Top 6 Small Cells Movers & Shakers

These are the big names to keep an eye on as small cells move from carrier labs to network deployments.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

December 3, 2013

13 Min Read
Top 6 Small Cells Movers & Shakers

It's safe to say that small cells have become an integral part of most wireless operators' network strategies, but right now, a lot of those operators are still in the planning stages.

While it's early days for small cells, Heavy Reading says the market will grow to include 700,000 public access small cells requiring dedicated new backhaul in live service by the end of 2017. In addition, there will be thousands of more private-domain consumer and enterprise femto or closed user group deployments, as well as some public access small cell deployments that leverage pre-existing transport infrastructure. (See: The Tall Order for Small Cell Backhaul.)

Operators are using the low-power base stations to bolster their network density, increase data speeds, plug coverage holes in their voice networks -- both indoors and outdoors -- and to manage spectrum more efficiently. While most have 3G femtocells deployed already, attention is now turned to developing and deploying LTE small cells that also pack in WiFi.

That's what makes now the perfect time to highlight a few of the more instrumental small cell proponents -- those helping to move the industry along, diffusing the hype, and pushing small cells out of the labs and into deployment.

Check out our list of six people to keep an eye on as the market continues to shape up in the next 12 to 18 months. Some are the heads of small cell practices at their respective companies and are "faces" in the industry, while others are less well known (and don't get out of the labs much).

This is the way we see the market currently, but we also know there is a lot of brainpower, and many influencers, making this important segment of the wireless industry possible. So please, suggest any additions (or make a case for deletions) on the message boards below.


  • Page 2: Alex Jinsung Choi, Executive Vice President and Head of ICT R&D Division, SK Telecom

  • Page 3: Gordon Mansfield, AVP of technology at AT&T

  • Page 4: Behrooz Parsay, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations at SpiderCloud

  • Page 5: Dr. Alan Law, Vodafone Group’s New Technology Manager

  • Page 6: Iyad Tarazi, Sprint's VP of network development and engineering

  • Page 7: Ericsson's Head of Networks Johan Wibergh

  • Page 8: Others to keep an eye on

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  • Next Page: Alex Jinsung Choi, Executive Vice President and Head of ICT R&D Division, SK Telecom

    — Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

    Alex Jinsung Choi, Executive Vice President and Head of ICT R&D Division, SK Telecom

    Figure 1:

    The Korean market was a hotbed for early small cell action, and SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) took a unique approach, deploying data-only LTE and WiFi small cells for indoor coverage at the same time as it rolled out LTE.

    It was also the first operator to launch an LTE-Advanced network using carrier aggregation, and it sees LTE-Advanced small cells as the most crucial network element supporting the deployment. (See: SK Telecom Spends Big on Mobile Broadband and SK Telekom Preps Femto Service.)

    Alex Jinsung Choi, EVP and Head of SK Telecom's ICT R&D Division, is responsible for developing the carrier's overall ICT vision, helping shape how the network would be built out and keeping it significantly ahead of the rest of the world. He oversaw the deployment of 50,000 femtocells, including 3,000 LTE femtocells. Now, he's leading efforts to develop and apply cell virtualization technologies, aka Super Cells, to enhance network capacity, minimize interference, and improve call quality by removing handover.

    The work Choi and his team are doing at SK Telecom is something all the world's operators will want to keep an eye on as they'll look to the Korean operator for inspiration and best-practices.

    "Although perhaps less appreciated in the West than it might be, SKT has been a technology pioneer and one of the most aggressive deployers of carrier small cells," says Rupert Baines, CMO of specialist advisory firm Real Wireless. "With extensive rollouts for 3G enterprise and metro coverage, one of the first volume LTE deployments and well-advanced plans for LTE-A, SKT is well worth watching."

    • Next Page: Gordon Mansfield, AVP of technology at AT&T

      Gordon Mansfield, AVP of technology at AT&T

      Figure 2:

      Mansfield is really a shoe-in for the Movers & Shakers list as he's been at the forefront of small cells since the very first femtocells went into homes. He not only leads AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s small cell efforts, but also is the chairman of the Small Cell Forum Ltd. , uniting the entire global community and pushing for interoperability between vendors and with the macro network. He has been involved with the group since 2008. (See: AT&T Exec Leads Small Cell Group.)

