Alcatel, Intel team on WiMax, Linux and ATCA

Alcatel will work with Intel to develop WiMax wireless systems and network equipment based on the open ATCA blade server specification.

French telecommunications equipment manufacturer Alcatel is collaborating with Intel on two network technology projects that could lower infrastructure costs for network operators, the companies announced Tuesday.

Alcatel and Intel have agreed to jointly develop WiMax broadband wireless access technology, and hope to bring products based on the "nomadic" version of WiMax to market in mid-2006, said Marc Rouanne, chief operating officer of Alcatel's mobile communications group, at a news conference on the sidelines of the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes.

Several versions of the WiMax standard, also known as IEEE802.16, are being defined. Alcatel already resells products from Alvarion that meet Revision D of the standard, for fixed wireless access. Revision E, the focus of Alcatel's collaboration with Intel, concerns nomadic applications, in which the user will move to the coverage area of one base station, turn on their computer and stay there for a while, not roaming from one cell to another. A typical application might be a wireless Internet access hot spot.

The two companies have already worked together on WiMax technology for 18 months, during which time they stabilized the standard, Rouanne said. Alcatel is aiming to bring the technology to market at a price somewhere between DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) fixed broadband and 3G (third-generation) mobile telecommunication systems.

Alcatel also announced plans to redesign its entire range of network core products. New equipment will run Linux and will be based on the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA). The move to Carrier Grade Linux began two years ago; newly announced on Tuesday is Alcatel's commitment to ATCA, a project on which it is also collaborating with Intel. Alcatel will build its equipment using Intel application and network processors.

ATCA is an open standard for carrier-grade blade servers being developed by the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group. Compared to typical blade server configurations, ATCA aims to provide higher I/O capacity and reliability, two areas of particular concern for network operators.

At the 3GSM World Congress, Alcatel showed an ATCA-compliant Serving GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) Support Node, a network component that coordinates data communication between cells in a mobile phone network. The company's 5020 Softswitch for fixed telecommunication networks is also ATCA compliant. Alcatel expects to complete the renewal of its range by the end of next year, Rouanne said.

Alcatel also announced a deal to resell CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) radio access equipment from ZTE of Shenzhen, China. Alcatel plans to incorporate ZTE's equipment into its product range. "CDMA was the missing part of our portfolio," Rouanne said.

Another 3G mobile radio access technology, HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), is the subject of ongoing interoperability tests between Alcatel, which makes the network equipment, and Qualcomm, which makes chipsets for mobile wireless modems, the companies announced Tuesday. HSDPA is an addition to the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) standard, and can increase data rates to 14M bps (bits per second), far above the range of 384k bps to 2M bps supported by basic UMTS. Alcatel's current 3G network infrastructure products can support HSDPA with a simple software upgrade, according to Rouanne.

The 3GSM World Congress runs through Thursday.

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