Up against laws of physics, Bell Labs pushes network performance

The organization is working on a new type of cellular base station that generates its own power

Bell Labs' President Marcus Weldon sees future capacity improvements for copper, fiber and cellular networks.

Bell Labs' President Marcus Weldon sees future capacity improvements for copper, fiber and cellular networks.

By using more spectrum and developing new ways to send multiple channels of data at the same time, researchers at Bell Labs are working to increase bandwidths over fiber, copper and the air.

Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs celebrated its Nobel Laureates and gave a sneak peek at some of the projects that are part of its vision for networks in 2020 at an event on Wednesday.

Because most network technologies have hit or are very close to the limit of what can be transferred over one channel, increasing speeds is getting more complicated. But Bell Labs President Marcus Weldon is convinced there is still room for major improvements.

Part of Bell Labs' plan for 5G is a pint-sized base station, or small cell, that can generate its own power by using solar energy or energy harvesting. The power consumption of current equipment has to come down for this to work, according to Weldon.

The base stations will be connected to the rest of the network without wires using massive MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output). MIMO uses multiple antennas at the same time to increase wireless speeds. The massive part comes from the use of 64 antennas that together create 16 beams to connect the base stations.

Bell Labs demoed a working prototype on Wednesday, but the unit is still not as small as Weldon wants.

"We are ironing out all the kinks and proof-of-concept shows it should be possible," he said.

Bell Labs has also developed a prototype air interface for 5G, called universal filtered OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing).

The air interface sends and receives data in a mobile network, and the technology Bell Labs is working on promises to be more efficient what current 4G networks use. The base stations won't have to talk as much with connected devices, and vice versa. The reward is better battery life and networks that can handle more devices, which will help regular smartphone users and make the Internet of Things more viable.

The arrival of 5G will have repercussions on other parts of operator networks that have to keep up.

Copper probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when talking about networks of the future. But it still has role to play alongside fiber, according to Weldon.

Operators such as British BT and Telekom Austria are backing G.fast, a new technology that increases broadband over telephone wires to hundreds of megabits per second using more spectrum and advanced measures for getting rid of interference. Building on the advancements in G.fast, Bell Labs can transmit speeds at up 10Gbps. For now, though, it only works over about 30 meters.

Even if copper is far from endangered, fiber will grow increasingly important. Here Bell Labs is working on optical networking technologies that can take advantage of fibers with multiple cores and send 1Tbps of data over each. Just like the cores on processors can handle different tasks, different traffic can be sent down the fiber cores.

However, getting that much data onto one of the cores is very difficult. And squeezing many cores into a fiber can result in interference that has to be removed. Just like the network equipment, the fiber are still being developed. Figuring all this out, and doing it economically, will be as big a challenge as anything previously developed.

"As usual in physics, you don't get something for nothing," said Weldon.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags telecommunicationalcatel-lucentCarriers

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Win pair of MOMENTUM True Wireless

Three PC World readers will be in the running to take home a pair of MOMENTUM True Wireless which are meticulously crafted with every fine listening detail considered. *T&C's Apply

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?