The Mobile 15: Our picks for the most innovative companies


CEO: Ben Verwaayen

Number of employees: 76,000

The business:

Alcatel-Lucent is one of the world’s largest designers and builders of wireline and wireless networks

The backstory:

Alcatel-Lucent is a Franco-American fusion of two major telco vendors, but its history goes much further back. Lucent is the old AT&T monopoly’s infrastructure arm and was thus the inheritor of the storied applied research institution Bell Labs. Its Nobel laureates didn’t just invent the transistor — they proved the Big Bang Theory.

The innovation:

Bell Labs may not be the research giant its once was, but its scientists and engineers are still thinking big. One of the key innovations to travel from the labs to Alcatel-Lucent’s product development arm is lightRadio, a fundamental rethinking of the mobile network’s architecture.

lightRadio does away with the big tower-based macro cell and instead relies on a modular system of “cubes” to build any type of cell for any location. In addition, lightRadio separates the base station from the radio, allowing operators to centralize the brains of the network in a private cloud. So instead of building enough processing power into each cell site to meet the highest traffic conditions, carriers can pool their networks’ baseband resources, applying them to any any cell as needed.

Bell Labs has also launched an initiative called the GreenTouch consortium that, using greater energy efficiency, aims to reduce the power that our networks and devices consume by 1000-fold. On the services side, Alcatel-Lucent accomplished a feat in its API consultancy that no other organization has managed: it got France’s three major operators to expose a single application interface to developers.

The plan:

lightRadio may be winning accolades from analysts and the industry, but that hasn’t translated into commercial success. Despite some early key deals within the U.S., Alcatel-Lucent is trailing Ericsson(s eric), Huawei and Nokia Siemens Networks(s nok)(s si) in the LTE race. Meanwhile, its competitors are developing their own next-generation architectures such as NSN’s Liquid Radio.

Carriers don’t seem quite ready to embrace a completely different type of network just yet, but if Alcatel-Lucent has the patience — and the financial wherewithal — to wait for the emergence of new small cell and heterogeneous network architectures, it may well be rewarded. Those technologies play to lightRadio’s strengths.