Light Reading
AT&T, Orange, and Vodafone discuss challenges and opportunities for outdoor small cells.

Lessons From Your Friendly Neighborhood Small Cells

Michelle Donegan
News Analysis
Michelle Donegan
6/16/2014
50%
50%

LONDON -- Small Cells World Summit 2014 -- Despite reservations among many mobile operators about deploying public access small cells in urban areas, some operators have already ventured into outdoor deployments. AT&T, Orange, and Vodafone shared their experiences from trials and commercial deployments at the small cells gathering here in London. (See Urban Jungle Is Still Too Wild for Small Cells and Small Cell Forum Tackles Urban, Virtualization.)

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for example, has deployed HSPA+ small cells to fill in coverage gaps in some residential neighborhoods in an effort to improve customer experiences in areas where the natural landscape degrades or impedes wireless signals.

"Most of our need is still coverage based, and we're also looking at congested outdoor environments," said David Orloff, director of small cells platforms, radio access and devices. "There are some cases where the cost of [deploying] a macro site is too high or you can't get [planning] permission; then, small cells make sense."

Orloff discussed three of AT&T's deployments. The first involved installing a cluster of 15 small cells in a high-income, residential neighborhood at the edge of five macrocells that provided poor coverage. In another rollout, the operator placed 22 small cells in a suburban area near a school where dense foliage and the terrain blocked macro coverage. And in the third example, 13 small cells were deployed at the edge of 13 macrocells located in a difficult terrain that, again, did not provide good coverage.

Each of these clusters of small cells is carrying live 3G traffic today.

The key with these deployments is designing and optimizing the small cell clusters for interacting with the nearby macrocells, noted Orloff. "For small cells, it's the interaction with the macro network that largely enables good customer experience," he said.

AT&T has deployed small cells in more than 30 states, according to Orloff. While he didn't specify the number of units deployed, he said the total includes indoor, outdoor, public, private, residential, large and small enterprise varieties. (See AT&T Gets 'Opportunistic' With 4G Small Cells and AT&T Readies LTE-Only Small Cells, Eyes Multimode by 2015.)

Orange cools on hotspots for now
Over in Europe, Orange (NYSE: FTE) has also deployed some outdoor small cells for addressing coverage needs, although the numbers are "quite moderate," said Benoit Graves, the operator's small cell project manager. "It's definitely part of our mid-term strategy."

"A well-located outdoor small cell provides great coverage indoor," he added.

But when it comes to using outdoor small cells to improve network performance in congested environments, Graves said that access to sites and backhaul were still big challenges, particularly in Western Europe. "Once this is sorted, there is a clear place for outdoor small cells."

Also, in Orange's case, the rollout of LTE in its European markets will likely add capacity in some of those congested areas, which would delay the need for an additional capacity boost from small cells. "It's still cheaper to use all the spectrum you have first, then deploy outdoor small cells," he said. "We intended to deploy more 3G small cells a couple of years ago, but now there's 4G."

Vodafone's Dutch experience
Vodafone Netherlands has been rolling out various flavors of small cells over the last four years. Jinglong Zhou, the operator's small cell program manager, explained that it all started with 3G femtocells, an experience that taught the operator that small cells are not only about radio, but the whole network.

About two years ago, the operator deployed 3G small cells in outdoor rural and city areas. "The deployment was fast and cheap, so we were really happy internally," said Zhou. "However, from a quality point of view, it was not a good experience because the handover ratio was not good."

Zhou said this was primarily due to different protocol support in the small cells and the macrocells at that time. Put simply, the operator didn't have the right product available when it first tried outdoor 3G small cells two years ago.

Now, the situation is different and the operator has been trialling an outdoor HetNet of 3G, 4G, and WiFi small cells in a joint project with the City of Maastricht.

So far, Zhou said that the initial result is promising and that a combination of outdoor 3G and 4G small cells can improve network performance.

Vodafone first publicly proposed the concept of deploying small cells outdoors -- dubbed "metro femto" at the time -- at the Small Cell Forum's annual gathering six years ago. (See Vodafone Dreams of Metro Femto.)

