NEW YORK CITY -- Expect to see a lot more tiny 4G radios popping up on the Verizon network in the coming years.
David Small, EVP of wireless operations at Verizon Wireless , says that the operator is moving ahead with its C-RAN plans. "We're not doing a ton now, it's more in the roadmap, but we think it is very important," Small said, talking to Light Reading at a Droid event launch in an art gallery in Chelsea Tuesday morning.
Small had mentioned that Verizon has started to deploy some remote radio heads (RRH) as part of its efforts to add capacity and get the most out of its existing 4G LTE radio bandwidth with small cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS). "We're really going aggressively in that manner," Small said of the DAS and small cell efforts, although he couldn't say what percentage of the operator's capital expenditure is tied up in the densification plan.
Verizon has been evaluating C-RAN for a couple of years. The operator hasn't revealed its suppliers, but the smart money says that Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) is likely to be in the mix. (See C-RAN Blazes a Trail to True 4G.)
So what is C-RAN and why should you care? Centralized or Cloud-RAN is basically a method of putting smaller radios up in high data traffic that are managed by a centralized controller. What this means for a phone user is higher data speeds and capacity -- typically in urban areas -- so they don't suffer from the buffer when they're trying to stream a cat video. (See It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's C-RAN!)
Technically, the concept involves splitting the radio and control elements of a traditional base station. The remote radio heads can be deployed at cell sites, on utility poles, or on buildings. The RRHs are typically connected with fiber -- although sometimes microwave radio links can be used -- to the controller unit. (See What the [Bleep] Is Fronthaul?)
C-RAN is one way to get more out of a 4G network, and is expected to be a building block of future 5G networks. Brian Mecum, vice president, Network West Area, at Verizon, told us in September that the operator has been deploying C-RAN in San Francisco and the Bay Area. In that case, the carrier has an eye on Super Bowl 50, which will be held in Santa Clara on February 7, 2016. C-RAN, however, is clearly part of a larger network densification push for Verizon. (See Verizon Completes SON Trials With Cisco, Ericsson .)
This is because the carrier needs to get the most out of its existing radio spectrum. At present, it plans to participate in the 600MHz spectrum auction, which is expected in March 2016. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo noted last week, however, that the 600MHz spectrum doesn't always play well with the existing 700MHz spectrum it runs LTE on. (See Verizon to Start Deploying LTE-U in 2016.)
"Higher frequency spectrum is capacity and that's really what we need at the moment," he said on the carrier's Q3 conference call last week.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading