Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter
By Caroline Gabriel, Research Director
Analysts are in a unique position to assess the way service providers are thinking, and every so often, there is a tangible change in that thinking, which impacts on the whole ecosystem. In the past couple of years, one of the key watchwords has been ‘multivendor’.
Mobile operators have tended to stay in the comfort zones of end-to-end systems supplied by one or two well-established suppliers. That has some advantages, notably a high level of integration and of vendor stability. But it also has many disadvantages, including the limited freedom for operators to shop around for the best solutions, and drive competition and better pricing with a vendor neutral approach.
The profound changes taking place in the mobile architecture as 4G evolves towards 5G are seen by many operators as an ideal opportunity to break the stranglehold of the traditional equipment suppliers. Heterogeneous networks made up of large numbers of small cells, and the move towards virtualization, both encourage a multivendor approach.
Indeed, in a recent survey of MNOs, conducted by Maravedis-Rethink, the ability to adopt a multivendor strategy emerged as the second most pressing reason to invest in a HetNet (after cost: capacity improvements).
However, a decision to mix and match network equipment has a knock-on effect throughout the procurement process. For instance, it will be essential to have tools which can support equipment from any supplier. Network optimization systems, for example, will need to be able to work with a widening range of RAN architectures, and with equipment from any supplier, present or future.
That makes a strong argument for a vendor-neutral approach to optimization tools, especially as these become increasingly critical to the successful implementation of the network. Functions such as self-optimizing networks (SON), cell planning and dimensioning, video traffic management - and the many other tools which are needed to make a modern RAN perform at peak efficiency – will no longer be useful add-ons, often bundled in by the network equipment provider. Rather, they will be essential for the operator to maximize capacity and flexibility from the complex new architectures, and so to ensure return on investment (ROI).
In the small cell world, then, multivendor deployment and high levels of optimization, especially SON, will often go hand-in-hand. This helps to explain a shift in thinking, visible in two surveys of MNOs, conducted in 2013 and 2015. In the earlier study, over 70% of MNOs planned to rely primarily on their equipment vendor for optimization. In 2015, only 15% were committed to an NEP solution for future projects.
So as the HetNet takes off, there will be an increasingly strong argument for vendor-neutral optimization solutions, whether tools or hosted services. These are better designed for multivendor networks and come from suppliers whose primary business is in optimization, not selling equipment. This significant change in operator thinking is set to open up a competitive new market for specialized network optimization vendors as the 4G HetNet evolves.
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
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."
Three architectures combine for the new LTE June 30 2014
To meet mobile data demands in the second half of the decade, operators look to build two layers, with different base station types
By Caroline Gabriel
There is little room left for architectural debates in the wireless industry - in 2014, the answer is clear. The capacity requirements for wireless networks will be so great that there will be no room for either/or. Operators will be deploying combinations of many approaches on their cell sites, and in addition, making other, more fundamental shifts. Software will become as great a contributor to network capacity as additional hardware, via optimization and smart provisioning tools, while virtualization will be an important way to add density when hardware is reaching its limits.
Mobile data usage will rise by an estimated 12.5 times between 2013 and 2019, from a level Cisco calculated at 1.5 exabytes in 2013. These daunting capacity, coverage and data rate challenges mean traditional approaches will no longer suffice, and over 90% of operators have at least one brand new architecture in their five-year plan, while over one-third plan to use all the key new methods being studied in a new report from Maravedis-Rethink - small cell HetNet, virtualized RAN, new-wave distributed antenna and SuperMIMO - by 2019, somewhere in their systems. The report, Towards the hyper-dense network - the shape of the HetNet 2013-2019, surveyed about 150 mobile operators and found that capex in the period will not be driven primarily by conventional equipment, though the rise in volume roll-outs of LTE worldwide will be an important factor. Instead, there will be a significant shift in operator budgets towards new HetNet platforms, driven by advanced software, virtualization and new access points.
Overall, the operators' response to the capacity challenge is to adopt two layers (at least) of cells, macro for coverage and true mobility, and small cell for capacity and indoor services. A third layer may evolve at the end of the decade for the internet of things (IoT). The two layers underpin a typical three-stage 4G deployment, which most operators plan to follow - 1) coverage first, macro layer-only; 2) quick-fix capacity, often via WiFi or opportunistic small cells; 3) greater virtualization in parallel with a move to hyper-density.
In both the main layers, three architectures can be used, and will often be mixed and matched or even integrated, and run in unlicensed as well as licensed spectrum.
The three architectures are:
- Homogeneous - self-contained macro or small cell base stations, with the baseband, antenna and radio in the same box or located at close quarters.
- Distributed radio or virtualized RAN - where multiple radio/antenna units share a virtualized pool of baseband processing, which may be located on a nearby base station hotel or in the cloud. This evolves to Cloud-RAN.
- Distributed antenna or DAS - where a baseband/RF unit feeds a number of antenna nodes distributed around a building or neighbourhood. Traditionally a large venue solution, smaller and more open approaches are being developed to target small cells.
The next wave of macro innovation is focused on virtualization, and antennas, with technologies such as massive MIMO and Active Antenna System (AAS). In addition, the macro layer will be boosted by the introduction of some key features of LTE-Advanced, such as carrier aggregation, eICIC and CoMP, which will make new dense architectures easier to roll out. These add up to a new wave often called 'Super Macro'.
