bulk transfers and low latency. I can’t see that changing.

  4. It might improve NBN economics- lots more small base stations, linked back to the core network by fibre. If only someone was building a ubiquitous fibre network tat could be used to hook them all up :).

    • Unfortunately if I understand the way the technology works I think that for some of the fibre they need they need raw fibre to send signals down rather than fibre under packet switching with the NBN will provide.

      This isn’t to say that the NBN couldn’t provide dark spectrum or dark fibre services to these clients, but the NBN infrastructure as designed may not be able to accommodate the mobile networks under this technology.

      • Ir would be supreme irony if the NBN rolled out under the guise of the ‘taxpayers fixed line network’ with the so called open access wholesale model ends up obtaining the majority of its revenue from the private companies who will need as much backhaul as they can get for the boom product consumers actually want, wireless BB.

        But that’s not surprising, the taxpayer is being played for the sucker all along, corporations love taxpayer subsidised infrastructure.

        • Absolute hypocrisy…

          As your plan is to cut the middle-man (taxpayer) out completely and simply hand subsidy money straight over to private enterprise to build and own our NBN… leaving the taxpayer with no ROI and no asset ownership… so please!

          • No not ‘it never is’, your response is asserting something I never said in the first place, but then you always do that.

          • *sigh* First of all we’ve had the debate about demand before. You know the one, the one about the lack of a decrease in the demand for fixed line broadband backed by ABS stats that continue to show an increase?

            Second of all, The technology in this article requires a very dense, i.e. universal, footprint to work. If we can use all that expensive fibre for something other than home and small business broadband it serves only to make the NBN a more useful utility, thus making it even more successful.

            Regardless, if you had read my point you would note I said I don’t think the NBN can be used for this, which serves more to help your agenda than pointing out such irony.

            And finally, RS, shut it. I know you are technically on my side here but your responses only serve to cause long winded debates that are painful to watch as they almost always fall into personal attacks.

          • NightKhaos… please I respect your opinions too much to tell you to go **** yourself…

            But if I wish I will post…!

        • It would simply demonstrate that proponents including myself who said we can’t predict exactly how the network will be used in it’s lifetime, only that the demand for data is there were correct.

          There’s no irony, since as you know the NBN co is not subsidised by the taxpayer, and is funded from debt, otherwise it would be in the annual federal budget of stuff my tax pays for.

          Only in the event that it doesn’t meet it’s business objectives in the effective life of the project will taxpayers and private investors foot a debt bill somewhere down the track. Until that comes to pass 10+ years down the track, it isn’t taxpayer subsidised.

  5. This looks like it will be a no-brainer for cbd’s and other dead spots, but beyond that it’s hard to say what the economics are of rolling it out everywhere until they get beyond trial stage. I can’t see it being that cheap to put one of these on every 200 meter block. You’d be paying for the device, rent to the council for the location, and then for a fibre connection, as well as periodic maintenance, and the power requirements.

    But that’s the thing with wireless tech. It’s always something around the corner, as yet unproven in commercial usage. You can organically evolve like that but you can’t just do what I do with my phone and laptop just jump onto the latest and greatest every 2 years if something better comes along, hence why wireless tech seems to be done in about 10 year cycles.

    The NBN has the certainty of proven tech, and a plan that will cope with a different mix of connections vs data to achieve it’s outcome, including connections to non-premise’s such as these little modules. Since they’re have the most fibre out there, the NBN would be well placed to provide the backhaul for any wireless rollout at street level scale.

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