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Ericsson's Radio Dot Receives Mixed Reception

Sarah Thomas
9/27/2013

Ericsson's Radio Dot is a ground-breaking innovation… or a simple product redesign, depending on whom you ask.

The equipment giant announced its new small cell system Wednesday, claiming to have solved the challenges of interference and distortion to provide cost-effective, high-performance indoor cellular coverage. In addition, the device has a sleek design, supports multiple cellular standards and (in the next release) WiFi in a small, compact disc. (See Ericsson Boasts Small Cell Breakthrough.)

This is something the wireless operators have asked for, according to Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s Head of Networks Johan Wibergh. Indeed, an executive from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was quoted in the product press release stating an interest in the development, while Verizon Wireless welcomed the initiative in a statement issued Thursday.

The Ericsson Radio Dot system "has the potential to meet customer needs for a flexible, cost effective solution, while also allowing for faster deployment," states Tom Sawanobori, vice president of corporate technology for Verizon, adding that the carrier will trial Radio Dot with Ericsson, although that won't take place until the second quarter of 2014 when the vendor says trials are slated to begin.

But, at least one company -- a competitor, naturally -- takes issue with Ericsson's claim to be breaking new ground. SpiderCloud Wireless chief marketing officer Ronny Haraldsvik writes in an email to Light Reading that, in his view, Radio Dot is nothing more than a redesign of Ericsson's DAS (distributed antenna systems) radio head, and one that looks awfully similar to the Nest thermostat at that.

"Ericsson's 'Johnny come lately' DAS-approach highlights that they know they have an indoor problem and their way of fixing it is to add coverage bars inside for 3G but not add capacity or the ability to enable managed services for mobile operators," Haraldsvik says.

His contention is that since the Dot device links to the basestation, it's taking capacity from the macro cellular network. Behind the sleek device is a wiring closet and dedicated fiber backhaul that's needed to the cell site, he says.

But Current Analysis analyst Ed Gubbins points out that while Dot can be used with existing macrocells that are deployed on top of buildings, thus splitting the capacity, it doesn't have to be that way. In many cases, perhaps even most, Gubbins suggests, operators could deploy a baseband unit in the basement and not use the existing macrocell at all.

SpiderCloud has its own, comparable system for indoor coverage that relies on buildings' Ethernet cable to power its small cells, and it's not the only one. Ericsson's prime competition is Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and potentially Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and the Radio Dot aesthetics are already drawing comparisons to Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s lightRadio set up. (See Vodafone Deploys SpiderCloud's Small Cells, Huawei Unveils Innovative LampSite Solution for Deep Indoor Coverage at MWC, Cisco: Multimode Small Cells Coming Early 2014, and AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station.)

Early analyst reactions seem to suggest it's the right move for Ericsson, whether or not it is unique to the market. Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown calls the system well designed and flexible, and Gubbins adds that the system is innovative and a significant departure from Ericsson's current indoor small cell offering.

But the big question will be whether enterprises mind being tethered to just one operator, which is not the case with distributed antenna systems (DAS).

"It's not a neutral multi-operator system like DAS," Gubbins writes in an email to Light Reading. "So will building owners want to let Verizon put this in their building when the people in the building may not all be Verizon subscribers? Will the performance benefits this system yields outweigh the fact that it's not multi-operator?"

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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MordyK
MordyK
9/30/2013 | 3:12:36 PM
Re: Indoor - the new land grab
In a way it is your type of market where sharing networks makes the most sense as the cost of coverage per person is relatively high and this only compounts itself as you go down to markets that are tier 3 and below. One just need to look at a given carrier's coverage map and you see the holes in coverage as proof.

