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Lucent hopes to find a big market for its Ocelot software, which allows wireless carriers to remotely tune the antennas that carry signals throughout the network (see BW Online, 1/6/03, "Ocelot: A Different Breed for Lucent"). That saves the time and expense of sending truck crews into the field to tune the antennas by hand. The software's development was overseen by Gee Rittenhouse, director of wireless research at Lucent's Bell Labs division.
BusinessWeek's Steve Rosenbush , the editor in charge of the magazine's telecom coverage, recently spoke with Rittenhouse about the technology and the market, and the prospects for additional breakthroughs in wireless research. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: The telecom dowturn has hit Lucent hard. What has happened to funding for Bell Labs?
A: Funding for Bell Labs has traditionally been 1% of revenue. As revenue has declined, our funding has too. But the percentage of revenue going toward research and development hasn't changed. In fact, the percentage is now a little bit more than 1%.
Q: What exactly does Ocelot do?
A: There is always a trade-off between coverage and capacity in a wireless network. Ocelot allows you to remotely tune the antennas to strike the best possible balance between the two. You don't need to go out and measure the strength of the signal at each antenna, a process that can take weeks and weeks. You eliminate the need for what's called drive-testing.
Q: What sort of cost savings can this technology yield for the wireless carriers that buy your equipment?
A: We typically see a cost reduction of 10% to 20%.
Q: Don't you face a lot of competition in this market?
A: There are rival products, but they don't have the features and sophistication in their modeling.
Q: How long has Ocelot been available?
A: Ocelot is already available in the field [since 2001], and we're ramping it up this year. It should provide the company with an important new revenue stream. And it works with any network, whether we build the network or not.
Q: Where has it been used so far?
A: We used Ocelot to lay out 3,800 base stations [for China Unicom] over an area half as large as the continental U.S. [To do it by sending trucks out] would have taken a really long time. And because the base stations were tuned remotely, there was a reduction in interference [from other radio signals], which would have made the process more difficult.
Q: What's next?
A: The next step is base stations that can be configured dynamically using Ocelot. That means the base stations will remotely configure themselves, eliminating the need for people to operate the software. We're also working on a new generation of base station that will beam a signal directly to the antenna on a handset. That will vastly increase the amount of bandwidth available to a wireless phone user.