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Small Cell Network Planning Poses Problems

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

Network planning issues are some of the more difficult challenges mobile operators face when it comes to deploying public access small cells.

Those potential problems, and their implications for operators, were discussed at a media briefing hosted by the Small Cell Forum Ltd. on Monday in London. (See Small Cells Throw Up Big Challenges for Operators.)

Basically, planning a small cell network is fundamentally different from mapping out a traditional macro cell network, and therein lies the challenge. Public access small cells are likely to be deployed for adding capacity in high-traffic areas, rather than for coverage like macro cells. And when it's a large deployment, certain things -- site selection, site acquisition, supplying the site with power, installing the small access points and having the right tools to analyze network traffic in order to determine where a small cell would be needed in the first place -- all become more difficult, adding time and money to the network planning process operators are used to with their macro 3G or LTE networks.

Telefónica UK Ltd. discovered all this when it rolled out Wi-Fi access points from Ruckus Wireless Inc. , which went live last week, on lampposts in central London. It's a Wi-Fi small cell network, rather than 3G or LTE cellular, but the planning issues are similar.

According to Robert Joyce, chief radio engineer for Telefonica in the U.K., getting backhaul transmission and a power supply to the access points was the biggest challenge for the network rollout.

But even attaching the access points to the lampposts proved to be an interesting procedure. In London's council of Westminster, the only people allowed to install anything on a lamppost are the folks who hang the Christmas lights each year, he explained. Also, only one additional fuse box is allowed to be installed for powering the access point, which means each lamppost is able to take just one access point from one operator.

"A lamppost installation is not cost-effective," said Joyce, adding that the deployment cost thousands of pounds per lamppost. "Ideally, I want to spend less than £1,000 [per lamppost]."

If mobile operators have to navigate such complex and idiosyncratic local authority rules about how lampposts, or other public assets, can or can't be used in a small cell rollout, then some say a different deployment model is needed from the outset -- such as network sharing.

"Operators must absolutely share small cell infrastructure," said Rob Reagan, president and founder of Public Wireless Inc. . "I think a neutral host is the missing piece of the puzzle in the small cell ecosystem."

New operator business models are already starting to emerge, according to David Swift, marketing director at Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). In certain cities in Asia/Pac countries, a few consortia have cropped up offering a wholesale small cell service, he said.

New business models, overcoming network planning and other issues are bound to be just some of the subjects discussed and debated at the Small Cells World Summit, which kicks off in London on Tuesday.

--Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:29:14 PM
re: Small Cell Network Planning Poses Problems

We have been hearing that WIFI and 4G LTE are going to be symbiotic offerings on teh same small sell.    Why?  Telco's have no incentive to offer Wifi on the same pico cell if they are charging for bits.  To my knowldge WIFI is not and will likely never be a metered connection and if you meter it then there is no incensitve to use it.

steve q
steve q,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 5:29:13 PM
re: Small Cell Network Planning Poses Problems

One way in the US is with the help of Verizon Fios provide customer with a large block of data band width so they will be able to provide service to the town at 1/2 the price of what the cable and the wireless company can do. The 4g is only good to a point but with the use of fios data and with business and home with there ont you be able to give everyone wifi.

Michelle Donegan
Michelle Donegan,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:29:12 PM
re: Small Cell Network Planning Poses Problems

It's not clear to me either why 4G and WiFi should be supported in the same small cells or how that business case works for operators. From a technology point of view, I think unlicensed and licensed small cells meet different operator needs and would be deployed differently.

This is something I'm hoping to hear more about here at the Small Cell World Summit.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:29:08 PM
re: Small Cell Network Planning Poses Problems

At it's heart the attraction of Wifi to an operator is that it's usable spectrum at a very attractive price. So if you don't have any capacity on LTE you will look around for other ways to service customers.  That is what Wifi gives an operator.

Speaking to one of our vendor customers I asked where they were going to put Wifi on their small cells: everywhere.  You have power and backhaul.  The additional cost is tiny.  So you put it everywhere.

But Wifi will always be a supplement rather than a replacement for spectrum you control.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:29:04 PM
re: Small Cell Network Planning Poses Problems

Only one access point from one operator for each lamppost?  The first three rules of real estate ("1. location, 2. location, 3. location") continue to be in full-force in London!  Of course, not all lampposts are created equal from a traffic demand perspective.  But those operators who best select the most appropriate lampposts will be well-served for years to come.

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