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Summary:

EBlink provides wireless “fronthaul” technology, which could help Alcatel-Lucent sell its vision of sticking the base station into the cloud.

Small cells would add surgical capacity to the most high demand areas of the network (source: Gigaom / Rani Molla)

The French-American networking company Alcatel-Lucent has invested €3 million ($4.1 million) in EBlink, a French wireless fronthaul specialist.

Alcatel-Lucent is one of several telecommunications equipment players that’s very keen on putting as much as possible of the network into the cloud. Increasing numbers of mobile devices need denser networks made up of smaller cells, so it makes sense to virtualize the heavy-processing part of the base station and centralize it, so you can dynamically shift capacity around the network as you need it.

Alcatel-Lucent's Cube, the radio end of its cloud network architecture

Alcatel-Lucent’s Cube, the radio end of its cloud network architecture

That allows for more, cheaper cells, but it also means you need to shift the raw radio signals from the cells to the data center, as that’s where the processing is being carried out. You can do that over fiber, but that’s expensive when you’re talking about loads of cells, not to mention logistically limiting considering many of those cells are stuck halfway up lampposts or on the sides of buildings.

Which is where EBlink comes in. The company specializes in wireless “fronthaul” – the connection between the small cell and a nearby fiber-connected macro site – for which it uses the unlicensed 5.8GHz band. EBlink claims to have the “highest spectral efficiency in the industry,” allowing it to provide an alternative to fiber “without sacrificing network performance.” Orange is already a customer.

Alcatel-Lucent is clearly impressed. Investment aside, the deal announced on Thursday will see EBlink’s technology offered to Alcatel-Lucent’s carrier customers around the world, perhaps encouraging them to buy into the “Cloud-RAN” dream as they revamp their networks for LTE and beyond.