Alcatel-Lucent on Wednesday was set to introduce its Evolved Packet Core (EPC), a set of network components that will help to power the LTE network of Verizon Wireless and other mobile operators.
LTE (Long-Term Evolution) is expected to be the next-generation mobile technology for a majority of mobile operators, while some others turn to the already available WiMax. Like WiMax, LTE is built entirely around IP (Internet Protocol) and transports all traffic, including voice calls, as packets.
The new technology will be a hot topic at the CTIA trade show this week in Las Vegas, where Alcatel will demonstrate EPC.
The move to an all-IP infrastructure ultimately will allow Alcatel and other vendors to build a single network for mobile operators instead of the mixed ones used today for 3G, said Lindsay Newell, vice president of marketing at Alcatel.
The broader implication of this is that carriers will be able to use one network for both wired and wireless broadband, potentially offering the same or integrated services on subscribers' PCs, TVs and mobile phones.
For mobile-phone users, that means being able to browse the Web while making a call. LTE will provide enough bandwidth for both and will transmit calls as VOIP (voice over IP), putting voice and data packets on separate "bearers" with appropriate levels of quality of service for each use of the network, Newell said.
By contrast, 3G networks put voice calls on a dedicated, circuit-switched network while using a packet network for data traffic.
Alcatel's system for supporting this all-IP vision is EPC, built around Alcatel's 7750 Service Router, which is already used in wired broadband networks. The lineup consists of two plug-in modules for that router, plus two separate devices to manage the network and services.
The MME (Mobile Management Entity) and DSC (Dynamic Services Gateway) manage policy and mobility for users accessing the network. Among other things, they handle handoffs between cellular base stations and tie in to user authentication and billing systems.
The Serving Gateway and Packet Data Network Gateway, implemented as hardware and software modules for the 7750, forward mobile traffic to the Internet and other IP networks.
These four elements will be ready for trial deployments this year and for commercial services next year, Newell said. Not surprisingly, Verizon has laid out the same rough timeline for its LTE rollout.
But "multiscreen" services available across a subscriber's fixed and mobile devices, using the IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) standard, are farther out. Carriers aren't likely to offer any of these until after 2010 at the earliest, Newell cautioned.
Referring to the full name of Long-Term Evolution, he said, "the first two words are equally important."
With an eye to the long evolution to LTE, Alcatel this week is also announcing the 9238 Base Station Macro, a platform that allows both 3G and LTE baseband units to be installed in the same cabinet.
On Monday, the company announced the next version of the Alcatel-Lucent Rich Communications Manager.
Carriers can provide this browser-based portal for subscribers to use on both their PCs and their mobile phones, delivering a unified inbox for e-mail and voicemail as well as a calendar and other features.
The Rich Communications Manager works with any major mobile browser but currently uses Flash, which leaves out the popular Apple iPhone for now.
The company is working on future versions that will work without a browser, expanding the offering to less-expensive phones, said Ray Colbert, director of rich communications marketing strategy at Alcatel.
In addition to conventional text, instant messaging and e-mail, the Rich Communications Manager lets subscribers archive their text messages, send mass texts to a predefined group, and drag and drop multimedia content into instant messages.
There is also a speech-to-text feature so users can read their voicemail messages.
The European carrier Telefonica 02 is already using the first version of the system. The next version, to be demonstrated at CTIA, will add a synchronized calendar and will be generally available in 30 to 60 days, according to Alcatel.