      "Gordon is doing very important work with the Small Cell Forum," Current Analysis analyst Ed Gubbins says. "For example, its publications on deployment models are a really essential resource for an industry that is trying to climb the learning curve of small cell network-building."

      In his carrier role, he's also been steering AT&T's Project Velocity IP and working on aggressive plans to use the mini-base stations to complement its LTE network. The carrier now has 3G HSPA+ microcells in 18 states across the US, and Mansfield is currently working on getting Multi-Standard Metrocells (MSMs) that combine LTE with 3G and WiFi ready for deployment next year. (See: AT&T Has LTE Small Cells 'in the Lab', AT&T: 3G Small Cells in 18 US States, and AT&T Puts Up $14B to Boost Broadband.)</ p>

      The operator's Lab has also built a new planning tool dubbed HARP to analyze radio waves to help it determine the best positions for the devices to optimize coverage. (See: AT&T Sings Song of Small Cells With HARP.)

      Mansfield claims AT&T will deploy 40,000 small cells between now and the end of 2015. Light Reading will be keeping tabs on the operator's deployment and the man behind it between now and then. (See: Small Cells: Who's Buying?)

    • Next Page: Behrooz Parsay, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations at SpiderCloud

      Behrooz Parsay, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations at SpiderCloud

      Figure 3:

      SpiderCloud Wireless has been vocal about its competitors' small cell "breakthroughs," as it claims to be at least 12 months ahead of the market.

      What gives it the confidence to be the David to the wireless vendor Goliaths is the fact that it already has a dual-mode enterprise small cell that can support 4G LTE and UMTS 3G, and it has a named operator customer in Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). (See: SpiderCloud's New Web: Dual-Mode 4G LTE and Vodafone Deploys SpiderCloud's Small Cells.)

      He isn't the one doing the boasting, but the man who is largely responsible for SpiderCloud's head start and its ability to get an enterprise hooked up in a matter of weeks is Behrooz Parsay, SpiderCloud's Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations. He joined the company in 2010 and was responsible for evaluating and selecting its next-gen multi-mode portfolio.

      According to SpiderCloud CMO Ronny Haraldsvik, Parsay was also responsible for engineering the company's new 310 radio node, including the single system on a chip, dual-band flexibility for 3G, and LTE or dual-band LTE.

      "Much as Aruba and BelAir did for WiFi, SpiderCloud helped refine the segment, and continue to offer quite a distinct vision," says Rupert Baines of consultancy Real Wireless, adding that Haraldsvik should also make the list for his unparalleled energy, his history of being in the right place at the right time with past jobs at Flarion and BelAir, and his charismatic cheerleading of the sector.

      SpiderCloud, Haraldsvik, and Parsay, will all be ones to keep an eye on as its larger competitors start to make more noise and encroach on its space in the enterprise.

    • Next Page: Dr. Alan Law, Vodafone Group’s New Technology Manager

      Dr. Alan Law, Vodafone Group’s New Technology Manager

      Figure 4:

      As vice chair of Europe for the Small Cell Forum, Dr. Alan Law has been carrying the torch for small cells for years, and Rupert Baines of consultancy Real Wireless says he does a good job of communicating technical and commercial aspects of the market in a fluent way. He's been critical in emphasizing the importance of interoperability and standardization.

      In his other job as new technology manager for Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), Law has taken on the task of developing Vodafone's small cell strategy, which differs in each of the carrier's operating territories.

      He's already made Vodafone a market leader with small cells for its 3G network, and is now turning his attention towards the rollout of LTE as well as figuring out how to improve mobile broadband service in rural areas. As part of its Project Spring plan to invest an extra £7 billion (US$11.11 billion) in its fixed and mobile broadband networks and support systems in the next few years, the carrier will be stepping up its involvement with small cells alongside LTE-Advanced and SON systems. (See: Vodafone to Revamp Top Tech Team and Vodafone Ups 'Project Spring' Capex to $11B+.)

