Small cells key to public safety's shift to LTE July 31 2014

Mobile operators see strong opportunities with emergency services, and portable small cells will be an important enabler

By Caroline Gabriel

While we wait for large-scale metrozones of LTE small cells to materialize, there is a less prominent layer of activity going on, as these platforms are adopted for vertical market use. Here, in sectors such as public safety or industrial installations, business cases can be more obvious and budgets more forthcoming to adopt a small cell approach.

New research from Frost & Sullivan found that, from this year, there will be a significant uptick in adoption of LTE by public safety and emergency response agencies, especially in Europe. Many will lack dedicated spectrum, so there will be the opportunity for mobile operators to build out safety network in their airwaves. In many cases, such projects will include a different approach to network planning from that in consumer broadband, with a need for flexible, rugged and ad hoc base stations.

Another consideration is the coexistence of LTE with dedicated networks such as Tetra, which is still being upgraded and is likely to be in use for another decade or more. LTE replacement of Tetra will depend on full standardization and acceptance of voice over LTE in this space.

"MNOs and LTE vendors across Europe are partnering with their counterparts in the traditional professional mobile radio space to address this specialized market," said Nye. "Operators must assure potential customers that they will make the necessary investments in LTE coverage, resilience, capacity and functionality, even outside densely populated areas."

Small cells, especially highly portable ones, will be an important way to provide that assurance, say many operators - some of whom see more near term opportunities in specialized vertical markets than in their mainstream HetNet plans. Vendors like Purewave and Tektelic are making headway in sectors like public safety, and a new alliance between chipmaker Cavium and virtualized packet core supplier Quortus is targeting a similar approach.

Cavium plans to embed Quortus's evolved packet core, which can be deployed in software on many types of off-the-shelf hardware, on its Octeon Fusion SoCs for small cell base stations, along with LTE stack software.

That will enable low cost, low power mini-base stations to be created by OEMs or ODMs, and rapidly deployed on-demand, without the need to connect to a remote centralized mobile core. Target applications include emergency services and military activities, where communications need to be established and maintained even when there is no access to traditional infrastructure.

Quortus CEO Andy Odgers said in a statement: "The Octeon Fusion provides significant processing capability with very low-power usage. When combined with our EPC it can support a full mobile network in a package small enough to hold in the palm of your hand."