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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

Multiple cell site strategies needed to support fragmenting architectures November 02 2015

As operators start to prepare their networks for significant increases in capacity demand and densification, they need more of everything – spectrum, equipment and of course sites. One of the most important considerations, as MNOs consider radical changes in network architecture, is how that will affect their cell sites. According to whether they place most emphasis on enhancing macrocells with techniques like Massive MIMO; on dense small cell networks; on distributed antenna systems (DAS); or on Cloud-RAN, they will have very different site requirements, some of them easier to achieve than others.

The new architectures will make it necessary for operators to work with new partners, such as local authorities and utilities, as well as deciding whether to invest in locations themselves or rely on ‘as-a-service’ approaches. And the changes will, of course, also have profound implications for tower operators, at a time when many MNOs are moving away from owning their own sites, and the independent tower provider is on the rise.

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Verizon and Nokia bring '5G' even closer September 10 2015

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The 5G deadlines just keep getting nearer, regardless of the progress of real standards or spectrum policies. While Verizon says it will start testing '5G' in the field next year, Nokia is promising commercial 5G hotspot equipment the year after that, with an eye to the operators which want to deploy at least limited services as early as 2019. 

Verizon talked about its plans at its 5G Technology Forum recently and has now set up dedicated teams, with chief information and technology architect, Roger Gurnani, saying the carrier feels "a tremendous sense of urgency to push forward on 5G".

The carrier's need for a network which offers more capacity and also improved performance for emerging business models in the internet of things (IoT) may indeed feel urgent. Its normal head-to-head with AT&T is only one of its challenges as the large MSOs get more aggressive about wireless with their WiFi-first networks, and as Verizon tries to combat them, and the over-the-top players, by becoming a content provider.

In this rapidly changing market landscape, it is notable that Verizon is relying on its usual suppliers for its 5G field trials. It said it is working with Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent, its 4G RAN providers, as well as Cisco, Nokia and Samsung, plus the inevitable Qualcomm on the device side. Operators talk a lot about 5G enabling them to move towards a more diverse ecosystem and to introduce new innovators to their supply chain, but there is little sign of that here.

The technologies will be tested initially in sandboxes in the Verizon innovation centers in Waltham, Massachusetts and San Francisco and the operator is the first in the US to announce such activities, though several Japanese and Korean counterparts are likely to be ahead - Softbank and SK Telecom have already conducted field trials.

Rima Qureshi, Ericsson's chief strategy officer, said the move to accelerate 5G innovation had been very much Asia-driven and that it was "exciting to see a US company accelerate the rate of innovation". 

The Verizon 5G Technology Forum also includes venture capital groups that are focused on emerging technologies and which Gurnani says account for over $50bn a year in R&D, technology investments and patents.

Meanwhile, Nokia Networks says it will launch 5G-ready cell sites with 10Gbps capacity by 2017 to offer fiber speeds to users. The Finnish firm said the equipment will be targeted at service providers who initially want to use 5G to address areas of congestion, or or homes which lack fiber in the last few meters. The small cells will typically be placed on lamp posts to fill those gaps.

Nokia said the equipment will be software upgradeable to 5G, however the final standards look, because it is built around virtualized baseband software, which will also make the product easily adaptable for other use cases such as M2M.

The company has been talking a lot lately about designing highly flexible platforms throughout the network, which can be readily adapted for future, undefined standards - although those with memories of WiMAX and early WiFi may wonder if it will really be that simple.

Nokia will trial its kit next year as a way to bring fast broadband to locations close to fiber, but lacking superfast connectivity in the final link. The company sees this as a low hanging fruit in terms of a real application for 5G. EVP of mobile broadband, Marc Rouanne, said: "We have all the building blocks in place to make the first concrete 5G use case a reality as early as in 2017. This marks an important foundation for shaping the future of mobile broadband and enabling a personalized gigabit experience for the broadband subscribers in the comfort of their home."

