Holy HetNets! It’s Super Macros & Massive MIMO

While small cells dominate the debate about wireless network strategies, some mobile operators think that big is better, for now.

Michelle Donegan, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

October 4, 2013

2 Min Read
Holy HetNets! It’s Super Macros & Massive MIMO

UK operator EE wants to turn its existing macro cell sites into "super macros," according to Andy Sutton, the carrier's principal network architect, speaking at the recent Base Station conference in London.

And China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), meanwhile, is rolling out what C-RAN project manager Clark Chen called "massive MIMO."

EE 's plan to super size its macro cell sites fits in to a broader Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) strategy for adding capacity and extending coverage. The operator rolled out the first LTE network in the UK last year, and has now covered 55 percent of the UK population and has 1 million 4G customers.

"Super macro is the first step toward building a HetNet,” said Sutton. “Evolving the macro is the most cost-optimized way to adding capacity into our networks."

But what makes a macro super?

According to Sutton, a super macro would typically have multiple radio access technologies (RAT), three-to-six base station sectors, and operate in multiple frequency bands using carrier aggregation techniques. It could be a standalone base station or a hub for subtended, smaller micro cells. He added that infrastructure sharing is vital to the strategy as well.

Once the operator has sufficiently beefed up its macro cell sites, then it can look to smaller cells to be deployed indoors and outdoors in hotspots or cell edge locations. Sutton described a small cell deployment as an "underlay" to the super macro.

The term super macro isn't exactly new, but the fact that operators are talking about it now indicates just how much more they are looking to do with their existing radio access network (RAN) infrastructure before introducing new small cells or while planning a small cell deployment.

"Within the super macro concept, there's quite a lot operators can do to improve performance," says Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown.

Along with adding sectors, using more spectrum bands, or employing carrier aggregation, Brown also includes in the super macro concept using 4x4 and 8x8 MIMO, active antenna systems, vertical sectorization, or beamforming.

The advantage of improving macro sites is that many of the basic elements that go into the total cost of ownership of a cell site are already in place, such as power, real estate rental, and backhaul, according to Brown.

China Mobile, which is pursuing a Cloud RAN strategy, has been working with higher order MIMO antenna installations to improve cell site performance. "Massive MIMO is one of our solutions," said Chen.

The super macro concept is likely to become more popular as operators look for cost-efficient ways to add capacity and coverage and while outdoor small cell products continue to develop.

— Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Michelle Donegan

Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry on both sides of the Pond for the past twenty years.

Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications, including Communications Week International, Total Telecom, Light Reading, Telecom Titans and more.

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