NSN threw down the small-cell gauntlet to its rivals Wednesday with the unveiling of what it claims is the smallest fully functional 4G small cell on the market and the only one to have the exact same features and capacity as a macro basestation.
The Flexi Zone LTE microcell and picocell basestations, designed to provide infill coverage in dense urban areas and high-usage areas such as sports stadia and large shopping malls/centers, each weigh just 5kg and are, according to Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN), "considerably smaller and lighter than existing microcell and picocell units."
In many ways they are fully formed regular basestations but in a very small form factor. Phil Twist, head of Portfolio Marketing at NSN, explains that the small cell is not a deconstructed product -- it has the baseband and the radio on board -- and has full security features and can utilize any IP backhaul connection.
The units, which become commercially available in early 2014, come with integrated GPS, so operators know where the cells are and have integrated 1588v2 capabilities for packet voice support, explains Twist. They also include a Bluetooth interface for easier maintenance (as engineers do not have to climb up poles to check on them and get readings).
Twist adds that the small cells can be meshed together to appear like a macro cell that is part of the wide area network, a key NSN proposition for heterogeneous network (HetNet) deployments.
So is anyone putting the small cells through their paces in trials? Twist wouldn't say, let alone identify any customers that are taking a look.
Why this matters
Small cells are just about the hottest infrastructure elements in wireless currently, so it's important for all the major vendors to be seen to have propositions that meet the requirements of operators that are rolling out their 4G LTE networks.
What's interesting is that NSN has targeted the outdoor and large indoor (stadia, malls) dense usage areas rather than pitch for the residential and office in-building coverage option that key rival Ericsson AB recently targeted.
But while everyone's talking about how small cells will be able to help operators provide top-quality coverage in high-usage areas without breaking the bank, are the carriers ready to deploy? That NSN won't say if it even has any trials ongoing suggests that the operators are still figuring how small cells fit into their plans, while Twist himself notes that "the business case for small cells is behind the technical capabilities of the products."
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— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading