4G Small Cells Step Out

The first signs have emerged that some operators are ready to install Long Term Evolution (LTE) small cells to add mobile data coverage and capacity where the traditional macrocell network alone is not enough to meet the expected heavy data demands.

Just in the last few days, the 4G small cell story has moved on from PowerPoint presentations and trials to real-world deployments.

To stay up to date with this developing market, here's the latest on the big news in small cells:

Sprint sees the light(Radio)
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) announced that it will deploy Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio-branded metro cells in its LTE network, which is significant for both companies. Sprint will be one of the first LTE operators to deploy small cells, and the deal is the first commercial contract and deployment for AlcaLu's LTE metro cell. The deployment will initially target indoor locations, like popular entertainment venues, train stations or business locations. (See Sprint's First to Deploy Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio and Sprint Deploys AlcaLu lightRadio.)

A small network vision
Iyad Tarazi, Sprint VP network development and engineering, revealed the operator's plans for LTE small cells in a video interview with Light Reading. He said the operator expects to use the tiny base stations in an outdoor environment in late 2013 or early 2014, when the devices will be capable of better managing interference with the macro network. (See Why Sprint Needs 4G Small Cells.)

South Korea thinks small too
South Korea's largest mobile operator, SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), also plans to roll out an LTE small cell network this year, and Cavium Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM) announced that the tiny base stations will be based on its OCTEON Fusion "base station on a chip" hardware and software platform. But it's not clear whether SKT's LTE small cell rollout will be for indoor or outdoor coverage. (See Cavium Scores in Korea and AsiaBites: LTE's Business Edge.)

In another sign that operators in South Korea are ready to deploy, Cavium rival Mindspeed Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: MSPD) says it will also see some small cell action in the country before the end of the year. On Mindspeed's third-quarter fiscal earnings call on July 23, CEO Raouf Halim said, "We are pleased to report that we have production orders on backlog for our 4G LTE Transcede products and the first wave of Korean deployments for this coming calendar fourth quarter."

Small cells, big challenges
But these early moves for LTE small cells don't wash away the challenges and indecision that remain for most operators, as Light Reading Mobile's recent coverage shows:
  • In an outdoor scenario, simply working out where to locate the small cells outside and obtaining rights to lampposts or other outdoor property is difficult for operators. (See Small Cell Network Planning Poses Problems.)
  • With a lack of planning tools, some operators might even turn to social networking sites like Twitter to discover where data traffic is heaviest and where extra capacity could be filled with a small cell. (See How Twitter Can Plan Small Cell Networks.)
  • Operators are still undecided about many aspects of a small cell rollout, including the network architecture, interference mitigation, network management and backhaul technologies. (See LR Live: Small-Cell Indecision Reigns.)
  • Getting sufficient and reliable backhaul capacity to a large-scale LTE small cell network is among the biggest challenges. (See Small Cells Among Next Big Challenges for LTE .)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

Sign In