The number of LTE or multimode macro base stations deployed will peak in 2015, about a year later than we had previously envisaged - continued growth will be driven by the rising interest in macro-first enhancements as well as emerging market roll-outs, which will usually focus on coverage first. After 2015, there will be a decline in the number of macro sites built out for LTE, and over the whole period, there will be a compound annual decline of 4% for base stations, though only 1.8% for macro sites overall because of the shift to software upgrades and virtualization.
Traditional homogeneous macro stations will be a tiny fraction of the market by 2019, while remote radio heads will feature in 25% of deployments still, just ahead of C-RAN. The other architecture to have a significant impact by then will be SuperMacro.
Although there will be a steady shift towards SingleRAN strategies (replacing legacy kit with new, flexible, multimode base stations), rather than overlays, there will be limited addition of brand new sites in the macro layer. Upgrading or overlaying existing sites will be the dominant approach to LTE build-out. All this activity will create an installed base of macro sites that will still top 5m in 2019, with the largest bases in Asia-Pacific and Europe, though there will also have been extensive decommissioning of sites because of new architectures, a shift of attention to the small cell under-layer, and RAN sharing.
Meanwhile, large-scale deployments of public access small cells are still in their infancy, but there is already talk of 'hyper-dense' networks to cope with hotspots of intense data usage. In total, the number of public access small cell sites - sites deployed in a separate layer (distinct spectrum from the macro layer and closer to the ground), and less than 200 meters in radius - will reach an installed base total of over 15m by 2019. These sites will be equipped with a variety of technologies including metrocells, WiFi, DAS and virtualized small cells. This is no longer a market which is only about one technology - self-contained metrocells - but about a combination of options to create data density where required. We have reduced our forecast for metrocells somewhat, but see increased addressable market for complementary technologies, driven by new types of operators including 'WiFi-first' players.
One of the significant shifts in the pattern of deployment, which we noted in our 2013 reports, has been intensifying operator focus on indoor deployment, often at the expense of outdoor. Outdoor dense roll-outs, especially of metrocells, have been pushed back by at least two years on average, while indoor build-out plans have remained unchanged or even been accelerated. The tipping point will be in 2016, when for the first time outdoor cells will be more than one-third of total deployments.
In regional terms, the small cells space is dominated by Asia-Pacific throughout the decade and this is one reason for the steadily increasing importance of TDD spectrum, as several Asian players, notably China Mobile, are TDD-led. However, most MNOs will deploy unpaired spectrum as a capacity option from year three or four of their LTE program - and it will often be focused on small cells, for which the short range of the primary TDD bands, 2.3GHz, 2.5/2.6GHz and 3.5GHz are well targeted.
The report models four alternative scenarios with different balances between the four equipment types, based on the range of possibilities which operators are outlining for their future roll-outs, and a series of variables including product delays/accelerations, emergence of standards, and cost patterns.
Press Release: MNOs redirecting resources to virtualization and complex multilayered HetNets, Small Cell Deployments are delayed while carrier WiFi makes headway June 25 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MIAMI, Florida, and BROCKENHURST, England, June 25, 2014- There will be a significant shift in operator budgets at the expense of conventional equipment, towards new HetNet platforms, driven by advanced software, virtualization and new access points according to the latest biannual report from Maravedis-Rethink’s RAN Service, entitled Towards the hyper-dense network – the shape of the HetNet 2014-2019.
Although first-wave LTE networks have generally followed familiar patterns, focusing on coverage and low frequency bands, operators are making detailed plans to add capacity and density using a mixture of tools including small cells, carrier WiFi and new macro antenna technologies. A key new infrastructure trend will be the rise of WiFi homespots, which support public access via a second SSID. These will reach an installed base of over 410 million by 2019 and will be a weapon for some MNOs in ‘inside-out’ capacity models. However, they will also enable wireline carriers to disrupt the MNOs’ markets, driving new competition for subscribers.
For most MNOs, these dense, multilayered deployments will not gather pace until 2015 onwards. Most carriers are also holding out for several key developments which will improve the business case - 3G/4G/WiFi multimode access points at affordable prices; advanced SON (self-optimizing network) tools; and standards-based platforms for HetNet virtualization.
Caroline Gabriel, Research Director at Maravedis-Rethink and author of the report, commented: “The industry is taking longer than previously expected to deploy small cells in large volumes, except in a few markets, but when key enablers like virtualization and SON are in place, the floodgates will open for dense RANs harnessing a combination of macro and metro level technologies. The real gold mines will lie in the software to optimize these new networks and maximize their returns.”
Other key findings:
- Operators are thinking in terms of small cell sites rather than one technology only. Public access metrocell new deployments will rise from 65,000 in 2013 to over 4.3m in 2019 but other options like DAS will also see growth for small cell coverage.
- Few carriers will deploy full data center-based Cloud-RAN until 2018 or later, but 62% say they will introduce elements of virtualized processing to their HetNets in 2015 to 2018.
MARAVEDIS-RETHINK is a leading analyst firm focusing on wireless infrastructure technologies and markets. www.maravedis-bwa.com.
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