A lot has changed since then, but some fundamental challenges (such as backhaul and site acquisition) remain the same for outdoor public access small cells.

Michelle Donegan, contributing editor

(1)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
AJ Allred
50%
50%
AJ Allred,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/17/2014 | 10:46:07 AM
New technology but old bureaucrats
Nice article.  As a former site acquisition guy, I keep thinking we really need better local government regulation of wireless.  No matter how good our technology gets, we still have to overcome bureaucrats at the street level.

Is there a community of land use people who are working on best practices for getting permits?  I'm in.
Flash Poll
From The Founder
Is your network built on 'The Old IP,' or are you part of 'The New IP' revolution?
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Innovating Access Technology With G.fast

10|1|14   |   3.42   |   (0) comments


Exploring the potential of G.fast technology from the point of view of the Broadband Forum, Huawei – and an end-user.
LRTV Documentaries
A Cultural Shift for an OTT World

9|26|14   |   01:41   |   (3) comments


Telcos need to embrace a new approach to partnerships if they are to generate extra revenues quickly and give customers what they want.
LRTV Documentaries
New Skills Needed as Telecom, IT Collide

9|26|14   |   4:07   |   (1) comment


As telecom and IT collide, new technologies are emerging, new skills are needed and new opportunities for women are arising.
UBB Forum News
Do IP Networks Need An Overhaul?

9|25|14   |   02:01   |   (0) comments


As traffic levels ramp, do IP networks need new technologies and topologies?
LRTV Documentaries
Sprint Wields Its Influence in the Valley

9|25|14   |   3:09   |   (11) comments


Anne-Louise Kardas, Sprint's connection to startups in the Valley, explains how telcos can be innovative and find new opportunities with partners.
LRTV Documentaries
SDN, NFV & The Future of XO's Network

9|25|14   |   3:47   |   (1) comment


XO Communications COO Don MacNeil explains how cloud, SDN and NFV are altering its network requirements as well as changing data centers of the future.
UBB Forum News
The OTT Conundrum

9|24|14   |   01:39   |   (0) comments


What is holding back prosperous partnerships between telcos and the OTT players?
LRTV Documentaries
Putting Broadband to Work

9|24|14   |   01:26   |   (0) comments


High-speed broadband network rollout is key to telco strategies, but it's what happens after the network is built that counts.
Light Reedy
Light Reading's Women in Telecom Recap

9|24|14   |   0:55   |   (4) comments


Our first Women in Telecom breakfast was a huge success, and we hope you'll join us in London for the next event on November 6.
UBB Forum News
Monetizing Ultra-Broadband

9|24|14   |   01:43   |   (2) comments


Ultra-broadband networks need to be built, with fiber-to-the-premises the ultimate goal, but they need to be monetized, too.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Sales Director of INIT on Plug & Play Switch Devices

9|19|14   |   3:21   |   (0) comments


INIT Italy uses both the Huawei S5700 and S7700 series switches for the campus LAN environment. Sales Director Andrea Curti says their company chose these Huawei devices over others because of their performance, flexible scalability and plug-and-play features.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Saudi Arabia Upgrades Vocational Training System

9|19|14   |   3:31   |   (0) comments


The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) has 100,000 students, 150 government-owned institutions and oversees 1000 private institutes. The CIO of TVTC explains that Huawei devices have allowed them to manage multiple datacenters using just one software program, scientifically tracking the progress of students and teachers, saving them millions.
Upcoming Live Events
October 29, 2014, New York City
November 6, 2014, Santa Clara
November 11, 2014, Atlanta, GA
December 2, 2014, New York City
December 3, 2014, New York City
December 9-10, 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Infographics
Half of the world's population will be connected to the Internet by 2017, but not just by smartphones and desktops.
Hot Topics
Facebook Pokes Around LTE Direct
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 9/25/2014
Is Redbox Instant Shutting Down?
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 9/30/2014
Comcast Turns Off Streampix
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 9/26/2014
SoftBank Eyes a DreamWorks Buy – Report
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 9/29/2014
Telecom Sector 'Its Own Worst Enemy' – Kroes
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 10/2/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed