They go by many marketing names: Single RAN, Uni-BTS, Multi-RAN, Multi-standard Radio. But they all mean essentially the same thing: relatively simple upgrades that allow a single standard base station to support multiple technologies. The next few years will see a rapidly growing – although possibly short-lived – wave of such upgrades throughout both mature and developing markets.

Upgrades involve adding a baseband line card or doing a simple software update to existing baseband cards. For example such an approach would allow a WCDMA base station to move to HSDPA, HSPA+ and possibly LTE standards. The latest advances in RF and SDR technology allow RF components to be reused if the operation is in the same frequency band. These upgrades will start to gather steam in 2011 and will continue accelerating for several years before the tempo eases again around 2014-2015.

According to ABI Research mobile networks practice director Aditya Kaul, “The first increase in multi-standard upgrades will come from developing markets, especially India, that are now deploying 3G networks. Further momentum will come from LTE rollouts in mature markets.”

“One of the major drivers for this coming wave of upgrades is spectrum refarming,” Kaul continues. “Like many other ‘natural resources’, fresh spectrum is getting scarce. But there are significant amounts previously allocated that are now un- or under-utilized. Multi-standard upgrades allow operators to put that spectrum to new uses. Upgrades for refarmed spectrum now account for just 10% of the total market, but their future is bright.”

For example, the 900 MHz band spectrum in Europe, originally dedicated to GSM use, is now being used to roll out UMTS networks. This is being made possible by using multistandard base stations with multimode RF capabilities.

Multi-standard base stations are now on offer from all the major infrastructure manufacturers: Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia Siemens Networks, ZTE, Ericsson, Huawei, Motorola and others.

A new ABI Research study, “Software Defined Multi-standard Base Stations,” covers the key vendors in this marketplace, their technology portfolios, drivers and constraints, the technical advancements and challenges, and the market opportunity for multi-standard base stations.