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Small Cells Enabling Location Services

Sarah Thomas
2/25/2015
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It's becoming clear that small cells (of the indoor variety) are poised to go mainstream not just because of the influx of announcements ahead of Mobile World Congress, but also because the focus is slowly starting to shift from coverage to what else can be done with the mini-basestations.

Take for example today's announcement from Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and ip.access Ltd. The pair are launching consumer-based presence services in Turkey, after a successful deployment of the vendor's presenceCell in the region. These services spring from knowing a user's precise location and include providing them with personalized attention in the store, targeting them with offers and promotions or even preventing fraud by confirming a customer's identity by their SIM card. (See Amdocs, ip.access Team for Indoor Small Cells.)

Vodafone's deployment comes a week after SpiderCloud Wireless announced similar capabilities via the addition of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to its small cells. It suggested more enterprise-focused apps as well, including tracking where an employee is in a large campus to know when they'll arrive at a meeting. (See SpiderCloud Evolves Its Small Cells.)


For more on small cells, head over to the small cell content page on Light Reading.


These types of services are only possible by knowing a user's precise location indoors. They can become a lot more targeted and personalized when small cells are providing coverage. A retailer with small cells installed can take in a constant stream of data on their customers that they can use to form better relationships with them (whether the customers want to or not). And, you can bet the wireless operator that's managing the small cells will be more than happy to package this information up for retailers and manage the relationship on their behalf.

It's taken awhile to get this point -- small cells always took a back seat to the macro network and then they were only considered as a way to plug coverage holes in enterprises, venues and other indoor locations. Now, deployments are happening at a steady clip and operators are exploring technologies like carrier aggregation and LTE-Unlicensed to increase capacity even further. (See T-Mobile Gets Small & Unlicensed With Nokia and Ericsson Preps LTE-U for Verizon, T-Mob & SK Telecom.)

You can bet that alongside these technology discussions at Mobile World Congress next week, there will be many more about what value-added services can be implemented -- and by whom -- now that small cells are undeniably a big deal. (See MWC: Let the Madness Begin.)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2015 | 10:26:36 AM
Re: ipAccess update
All this device does is force a registration but then deny access to "the network", which means that you get the data but there's no interference impact and you don't need a super thick pipe for backhaul. which means you can in theory use existing cellular or Wi-Fi for the backhaul of the registration data.

Some things to take into account:

1. It only works with the carrier supporting it (unless these devices get network sharing capabilities)

2. The cell and mobile devices need to share the same frequencies

That said, these devices and the capability are way cool, but a real effort needs to be made to make them useful.
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2015 | 10:20:11 AM
Re: small cell data
I understand that Sarah, but I don't see why you would need a telco for non-telco apps and taking off some adhesive on the back of a beacon. Its way simple!
sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/26/2015 | 8:56:33 AM
ipAccess update

ipAccess presenceCells actually doesn't need a network connection, per say, for indoor location. They write in an email to us:

"presenceCells fit within operators privacy and permissions frameworks to capture user location and identity information from mobile devices by making use of existing 3GPP standards and a highly modified ip.access small cell, we are able to utilise standard (un-modified) handset behaviour to scan the radio spectrum and identify the user SIM in order to provide data to the operators for new services.   It is worth adding that the unique aspect of this is that we do not require a core network connection. This solution works without needing to provide cell coverage, which means deployment is fast and simple.  It also means that the user handsets do not need Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to be enabled and there is no requirement for applications or modifications to the handset.   So the solution is the first to meet the operators' needs for a rapid rollout with no user impact. The resulting data drives value added services for a wide variety of business applications. The high quality data captured by the presenceCellTMmonetises Vodafone's spectrum assets and provides retail intelligence in a uniquely valuable way."

sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/26/2015 | 8:54:43 AM
Re: small cell data
I was thinking that it would be an addition to the physical small cell by the operator or vendor like SpiderCloud, so technically they would control the service -- or could at least make a case for it.
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/25/2015 | 12:38:43 PM
Re: small cell data
But as a retailer or facility manager, why do you need a carrier to deploy a 5$ BT Beacon?
sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/25/2015 | 12:30:22 PM
Re: small cell data
But who owns/controlls the beacons in the small cells? I imagine that could be an operator-offered service since they are the ones deploying the small cells.
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/25/2015 | 12:28:18 PM
Re: small cell data
putting beacons on negates the carriers value. The small cell can only provide location presence in whatever range of coverage teh cell has. So if the cell has a 50m radius, the presence will be within 100 meters, which can be slightly improved with power reading correlation. the smaller the cell the smaller the presence circle.

SO presence cells are targeted. For example a retailer can have presence cells around specific items, and the small cell for overall store data. BUt they wont get detailed footfall without a host of presence cells.
sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/25/2015 | 12:19:24 PM
Re: small cell data
I think that putting beacons on small cells gives the you the most potential for immediate presence and coverage. Plus, small cells shorter range should be a good thing because it means the user is in a precise location, which is necessary for relevancy. Knowing which small cell they are near allow for even more targeting. In an enterprise setting, you'd know which room an employee was in, for example, rather than the general vicinity. 
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/25/2015 | 12:14:32 PM
Re: small cell data
The NSA proved that carrier data is invaluable, but there are still significant limitations in their capabilities.

Presence cells are - depending on the range and power settings - like iBeacons or NFC tags, in that they offer immediate presence, while small cells can provide presence information but not an accurate position beyond the general coverage of the cell. The ability for a small cell providing general coverage to also have the ability to do micro-location is what we designed at Navanu.

Intelligent granular privacy can be done right but a significant investment needs to be made for this to be compelling.

As far as use-cases, it can range from straight analytics to something I call App-less apps. These apps are built on the cloud using the data streamed from the network.

FYI these presence cells were originally designed by Accells from Israel many years ago, and Raging mobile tried bringing that technology to the US without success.
sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/25/2015 | 11:49:22 AM
Re: small cell data
Yeah, there will have to be an opt-in (or opt-out?) approach to do any sort of targeting. The carriers have experimented with this and are realizing what works and what doesn't. This seems like a viable managed service for them to offer, depending on how targeted and complex the locations want the offers to be -- and perhaps how large the venue is. Some places, like sports arenas, are already offering this themselves. 
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