The future of radio – a commodity item?

Often a company may have a new application that could use wireless technology, yet may be put off by the perception that radio equipment is expensive and complex. The digital technology element of cellular has already migrated to standard commercial platforms, such as blade servers to host the LTE Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and system-on-chip versions of baseband DSP, so why can’t the radio be a commodity too? The mixture of high-power RF, digital and analogue technology in the radio itself, along with the complex outdoor mechanical requirements, has meant that most radios are still custom-designed for a particular radio access technology and frequency band.

It’s time for this to change. There is a strong desire in the industry for greater simplicity and lower costs. With the widespread availability of broadband RF power amplifiers and software-defined radio technology, there is really no good reason why radios should not be available as a commodity item that would suit the majority of applications without customisation. This would allow service providers to differentiate their offering by the services and applications they support, rather than becoming involved in hardware. Obviously there will always still be a need for custom solutions for very high performance radios, but a radio as a commodity item supporting the key elements would be a real game changer for many aspiring service providers.

AceAxis is pursuing two programmes to address this need and to drive down costs. Generic radio is a process initiative under which we can work with key partners to develop high power radios – for any frequency band at any power level – in only the time it takes to procure the bill of materials for volume production. COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) radio is even simpler: these are radios built on a standard platform using readily-available electrical and mechanical components like enclosures, power supplies and filters. This brings huge benefits in terms of both cost and the time taken up for qualification and certification, due to using ready-qualified parts. We are keen to develop partnerships and take part in industry forums to take this concept forward, for example by standardising interfaces or test processes.

It is our belief that driving down radio costs and simplifying build standards can lead to a truly open, market-driven situation in which the entire LTE infrastructure will become commodity-based. As 5G and the IoT roll out this concept will potentially become even more important, as many of the proposed use cases do not fit conventional billing models and will need disruptive technology to achieve their full potential.