Small cells

CTIA: Qualcomm Bosses Think Small for LTE

SAN DIEGO -- CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment -- The most influential father and son team in the U.S. wireless industry are grappling with how to squeeze more speed out of Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, and they believe that distributed is the way to go.

The former and current CEOs of Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) -- Irwin and Paul Jacobs, respectively -- took the stage at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2009 with a chatty keynote that started with the elder Jacobs talking about how the hometown heroes developed CDMA networks in the first place.

Soon enough, however, the pair started to tackle the thorny issue of how to squeeze faster data rates out of new networks in a spectrum-constrained world. (See FCC at CTIA: 'Spectrum Is Oxygen'.) The answer, at least for now, is small cell sites on the radio access network side and better backhaul, according to Paul Jacobs.

"It is very obvious that we’re pushing the limits of wireless capacity," the younger Jacobs said.

In the future, however, Irwin warned, carriers couldn't expect more spectrum to become available to aid speed and capacity. "I think now other aspects are going to coming in, we’ll be looking at architectures and networks," said Dad.

This means thinking about much denser radio networks, Paul enjoined. With more of a femto or picocell architecture in place, carriers could expect an eight- to ten-times improvement in network performance, Qualcomm expects.

Managing interference with so many more radios in place will be one issue, he said. Managing handover between many tiny base stations will be another.

"There are new tricks going on, they’re just not the same as the old tricks," Paul Jacobs told his audience. "That’s going into the LTE Advanced standards now."

Backhaul is a massive issue for carriers with data services, the current Qualcomm CEO added: "At the moment in some places there are higher rates over the air than there is in the backhaul, and that’s not good." Faster backhaul won't fix it forever, however: "Even in Japan and Italy with fiber to cell sites the networks still get overloaded," he said.

Other networks may offer a partial solution: Offloading traffic via WiFi or dedicated video networks like Qualcomm's MediaFLO might help with future congestion.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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