Light Reading

Small Cells: Finding Answers in 2014

Naveen Bhatia
4/14/2014
100%
0%

For the past few years small cells have been touted as the answer to the data deluge pouring onto 3G and 4G cellular networks.

With explosive smartphone growth, consumer expectations have quickly advanced from basic voice to high-speed data and enhanced quality of service (QOS) standards. Not surprisingly, carriers are looking for options to meet this exponential surge in data demand, with macro cell tower deployment inadequate to keep pace with constantly increasing customer needs.

Small cells -- tiny standalone basestations that increase network coverage and capacity -- have been hailed as the answer. So far though, carrier forecasts have fallen well short of actual deployments, with only a few hundred manifesting in 2013. Slowly but surely, however, this is starting to change. (See How Heavy Reading Called Small Cells Right.)

Why has it taken so long?
We all know that with localized coverage, small cells can give subscribers in a particular small pocket of coverage the needed capacity in a spectrum-efficient manner. They can offload macro traffic in both indoor and outdoor environments, especially during peak hours. Building out a vast network of small cells seems like a no-brainer. (See Know Your Small Cell: Home, Enterprise, or Public Access?)

However, the complexity of figuring out all of the intricacies has stalled a significant number of projects. For each small cell, carriers must be able to provide power, appropriate backhaul connectivity to the core, and seamless integration with the existing macro network. They've also got to work their way through local zoning bylaws, which has proven a very time- and labor-intensive part of the process. (See Small Cells: The Battle for the Lamp Post.)

The result has been a challenging start for many carriers, despite numerous optimistic projections from wireless analysts and the providers themselves. (See Multimode Small Cells Get Stalled in Labs.)

Things are starting to change
As the industry has begun to mature, a combination of technologies is being considered as part of the small-cell solution, and a "toolbox" is essentially being developed to address a range of different commercial-grade deployment scenarios.

For example, for commercial deployments, carriers are focusing on leveraging the latest indoor and outdoor small-cell solutions. The indoor solutions will focus on improving poor in-building cellular performance, supporting between 8 and 32 users with a field-upgradable feature set.

The outdoor solutions will focus on improving capacity or coverage in specific urban and suburban hotspots. The latest power-limited products should require short permitting cycles to ensure quicker deployments.

Plus, carriers will be choosing between deploying 3G/4G or LTE-only access points (APs) that include voice services through Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE). Carriers will even have the ability to enable WiFi services in all those APs in order to provide easy and seamless access to all users -- that could be on a pole or a user's home router. That means that future small-cell infrastructure will offer the ability to function as a "neutral host," allowing multiple carriers to essentially operate from a universal product. As a result, in 2014 expect to see a dramatic pickup, with several thousand commercial deployments from some of the largest carriers.

Time to let SON technology shine
Self-optimizing networks (SONs) have started to emerge as another ray of light for small cells. Say you had 300,000 macro sites to manage over the last decade. Now imagine the addition of 30,000 to 50,000 small-cell sites each year. The task becomes unfathomable, and that is where SONs come in. (See Cisco's Quantum SON Shines on Small Cells.)

When we have a mix of small cell, distributed antennas (DAS), WiFi, and macro cells, it becomes a complex heterogeneous network (HetNet). With all of the different networks, products, and technologies that carriers use to provide the needed coverage and capacity, there is a vital need for automated self-configuration, self-optimizing, and self-healing platforms to take over day-to-day operational tasks.

SON technology has been implemented selectively in 2013 but is still in the nascent stages of being tested. It's not yet fully automated. Currently, the technology is being monitored while running basic tasks, but with the advent of small cells, SON technology can really take off.

This includes better enabling planning needs, with the ability to determine how the networks will interact without interference by determining azimuth, power levels, and handoffs. SON technology will also help manage customer needs by filling coverage holes when sites are down, plus figuring out a way to actually fix the problem in the background.

Localized focus means improved customer experience
Not so long ago, GPS technology on your smartphone really only benefited you. Now, by reverse engineering through specialized tools, carriers can track each phone's performance from a geo-location perspective. With this information, carriers will be able to understand and analyze how well wireless traffic is moving and measure the quality of calls in real time. These analytics will help to identify areas of interest and to mitigate capacity or coverage issues based on call performance.

And increasingly, that analysis will become more focused on smaller pockets of usage. We're entering an era where network performance will no longer be monitored on a metropolitan basis. Instead, it will look at, and empower, a niche area. For example, carriers will be able analyze the upper deck of the stadium during a live sports game and improve customer experience in real-time.

With more localized small-cell coverage, geo-analytics will become vital. Carriers will be able to design and optimize networks efficiently, as well as quickly pinpoint and fix problems, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and lower churn.

Clearly, many industry analysts were overzealous and promised things that couldn't possibly happen in the timetables forecast -- there were just too many moving parts and unknowns to be worked through first.

But now, thanks to all of these technological enhancements and our clearer understanding of the very complex factors that go into making small cells a reality, we're poised to hit those megabillion-dollar forecasts in 2014. That means that small cells will finally start to enable big changes for networks.

— Naveen Bhatia, Vice President of Network Engineering, Nexius Solutions.

(2)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
ramesh kumar
50%
50%
ramesh kumar,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/15/2014 | 6:52:02 AM
Re: Cisco Small Cell Solutions
It's exciting field where the whole ecosystem of RAN be it in Macro/Micro/Pico environment. Hetnet holds the potential to capture the big bang happening in data usage and ensure the quality is not impacted.

