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Small Cells: A Power Play

Ray Le Maistre
1/10/2014
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There's little doubt that small cells will be big news at Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona next month, even if the market for public domain small cell rollout isn't set to take off as quickly as some had hoped. (See How Heavy Reading Called Small Cells Right.)

While we're certain to see the latest models that can be deployed right now (indoors and outdoors), I expect (indeed, hope) to see companies talking about the backhaul and power supply support that small cells need if they are to be deployed successfully.

Small cell backhaul is already a hot niche topic in the vendor community and figuring in the plans of wholesale operators. (See Backhauling Small Cells, Small Cells: The Battle for the Lamp Post, Backhaul Tweaks Support HetNet Growth , Vodafone Tests Siklu Small-Cell Backhaul, and ZTE Tackles LTE Small-Cell Backhaul.)

Bell Labs , which is being asked to align its work more closely with the strategic direction of its parent company, is also looking at solutions to the power and backhaul challenge, as I discovered when trawling back through some of the small cell-related announcements made late last year. (See AlcaLu Breathes New Life Into Bell Labs.)

The Bell Labs team in Dublin, Ireland, is collaborating with researchers at the University of Edinburgh to tackle the small cells challenge. The Bell Labs team has been investigating how laser beams could be used to power small cells, while the Edinburgh team, working with spin-out startup pureLiFi, is working on the use of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) for data communications. Now the two teams are combining their research to develop an integrated solution that, they hope, will result in small cells being able to be deployed anywhere without the need for connecting cables.

It's that sort of venture that will help to make small cell deployments viable in the future: let's hope we see a number of such developments in Barcelona.

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— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
1/14/2014 | 3:53:20 PM
Re: SPIT tools also critical
How many carriers have easy access to dark fiber though?
MarkH28201
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MarkH28201,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/14/2014 | 12:09:39 PM
Re: SPIT tools also critical
My understanding is that Ethernet maybe too slow for SON features to work effectively, both in the macro/macro and small cell/macro intigration.  If so, is CPRI via dark fiber the answer or are there new protocols to emerge?
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
1/13/2014 | 5:35:18 PM
Re: SPIT tools also critical
Don't forget there's SON features in the latest 3GPP LTE specs so a lot of operators are waiting to see what features arrive baked as part of the LTE hardware and what they need to add.
Ray@LR
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Ray@LR,
User Rank: Blogger
1/13/2014 | 12:42:38 PM
Re: SPIT tools also critical
For sure the SON tools would be  apart of that SPIT mix and I expect SON in general (for macro as well as micro/small cell) to be another hot topic at MWC.

 

I only just recovered from last year's tightly-packed trains to the new show site - can it be that time again already?? 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
1/13/2014 | 11:21:37 AM
Re: SPIT tools also critical
I'm also hearing a lot more talk about SON, self-organizing network, technology being applied to manage small cells and interference issues with the macro network. I expect many more operators outside of AT&T will be discussing it at MWC this year.

In other news, CES is over; let the MWC planning and email onslaught begin!! :)
Ray@LR
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Ray@LR,
User Rank: Blogger
1/13/2014 | 8:25:45 AM
SPIT tools also critical
Power and backhaul are major challenges but developments in supporting service provider IT (SPIT) areas such as network planning, optimization, assurance and analytics will be just as important, though, of course, if small cells are power and connected with cables then moving them to a different location becomes more feasible (if still risky from all sorts of perspectives...) 
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