Small cells

Ericsson Boasts Small Cell Breakthrough

Ericsson has thrown down the gauntlet to its radio access network (RAN) infrastructure rivals with the unveiling of a new small cell product, the Radio Dot System, which, the vendor claims, deals with the main challenges faced by service providers that want their cellular service coverage to reach inside buildings.

Indoor cellular coverage is a major issue for mobile service providers, with about 70 percent of mobile traffic being generated indoors, according to Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). In an attempt to address the indoor coverage issue, femtocells and picocells have been developed and deployed in homes and offices in recent years while DAS (distributed antenna systems) have also been deployed in larger buildings.

But neither of these options is very suitable for the mobile broadband age and the increasing volumes of data usage driven by smartphone and tablet users, according to Johan Wibergh, head of the Networks business at Ericsson. "DAS provides fairly good performance but is extremely costly, while femtocells and picocells still encounter performance challenges and require a great deal of improvement," says Wibergh.

Ericsson's Small Cell Handyman
Johan Wibergh, Ericsson's head of the Networks and chief advisor on home improvements, got busy with his drill at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Johan Wibergh, Ericsson's head of the Networks and chief advisor on home improvements, got busy with his drill at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Wibergh says operators have been asking for an indoor coverage solution that is cost-effective, delivers performance at the same level as with mobile macro cell coverage, and which is not physically obtrusive.

Ericsson believes the Radio Dot System delivers against these demands, though service providers will have to wait until the second quarter of 2014 to engage in trials, while full commercial availability is not expected until the second half of next year.

"We have been developing this for two years and recently had a breakthrough that led us to file for 14 patents," notes Wibergh, who says interference and distortion challenges have been addressed.

The Dot, which according to the vendor supports multiple cellular standards (including FDD LTE) and WiFi, is a small disc (10cm wide) that houses a very small antenna and runs the same software as the macro RAN products. It connects within buildings via standard local area network (LAN) cables (category 5/6/7) to a radio unit that then connects to a macro network base station.

Just Don't Confuse It With the Smoke Alarm
Ericsson believes its Radio Dot small cell is aesthetically pleasing as well as functional and cost-effective.
Ericsson believes its Radio Dot small cell is aesthetically pleasing as well as functional and cost-effective.

The news has certainly caught the attention of Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown, who has been studying the small cell product market recently.

"It's an interest product and a departure for Ericsson in so far as it really attacks the deep in-building market," he says. "You can see the minimalist Scandinavian aesthetic at work in the Radio Dot design. This attention to detail indicates a well-thought-through system design and reflects the 14 patents Ericsson says were generated during the R&D work. Form follows function, you could say."

Brown adds: "The requirement for dedicated Cat 5 cable to each Radio Dot is a notable contrast to enterprise small cell solutions that operate over the switched LAN. It'll be interesting to see how this plays in the market. Ericsson is talking about cable runs of up to 200 meters so there's deployment flexibility, but it will typically require enterprises and operators to install new cable."

A unique offering
The vendor, naturally, believes its new offer is groundbreaking. "This completely redefines the market," claims Wibergh. "We believe the deployment costs are 70 percent lower than with DAS, so we believe this is something very significant as it makes indoor coverage and capacity economically feasible. The feedback we have is that this is something unique."

Unique? The team at SpiderCloud Wireless has developed an indoor coverage solution that uses a building's Ethernet cabling to power the small cells (or radio nodes) that feed traffic back to a centralized services node, which in turn connects to a mobile operator's packet core. (See Vodafone Deploys SpiderCloud's Small Cells and Look Out – Here Comes SpiderCloud!.)

"They are onto something similar," says Wibergh, but it's the ability to take the macro cell technology and replicate it in a pico form factor with a "new antenna design," and the ability to seamlessly coordinate and manage the macro and small cells that sets the Radio Dot System apart, notes the Ericsson man. "This is an affordable extension of the macro network into buildings. I don't think you'll find anything as unobtrusive as this anywhere else," he adds.

