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February 8, 2011
1:25 PM -- If you haven't heard about the Heterogeneous Network (HetNet), you soon will.
It's all the rage among the wireless R&D set; it's making its way into some vendor marketing departments; and it's going to be buzzing in Barcelona next week at Mobile World Congress. But it's also a term that means different things to different people, so defining HetNet with precision is like trying to hit a moving target.
Here's our best shot: The Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) is a radio access network that comprises layers of different-sized cells ranging from large macrocells to small cells like pico- and femtocells.
If the HetNet were a cake, it might look something like this.
In Long Term Evolution (LTE) and future LTE-Advanced networks, it is thought that operators will need to deploy smaller cells alongside macrocells in order to get the full whack of broadband capacity that these next-generation mobile systems can offer. (See Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says, Study: Small Cells to Dominate 4G, AlcaLu Doesn't Expect LTE Small Cells Until 2011 and NEC Preps LTE Femto.)
But it's not a simple matter to plonk a little cell in a hot-spot location in the middle of the radio access network. Those small cells will have to interwork with the macrocells and not cause interference. That's where work at standards bodies like the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) comes in.
HetNets are more than small cells. The development of HetNets will take in self-organizing network (SON) capabilities, interference management techniques, new backhaul technologies, and operators' network management systems.
As HetNet is expected to be one of the many dishes served up in the tapas feast of mobile infrastructure in Barcelona next week, more of the story will be filled in regarding what operators want, what suppliers are developing, what the standards bodies are working on and when HetNets might become a commercial reality.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile
Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry for the last 20 years on both sides of the Pond. Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications including Communications Week International, Total Telecom and, most recently, Light Reading.
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