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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

Small Cell Forum and ETSI join forces on NFV March 23 2015

by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director

The two industry bodies agree joint activities in small cell virtualization, with project to define operator requirements

The Small Cell Forum recently announced that the next step in its Release Program, aimed at accelerating uptake of its chosen technology, will focus on virtualization. It is now extending that area of activity with a partnership with ETSI.

The European standards alliance has been the biggest single driver behind the intense carrier interest in virtualization, with its NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) specifications. It recently completed the first stage of its NFV work but began on a follow-up round, focused in particular on interoperability in an immature segment which could be threatened by fragmentation and a large number of industry groupings.

The SCF hopes to avoid contributing to that risk, by working with ETSI rather than pursuing a separate path. It also believes the two technology areas - both important to many mobile operators' second-wave LTE plans, and to presumed '5G' platforms - should evolve in tandem.

Most operators are considering virtualization initially in the packet core, transport or even CPE aspects of their networks, rather than the RAN, where the cost and architecture benefits are less well proven. But when they do turn to the access network, many believe small cells will be the first area of focus for NFV projects, since this will be a new area of deployment where innovative architectures will be easier to test without disrupting established systems. In addition, vendors like Alcatel-Lucent have been demonstrating how virtualized gateways and basebands could transform the flexibility and economics of very dense small cell networks.

The SCF will work with ETSI's NFV Industry Specification Group on a new project focused on carrier requirements for virtualized small cells, and will use that work to come up with recommendations on best methods of implementation. The Forum's virtualization activity is already being carried out in line with the recommendations in ETSI NFV Use Case 6 and the two organizations have a five-year track record of cooperation. For instance, they have held plugfests to test small cell interoperability and encourage adoption, and last year this event moved on to address multivendor SON (self-optimizing networks) in HetNet environments.

The Forum's chairman Alan Law said: "Virtualization of the small cell layer and the radio network can open up a wide range of use cases and opportunities, so it's important that we fully understand each of these. The work with ETSI enables us to align our work streams, providing input and conclusions that will help shape future use case definitions."



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