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , which launched its Lamsite product in February this year, might also beg to differ, though, while Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) might have something to say on the matter in the coming months. (See Huawei Unveils Innovative LampSite Solution for Deep Indoor Coverage at MWC and Cisco: Multimode Small Cells Coming Early 2014.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Haraldsvik 9/26/2013 | 2:08:54 PM
Re: Even if it's only slightly unique.... You know there's a market for medium to large enterprise in-building mobility when Ericsson shows up...3 years late :-)  The shift from small business to Medium and Large comes with scalability, interference, security and installation issues. But, beyond coverage, you need capacity. If you are so lucky to get invited by the CIO to come inside to fix the problem (to avoid losing the customer or gaining anew one), then you also need to keep in mind that you are likely not coming back for a long time (with any wiring closet or wiring needs).

The DOT-OneFrequency-DAS approach by Ericsson is tied to what they know best: Macro cellular outdoor coverage, Iub and DAS. It makes perfect sense. But, it's not a small cell system that will work for new customers (where there's no DAS). DOT is a distrubuted antenna that add coverage, not capacity and with no avenue for managed services, etc. The DOT does not magically work wihout the normal DAS backhaul and equipment required (http://www.spidercloud.com/assets/pdfs/ExactVentures0912_0.pdf )

This works where all the necessary DAS is already in place (large buildings, one enterprise company. For buildings where there are many enterprises, it's hard to impossible to cost-justify new base station install and new microwave backhaul unless an operator can secure all businesses inside the building or campus.

We all compete in the market place. The customers' customer will decide what works. We'll all have to wait another year to see DOT work or see DOT go :-)

But let's not be confused. Dot is DAS and the 100-page DAS installation manual from Kris Rinne's team must be followed (same for testing). 

twitter @haraldsvik and @spiderCloud_inc
wendyz 9/26/2013 | 11:59:29 AM
Re: Indoor is where the small cell action is Where's the love? No mention of the market leader in small cells! I guess 3 years with 57 small cell contracts (43 already using ALU enterprise cells) across 33 countries is old news? We better talk soon : )
jhodgesk1s 9/25/2013 | 9:29:58 PM
Re: Indoor is where the small cell action is Got to hold one at the Ericsson event today. They claim lifespan will be comparable to other traditionally designed radio components.
pdonegan67 9/25/2013 | 3:20:42 PM
Re: lightposts.... Very good call, Ritch. I agree with you entirely.

The carriers say they're determined not be dumb pipes. Then they try tearing each other to shreds - driving up rental prices in the meantime - to get exclusive or preferential access to light posts and other real estate. What's a lightpost if not the ultimate dumb pipe ?

Real-estate sharing models for metro or public access small cells will come in different shapes and sizes in different countries, indeed in different regions, even different ciities.

But the operators will end up alighting on more of a shared model than many started out assuming, and many are still assuming.
RitchBlasi 9/25/2013 | 2:48:02 PM
lightposts.... Don't be surprised if the carriers form alliances with the local electric utilities to run some kind of backhaul to the tops of lightposts.  Not too far from reality.
MordyK 9/25/2013 | 2:20:39 PM
Re: What about Outdoor Coverage These things are so small they can be strung on light posts or any other form of utility posts, but the strict backhaul requirement would be a big hinderance.
Sarah Thomas 9/25/2013 | 12:41:50 PM
Re: Even if it's only slightly unique.... Cisco's Partho Mishra says that its indoor small cells would work just as well outdoors, but it's clearly focused on the indoor market. I'd expect a response from it sooner rather than later...
RitchBlasi 9/25/2013 | 10:55:52 AM
What about Outdoor Coverage Interesting and cost effective solution for indoor coverage - can Ericsson develop something similar for outdoor small cells?  The time frame for offering this solution might tie in with what carriers are planning for backhaul.  I would think the carriers need to drive down opex costs for outdoor smalls cells could be offset by a solution such as this.
[email protected] 9/25/2013 | 10:48:22 AM
Even if it's only slightly unique.... If Ericsson has managed to develop an inddor cell that is essentially a shrunk-down version of a macro cell with same chataceristics and management system etc at much as less than DAS then it sounds like it should be a signifoicant addition to its arsenal.

But with GA in H2 2014, and with SpiderCloud getting its foot in the door at Vodafone AND with Cisco ready to put its weight behind its small cell ine arly 2014 etc etc )(factor in Huawei, NSN, ZTE) then market advantage miht not be as strong as the Swedes might like...

pdonegan67 9/25/2013 | 10:47:33 AM
Indoor is where the small cell action is Yep, indoor is where most of the new small cell deployment action is. And for a while yet.
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