Ericsson’s new small cell, the Radio Dot, brings the mobile network indoors

The future cellular network is looking very geometric. Alcatel-Lucent(s alu) has its Cube radio and on Wednesday Ericsson(s eric) unveiled the Dot. That’s short for Radio Dot, an integrated radio antenna that looks like a smoke detector. It can be stuck on any wall or ceiling, where it will act as an extension of the cellular network, bringing voice and data signals to normally tricky indoor environments.

The Dot is Ericsson’s entry in the growing list of technologies and products designed to move the mobile network to the places its increasingly most used and where coverage and capacity are most lacking: in buildings. AT&T(s t), for instance, plans to launch 40,000 small cells and deploy 1,000 distributed antenna systems by the end 2014 adding gobs of 3G and LTE capacity to its network. According to AT&T associate VP of small cells Gordon Mansfield, most of that capacity will go indoors.

“It took us 20 years to build our first 50,000 cell sites,” Mansfield told me at Mobile World Congress in February. “We’re building our next 40,000 cell sites in just three years.” Mansfield, who is also chairs the Small Cell Forum, is essentially talking about the next stage in mobile network design – one that focuses on capacity rather than coverage. Each of those 40,000 new small cell sites will only cover a fraction of the square-footage of a big macrocell, but each small cell will deliver the same capacity in that limited space as a tower-mounted macrocell.

Ericsson Radio Dot

Ericsson’s Radio Dot is a good candidate for AT&T’s new capacity-focused network, though its still about a year away from commercial availability (AT&T SVP of architecture and planning Kris Rinne even gave the Dot a shout-out in Ericsson’s press release announcing the product). The Dot, however, is designed to focus on one aspect of the indoor network, the enterprise.

According to Johan Wibergh, head of Ericsson’s networks business, the Dot is meant to be a flexible and cheap way to extend coverage and capacity into office buildings and residential blocks. Multiple Dots spread work in unison connecting back to a shared base station using the same category 5 cabling used by a company’s Ethernet network. It won’t be used for big indoor public access systems like malls or stadiums.