Featured Engineer

Interview with Kevin Loughran

Kevin Loughran

Kevin Loughran - R&D Lead – lightRadio® Metro and LTE RF Products at Alcatel-Lucent

  • Image: The product shown was put into live trial deployment in Barcelona Spain a few weeks ago at the largest mobile tradeshow (Mobile World Congress).
Can you tell us about your work experience/ history before becoming a Lead Engineer at Alcatel-Lucent?

Joined AT&T Bell Labs right out of college, “slightly” more than 25 years ago. Held various different R&D positions in Power Systems, Wireline Transmission, and the last 20 years in Wireless. I was interested in digital HW design, SW development, and spent a good part of my early career working on signal processing systems.

What have been some of your influences that have helped you get to where you are today?

In addition to several interesting R&D assignments, I’ve worked with engineers in various countries and from different organizational cultures. This has been really beneficial given the highly diverse working environment prevalent in a multinational company such as ALU, and in the industry as a whole as companies become more interdependent across national boundaries.

What is on your bookshelf?

Books:

  • Digital Communication, Lee and Messerschmitt
  • The Art of Electronics, Horowitz and Hill
  • Various books on Wireless Standards
  • Agile Estimation and Planning, Cohn
  • Kanban and Scrum, Kniberg and Skarin
  • The Soul of a New Machine, Tracey Kidder

  • Various boards and modules from past designs
  • Pictures of my three boys playing hockey
What has been your favorite project?

Worked on several new start-up projects, which offered numerous technical and team-building challenges. Have also had a few high-runner projects which are extremely satisfying from the perspective of revenue generation and industry impact.

Our Multi-Carrier Radio has been extremely popular with customers in North America allowing them to invest and grow footprint incrementally – we’ve sold well north of 100K units, and the product incorporates really cool technology. More recently our teams have been busy developing and rolling out our 4G LTE product line. With all of the end-user marketing around 4G Wireless, this has been extremely exciting.

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?

Project successes like those outlined above are really my measure of noteworthy experiences. However, in another vein, I’ve recently taken on a US R&D Site Lead role, and one of our initiatives has been driving Agile development processes across the Wireless teams in the US. This is a very interesting undertaking: we’ve seen compelling benefits at the local team level (as illustrated with the Stadium CUBE project), and now we are working through the challenges of scaling this across large projects, into release management, and even focusing Agile methodologies to the Product Management Funnel.

Do you have an experiential stories you would like to share?

Certainly had at least my share of smoke and fire experiences! Best not to dwell on bad examples…

Can you tell us about Stadium Cube? What is the new lightRadio concept?

  • lightRadio is actually a portfolio of new capabilities centered around small, light, and green Wireless Systems.
  • Includes several radio technologies, transport capabilities, compute architecture, and system miniaturization
  • The goal is to optimize total cost of ownership for our customers while tackling the tricky problem of the mobile data explosion
How were you able to develop this product in just 64 days?
  • We assembled the right team with varied skill-sets, and kept it as small as feasible
  • Established a singular, time-bounded product focus
  • Applied a very careful selection of new technology introduction and reuse of existing assets
  • Feverously kept all bureaucratic impediments away from the team for 65 days!! Encouraged the team to act like a small start up…
  • With this environment in place, it was a matter of letting the team drive forward doing what they do best – designing complex radio systems and solving the associated technical and logistical problems as they popped up. [some good anecdotal activities as part of this]
How did this technology allow you to design smaller and more energy efficient mobile Radio antenna towers?

They key here is a broad approach to the problem with advances in different technology areas. The Cube Radio Technology addresses the size of the RF elements and power considerations, and provides a foundation for array processing. The advanced Transport capabilities allow these RF units to be more highly distributed and in most cases more efficient. The lightRadio concepts around distributed processing address various issues related to power as well as pooling and dynamic allocation of compute resources where needed. This allows the product to be placed in existing areas (inside a stadium or a subway platform) with out the need to build a new tower.

Have any of these Antennas been implemented? If so, where?
  • We now have them in trials with key customers in several countries
  • They are also being shown working live at various industry tradeshows – recently won a prestigious industry award at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona
  • Commercial deployments are planned for later this year…
What are some of the new technologies you are working on at Alcatel-Lucent?

Our teams are involved in several areas:

  • Integration and miniaturization of RF and base station processing elements
  • Multi-technology base station solutions that combines 2G, 3G and 4G wireless technologies
  • Network Level performance and optimization across the entire wireless network.

How does Alcatel-Lucent continue to be a global communications industry leader with the innovation, expertise and vision for a connected world that moves at the speed of ideas?

We invest heavily in innovation across the company and have an entire division, Bell Labs, devoted to exploring new way to solve problems. One of the areas we have also expanded on to drive innovation is by joining in co-creation programs with our leading customers. In these programs engineers from each company spend time in each others labs to jointly create new products that will hit the market sooner.

What direction do you see your business heading in the next few years?

Wireless Network Infrastructure will continue to become smaller and cheaper, with a focus on supporting the explosion of data usage on these networks. Connectivity and the various dimensions of efficiency will all be key to success. Technology will drive a blurring of what a operators looks like from what we know today.

What challenges do you foresee in our industry?

The world will continue to become smaller. This will increase opportunity as well as competition. We will see more and faster morphing of companies, and the internationally savvy will survive.

What are some of your hobbies outside of work and design?

My favorites are Ice Hockey and Mountain Biking. I really enjoy that both can be year-round activities in the Northeast!

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