      "Vodafone has been the most progressive operator in terms of developing a 3G small cell technology proposition and then deploying it into the network," says Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown. "Its work on femtocells and enterprise small cells, in particular, set it apart. The challenge now is repeat the process for LTE and, where appropriate, make progress in the pico/metro cell category."

    • Next Page: Iyad Tarazi, Sprint's VP of network development and engineering

      Iyad Tarazi, Sprint's VP of network development and engineering

      Figure 5:

      Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s heritage in small cells goes back to its 2G network, offering them to customers to improve voice coverage in the home. It now has more than 1 million CDMA small cells deployed, making it one of the largest residential femtocell operators.

      "Most importantly is the way Sprint has captured the business benefits of femtocells in terms of churn reduction and customer life time value in its business planning: the way they link network performance to business goals is something other carriers should watch," says Rupert Baines of consultancy Real Wireless.

      Sprint's VP of Network Development and Engineering Iyad Tarazi has led this charge, and he's now taking on the challenge of LTE picocells, but from the unique perspective of a CDMA-turned-LTE operator. (See: 4G Small Cells Step Out and Sprint Tees Up LTE Small Cells.)

      It is deploying Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s lightRadio-branded metro cells in its LTE network, alongside Samsung Corp. small cells. The carrier is currently entrenched in deploying the devices in the enterprise and indoor spots such as train stations and big entertainment venues, and it's rumored to already be starting the deployment of a small-cell centric LTE network in some states in the US. Tarazi has said it will really begin focusing on the outdoor market with advanced interference capabilities next year. (See: Sprint Has Samsung 4G LTE Small Cells: Analyst, Sprint's First to Deploy Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio, and Sprint Taps Samsung for More LTE Small Cells.)

      Check out the video below to hear from the man himself, speaking at CTIA in 2012, about what small cells mean to Sprint and its Network Vision.

    • Next Page: Ericsson's Head of Networks Johan Wibergh

      Ericsson's Head of Networks Johan Wibergh

      Figure 6:

      Johan Wibergh is the man behind Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s Radio Dot, which is the company's big move into the small cell space that's already gained the stamp of approval from operators such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless .

      Wibergh took on the role of networks chief in 2008. He was initially reserved on the opportunity in 3G femtocells, but sang a different tune on the wider category of small cells. Last year, Ericsson predicted that each macro base station in urban areas will be supplemented by about three small cells by 2017. That amounts to around 2.25 million of them by 2017, so it's clear why it's making a big splash in the market now. (See Ericsson's Small-Cell Crystal Ball, Ericsson Names Networks Chief, and Ericsson's 3G Femto Issue.)

      Ericsson, under Wibergh, introduced the Radio Dot system in September, claiming it will help operators tackle coverage in the tricky indoor market in a cost-effective manner. Radio Dot is a big departure for the company in the enterprise market. It filed 14 patents for the system, which supports multiple cellular standards to mimic a macro cell housed in a compact, sleek design. Wibergh claims it reduces cost by 70% compared to a traditional distributed antenna system (DAS). (See: Ericsson Boasts Small Cell Breakthrough and Ericsson's Radio Dot Receives Mixed Reception.)

      The system is set to begin trials in the second quarter of next year, so it won't be put to the test until then, but it bears watching as Ericsson's approach to small cells -- emphasizing the RAN as a whole -- differs from most of its competitors.

      The networks chief told Light Reading recently that Radio Dot will take a huge portion of the in-building market in the US, promising it would go mainstream after it begins deploying it in the second half of 2014. "We have had very strong feedback from customers and analysts that this is a great solution," Wibergh said at the time. "A lot want it now."

    • Next Page: Others to keep an eye on

      Others to keep an eye on:

      • Bill Huang, general manager, China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) Research Institute

      • Nick Johnson, co-founder & CTO, ip.access Ltd.

      • Jason Miller, Senior Director of Small Cells, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)

      • Partho Mishra, VP GM Service Provider Access Group, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

      • Kris Rinne, SVP of Network Technology, AT&T Labs

      • Dr. Simon Saunders, Technical Director, Real Wireless

      • Yoshihito Shimazaki, Deputy Division Director for Mobile Solutions, SoftBank Corp.

      Back to introduction

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About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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