CommScope adds small cells with Airvana buy September 10 2015

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Among the base station antenna makers, CommScope has perhaps been the coolest about small cells, often focusing on ways to squeeze more performance out of the macrocell - as with its recently announced tri-band antenna. But it has a growing indoor wireless business, mainly focused on DAS, and is now taking the plunge into the miniature side of the market and acquiring Airvana, one of the pioneers of the original femtocell platform, for an undisclosed sum.

With many believing that DAS (distributed antenna system) and small cells will complement one another, this purchase fits well with CommScope's other 2015 acquisition, of the wireless broadband business of TE Connectivity, which expanded its DAS capabilities. CommScope plans to integrate Airvana's 3G and 4G small cells into its DAS business in order to be able to address the whole range of indoor scenario from single operator/single band to the high capacity multi-operator DAS systems.

This will see CommScope integrating its ION-E platform with Airvana's OneCell indoor small cell system, which harnesses some virtualization and Cloud-RAN concepts, creating a large single LTE cell with a single controller, distributed radio units and standard Ethernet switches and cabling. It also features a device management system to eliminate interference between these aggregated cells. The launch of OneCell put Airvana up against other enterprise small cell specialists like Spidercloud, which has a close relationship with Cisco, and even Ericsson's Radio Dot.

Airvana says it has shipped 1.5m 3G small cells since it was founded in 2000. Ericsson acquired its legacy CDMA EV-DO macrocell business in 2013. Airvana's employees, based in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and Bangalore, India, will join CommScope, along with Airvana CEO Richard Lowe and CTO Vedat Eyuboglu.

"Airvana has differentiated itself in the emerging indoor small cell market through its unique product architecture and innovation," said Morgan Kurk, SVP and wireless segment leader at CommScope. "With a 15-year track record of delivering mobile broadband infrastructure products that meet the requirements of tier one operators, Airvana's carrier-grade embedded software development capabilities are impressive and complementary to CommScope.

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."

Small cells recast for reaching remote communities July 02 2014

RealWireless argues that 'meadowcells' can halve the cost per person of deploying rural mobile broadband

By Caroline Gabriel

This year's Cambridge Wireless Future of Wireless International Conference was heavily focused on the big picture socio-economic issues surrounding '5G' (see separate item), but to achieve progress to universal access and new services, it is important that deployable technologies evolve in the near term. For reaching unconnected communities, small cells - so often associated with hyperdense urban networks - will be important for making a viable business case, often for the first time.

Small cells make it commercially viable to bring broadband mobile coverage to ultra-rural communities, according to Simon Saunders, CTO at consultancy RealWireless (and former chair of the Small Cell Forum). They are not always the right solution - macrocells remain better for covering scattered populations, and it is important to reduce their cost and power too.

But for small villages, community small cells, which Saunder dubbed 'meadowcells', can reduce the daunting cost, for the operator, of covering large numbers of remote, small communities.

"Big cells would work well if people are spread uniformly, but if we use small cells in villages we can do some good things," Saunders said. "It's very much understanding what the shape of the need is and having a suite of solutions."

For meadowcells to become a mainstream option, there will be deployment challenges such as finding backhaul options (including satellite). Operators also need to prioritize rural coverage better, which will sometimes be government-driven, but would also be encouraged by a better business case.

And, of course, that means the cost of the cells needs to come down further - to 10% or less of macrocell cost, the benchmark for many carriers to green-light volume roll-outs, whether urban or rural. RealWireless calculations indicate that the cost of providing coverage to 500m people in remote areas can be made commercially viable by repurposing the metrocells designed for urban areas, and halve the cost per person at this scale, compared with macrocell approaches.

Further advances, particularly in backhaul and its spectrum, will improve the economics further. "Combined with a new generation of satellite technology and associated spectrum for backhaul, costs can be reduced to around one-tenth of the traditional cell cost. Our estimates suggest that such technology could then economically improve mobile service to one billion people worldwide," said Saunders.

The consultancy also announced its 'RealWireless - Wireless for Good' initiative to help support expansion of coverage in remote and rural areas in any part of the world. This will provide funding and pro bono consulting for projects in this area, and the first beneficiary was revealed to be Télécoms Sans Frontières.

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