AT&T selects ALU and Ericsson for their LTE rollout – what are the network infrastructure implications?

In the run up to MWC and the flurry of announcements that are starting to already pour in, AT&T has announced that they will be going with ALU and Ericsson for their LTE rollout. Here is the press release. Commercial services are scheduled to begin in 2011.

While Verizon had taken the opportunity to announce their LTE vendors at MWC 2009, AT&T is doing the same this year. The interesting part is that AT&T have chosen the same vendors as Verizon. Having chosen to go with ALU and Ericsson was somewhat expected as both vendor's 3G kit is present in AT&T network.

This is definitely a big jolt for Huawei having lost out on both the North American LTE deals. They were also snubbed for the Teliasonera LTE rollout in Scandinavia. 2010 should be interesting in terms of market share wars for RAN equipment as Huawei battles it out with ALU, Ericsson and NSN.

A big part of LTE is going to be transitioning existing base station infrastructure i.e 2G/3G base stations to LTE.AT&T’s LTE network will be deployed on 700 MHz spectrum, which means they will need new radio heads and most probably new baseband channel cards. It’s not going to be a seamless ‘software only’ upgrade as most vendors claim. My guess is that there will be sufficient use of remote radio heads in the network from both Ericsson and ALU allowing for lower OPEX costs and improved performance. While both Ericsson and ALU have SDR capable radio heads which can do multimode in a given spectrum band i.e using re-farmed 900 MHz or 1800 Mhz spectrum to support GSM and UMTS or UMTS and LTE, in the AT&T case this doesn’t really apply. One of the interesting differences between Ericsson and ALU kit is that Ericsson's solution is not software reconfigurable in the baseband/channel card while ALUs kit is software configurable both in the baseband and the radio.

What will be interesting to see is how many of AT&T’s 2G/3G base stations might be decommissioned to give way to new state of the art Multistandard Base Stations from ALU and Ericsson, which are meant to consolidate multiple technologies into one cabinet saving running costs to the operator. This depends on how many of those are nearing end of life. Also what is AT&Ts strategy of using pico and microcells for their LTE rollouts? These are some of the things I will be looking out for in the next few months.

Also, one of the interesting sub announcements that has come out of ALU is that AT&T will be using their 9900 Wireless Network Guardian solution which is primarily aimed at real-time monitoring of network usage and reducing congestion. Its essentially dynamic IP traffic management – something that AT&T badly need going forward especially as they move to LTE.