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Telecoms seek base-station standard

A new alliance of telephone equipment makers is working on a standard way to build cellular base stations, a change that could save manufacturers money.

A group of telephone equipment makers, led by Nokia, on Wednesday said they want to standardize the way cellular telephone network base stations are built.

The group, calling itself the Open Base Station Architecture Initiative (OBSAI), has begun drafting a blueprint that maps out the basic elements of base stations. Products based on the designs are expected to debut in 2005, Nokia spokeswoman Ritta Marda said.

Base stations--antenna towers and refrigerator-size boxes that ensure calls wind up in the right place--are the workhorses of any cellular telephone network and cost millions of dollars each to build and implement. Manufacturers generally have their own base-station blueprints and either make the equipment themselves or assemble parts bought from suppliers.

"The Open Base Station Architecture will revolutionize radio base station development," Nokia's Jukka Klemettila, OBSAI chairman, said in a statement.

Marda expects the products based on the OBSAI standards to save money for the companies that manufacture base stations and their components because they won't have to create their own designs.

She believes the OBSAI effort is the first of its kind. Other standards groups, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, were not immediately familiar with any similar efforts in their organizations.

OBSAI comes at a time when the telecommunications sector is in a freefall after two years of growth. Telecom carrier revenue is sinking because the price of a phone call is being driven down by competition. Network equipment makers are suffering because the carriers don't have as much money to expand. And the number of handsets sold worldwide is expected to decline in 2002.

Whether OBSAI's standards are adopted by others in the industry remains to be seen. OBSAI is open to all cellular network infrastructure makers, but so far just four companies--Nokia, Samsung, LG Electronics and NEC Networks--have joined. Heavyweights like Lucent Technologies, Nortel Networks or Ericsson haven't signed up.

Initial industry reaction has been mixed. Lucent Technologies said Wednesday that while it's not an OBSAI member, it'll be "exploring that option."

On the flip side is Nortel Networks. Spokesman Jay Barda said the equipment maker doesn't plan to join OBSAI, preferring instead to follow standards from more recognized bodies, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, which have hundreds of members.