Certainly the seamless connectivity and service availability will be key to good quality. Integrating across technology will be the key challenge and Cisco having acquired Small cell portfolio recently needs to prove the macro/oss layer capability.

 
KevinPetschow
50%
50%
KevinPetschow,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/14/2014 | 3:37:40 PM
Cisco Small Cell Solutions
For more information on Cisco Small Cell Solutions, go to: http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/service-provider/small-cell-solutions/index.html
More Blogs from Column
It's possible as infrastructure convergence facilitates further services convergence.
Dan Pitt of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) lays down a challenge to OpenFlow's naysayers.
Telecom carriers need to build, buy or partner for many of the technology enhancements they put into the networks or customer solutions each year.
The future of communications depends on technology licensing, according to Ericsson's Monica Magnusson.
Reflecting on the pivotal role this technology played in the history of computing on its 10th birthday.
From The Founder
Against the odds, Huawei is growing its telecoms networking equipment business in the US -- that should be ringing some alarm bells for domestic vendors.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
CLOUD / MANAGED SERVICES: Prepping Ethernet for the Cloud
Moderator: Ray LeMaistre Panelists: Jeremy Bye, Leonard Sheahan
Between the CEOs
CEO Chat With Jeff Miller, ActiveVideo

8|28|15   |   19:05   |   (0) comments


Jeff Miller, President and CEO of ActiveVideo, talks to Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the impact of virtualization on the TV and video distribution market.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Vodafone: Mobile Money Is About Customer Trust

8|27|15   |   06.36   |   (0) comments


Light Reading spoke with Vodafone's Ian Ravenscroft about the unique responsibilities and opportunities facing operators handling customers' financial transactions over the network.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Palo Alto Networks on Expanding in the Carrier/Service Provider Market

8|26|15   |   07:54   |   (0) comments


Alfred Lee from Palo Alto Networks tells Steve Saunders about their new chassis-based system, the PA-7080, and how it can benefit service providers compared to legacy firewalls.
LRTV Custom TV
Global Services Forum Preview

8|25|15   |   02:36   |   (0) comments


Light Reading's CEO and Founder Steve Saunders talks about Huawei's upcoming Global Services Forum with the help of Heavy Reading's Patrick Donegan and Teresa Mastrangelo.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Infoblox on DNS Threat Index

8|19|15   |   04:39   |   (0) comments


Dilip Pillaipakam from Infoblox talks to Steve Saunders about his company's core network services.
Between the CEOs
CEO Chat With Ihab Tarazi, Equinix

8|14|15   |   20:18   |   (1) comment


Equinix CTO Ihab Tarazi talks to Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the dramatic changes in the data center, cloud and interconnect markets and discusses the impact of SDN and NFV in the coming years.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
The Netformx Ecosystem

8|14|15   |   09:39   |   (1) comment


Ittai Bareket, CEO of Netformx, talks with Steve Saunders about the Netformx Ecosystem, which employs cutting-edge prescriptive analytics to help solution providers maximize profits.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Versa Networks on Leveraging VNFs

8|12|15   |   07:37   |   (0) comments


Kumar Mehta, founder and CEO of stealth mode startup Versa Networks, talks with Steve Saunders about how providers can best leverage virtualized network functions (VNFs).
LRTV Custom TV
Transforming the Network Through OPNFV

8|5|15   |   7:09   |   (0) comments


Sandra Rivera, VP Data Center Group; GM Network Platforms Group, Intel Corporation, on OPNFV Arno and how the industry is coming together to accelerate the deployment of NFV and transform the network.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei ONS Product Demo

8|3|15   |   6:01   |   (0) comments


Huawei shows at Open Networking Summit 2015 in Santa Clara how its SDN and NFV solutions embrace openness.
LRTV Custom TV
End-User or Enterprise Benefits to the New IP

7|30|15   |   04:27   |   (1) comment


Andrew Coward discusses what the New IP means to end users or enterprise customers. He explains compelling reasons, including how every customer can get their own network, from the transformation to the New IP.
LRTV Custom TV
Network Visibility & the New IP

7|30|15   |   02:23   |   (0) comments


Mukund Srigopal provides an explanation of what network visibility is and how it is essential as service providers transition to the New IP. In addition, the importance of the network packet broker is discussed.
Upcoming Live Events
September 16-17, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 16, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 16, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
October 14-15, 2015, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA
November 5, 2015, Hilton Santa Clara, Santa Clara, CA
November 17, 2015, Santa Clara, California
December 1, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 2, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Cisco's cloud and virtualization portfolio can increase business agility and innovation by building a more flexible network architecture.
Hot Topics
T-Mobile CEO Plays Data Traffic Cop
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 8/31/2015
Verizon Hums a Driving Tune
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 8/26/2015
CEO Chat With Bill Gates
Steve Saunders, CEO and founder, Light Reading, 8/31/2015
Time to Monetize Cable WiFi
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 8/31/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
September 22, 2015
Media Begins With “Me”
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
The scene: Last Saturday, lunchtime, the interior of a shi-shi-foo-foo eatery in Manhattan's SoHo district.
Jeff Miller, President and CEO of ActiveVideo, talks to Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the impact of virtualization on the TV and video distribution market.
Cats with Phones
Tastes Like Fish Click Here
Please hold while I lick the phone.