This is why VZ outsourced/leased their spectrum and brand to 3rd parties that were interested in building Verizon networks in those markets

In the US we had a network sharing arrangement that was later dissolved during the merger of Cingular & AT&T. At the time Cingular's northeast tri-state network and T-mobile's southeast networks were combined into a fully shared infrastructure network but separated in terms of spectrum and network ID's (probably some more separations as well).
MordyK
MordyK
9/30/2013 | 2:35:27 PM
Re: DAS and Small Cells
You need to remember that it's not just fiber but "dedicated" fiber. and the answer is yes once you expand the sort of areas that can be addressed. There's a reason that tons of investment and R&D dollars are being put into alternative small cells & DAS backhaul technologies. The answer to most question is to follow the money :)
Atlantis-dude
Atlantis-dude
9/30/2013 | 2:23:03 PM
Re: DAS and Small Cells
Is there a large market where wireless networks are highly congested but fiber is not easily available to backhaul ? I hear that most of the dense urban locations in US/EU/Japan and even some other parts of Asia have fiber easily available.
MarkC73
MarkC73
9/30/2013 | 5:05:29 AM
Re: Indoor - the new land grab
Hi MordyK,

Here, is in the US, small metro market but big enough to have all the carriers present and building.  We are typically 1-2 years behind what the major metro markets are doing.

I have seen providers share backhaul (from wireless receiver to MTSO and logically separated) but not access (customer to wireless receiver), perhaps it is because they haven't found the need to or perhaps they are still working on how they want to approach this specific market.  I am going to say it is most likely the first reason.

It could also be that the land owners granting easements make it tough to share as well.  There isn't much room to just drop and H frame and a cell tower, and even if there is room getting approval is a nightmare, so carriers have resorted to 'cell friendly' buildings.  I know of a building with 4 separate huts on the roof, one for each major player, but the last guy put on a structurally weaker side of the roof and had to build a load distributing platform for their hut, which they did, since it was the easiest way to build out in that particular the area.

In any case, I guess I'll keep my eyes open, thanks for the feedback.
DOShea
DOShea
9/29/2013 | 2:19:47 PM
Re: Indoor - the new land grab
I think there is more openness to network sharing, depending on the situation, than there used to be. However, carriers still want to beat the competition for new revenue opportunities, and if I was Verizon I would look at this first as a new way to market better performance to enterprises, and an argument for handing all, or at least most, of their business to Verizon.
MordyK
MordyK
9/28/2013 | 3:55:08 AM
Re: Indoor - the new land grab
Mark, I'm not sure where "here"is.

The line between shared network and shared space is very thin as it means different things to different people at different times.

There's a long history of sharing network and or spaces. These range from shared towers to neutral host DAS and even carriers using the same networks and virtually separating them. The latter has become especially popular for 4G networks due to the costs and coverage mandates.

What appears to be something carrier's would turn their backs on might actually becom every popular.
MordyK
MordyK
9/28/2013 | 3:49:17 AM
Re: DAS and Small Cells
Simon, What are your thoughts on shared RAN small cells?
MarkC73
MarkC73
9/28/2013 | 2:44:37 AM
Re: Indoor - the new land grab
I doubt anytime soon the carriers here would ever share a network, space perhaps, but network never, too much varibles and liability.  Maybe instead you'll just have your own femtocell at your desk, if your carrier can't or won't do SC in your building.  Side note I think the ALU's 7705 PMC as well as the Light Radio are pretty niffty.
MordyK
MordyK
9/27/2013 | 5:58:43 PM
Re: DAS and Small Cells
The problem with the DOT IMHO is the need for dedicated fiber lines. The introduction of the small cell concep tlead to the birth of a diverse backhaul technology portfolio due to the fact that dedicated lines or lines of any sort may not be available. Frankly this makes sense for VZ to deploy as they like going solo on DAS systems so if they can get their hands on a mall or a stadium where they would have invested in direct lines anyways this sort of solution makes sense, however for carriers ot hung up on ownership and one-upmanship i'm not sure that this is a suitable solution.
MordyK
MordyK
9/27/2013 | 5:53:52 PM
Re: Indoor - the new land grab
ALu has been promoting shared RAN small cell functionality for a while, and frankly it's only when carriers finally agree that it makes sense to co-locate that enterprises and other facilities will agree to have them placed on their premises, to avoid just this mess of branded devices. From a business perspective shared RAN SC's makes more sense as the cost of deployment and maintenance are spread across all thecarriers, thus enabling a speedier deployment and deeper penetration especially in areas that dont justify a SC for a single carrier but do in combination.
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