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Category Archives: DAS

Zinwave Pilots Private LTE in Fortune 100 Enterprises

By Don Bishop, Exec. Editor, Assoc. Publisher, AGL Magazine

Zinwave is piloting private LTE cellular deployments with several Fortune 100 customers, using its OnGo DAS system, the company announced at the Connectivity Expo, Connect (x), conducted by the Wireless Infrastructure Association in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“This is a groundbreaking announcement because it will illustrate real-world use cases of companies using OnGo to create a private cellular network, which is something that most companies have only theorized about doing,” Scott Willis, Zinwave’s president and CEO said. “OnGo works on the unlicensed CBRS band 48. This means customers can set up their own private cellular networks and use the same LTE technology used by the operators, which is critical for the adoption and growth of IoT applications.”

In-building wireless connectivity supplier Zinwave displayed its fiber-based, full-spectrum-enabled technology designed to empower the wireless frequencies of the future. Willis said that Zinwave’s solution is a DAS that guarantees quality cellular connectivity indoors, and Zinwave’s DAS solution, known as OnGo, is the only one that can cover all carrier, public safety frequencies and private LTE spectrum.

Zinwave’s UNItivity 5000 DAS solution consists of a primary hub, which is a space- and energy-efficient unit installed in the network closet, according to Willis. The network also consists of an RF base station, fiber-optic cabling, optional secondary hubs (which are even more compact) and remote units. Additionally, with only five total components, Zinwave’s UNItivity 5000 has easy, Wi-Fi-like installation.
The customers piloting OnGo include the biggest names in consumer electronics, aviation and automotive manufacturing, according to Willis. Any enterprise vertical, including CREs, health care, airports, public venues, university and hospitality, is a potential customer.

“All businesses should be thinking strategically about how to create private network environments that position their organizations to remain competitive,” Willis said. “To take full advantage of the economic benefits of IoT applications, enterprises must consider the mobile platform best suited to enable their business-critical solutions. This includes businesses that need a better than Wi-Fi connection for maximized efficiency, businesses that need an extra layer of security for improved protection and businesses that need the highest quality mobile service within a private environment for optimal productivity.”

Speaking about the kind of technology the Zinwave technology replaces and the advantage the Zinwave technology offers compared with the technology otherwise in use today, Willis said that Zinwave provides a wireless connectivity layer that ensures high-quality cellular and public safety connectivity. With the addition of OnGo (private LTE), Zinwave DAS could potentially replace Wi-Fi where reliability and security are necessary for business-critical applications, he said.

“OnGo offers a best-in-class quality of service for businesses that need to function at maximum productivity,” Willis said. “With ever-increasing growth, adoption and value being driven by connectivity demands, such as IoT applications, Wi-Fi won’t be able to meet the increasing demand for fast and reliable bandwidth.”

Willis said that the future of the wireless landscape is difficult to predict, which is why Zinwave created a wideband DAS solution that covers all commonly used carriers’ public safety and OnGo frequencies on one hardware layer. Changes in wireless frequencies can be done through a software update (often remotely through Zinwave’s network operations center), instead of having to purchase additional hardware.

“Regarding the future of OnGo specifically, OnGo holds tremendous promise for the enterprise,” Willis said. “Taking full advantage of IoT technology will require businesses to deploy higher quality networks than what Wi-Fi can provide, and be seamlessly interoperable with commercial cellular and public safety frequencies.”

Don Bishop
Executive Editor and Associate Publisher
Don Bishop joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He helped to launch and was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletinemail newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and DAS and Small Cells magazine (now AGL Small Cell Magazine). He served as host for AGL Conferences from 2010 to 2012, appearing at 12 conferences. Bishop writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website. Bishop also photographs and films conferences and conventions. Many of his photographs have appeared on the cover, in articles and in the “AGL Tower of the Month” center spread photo feature in AGL Magazine. During his time with Wiesner Publishing, Primedia Business Information and AGL Media Group, he helped to launch several magazines and edited or managed editorial departments for a dozen magazines and their associated websites, newsletters and live event coverage. He is a former property manager, radio station owner and CEO of a broadcast engineering consulting firm. He was elected a Fellow of the Radio Club of America in 1988, received its Presidents Award in 1993, and served on its board of directors for nine years. Don Bishop may be contacted at: dbishop@aglmediagroup.com.

Cheytec, Squan Team to Help Building Owners, Enterprises with IBW

By Don Bishop, Exec. Editor, Assoc. Publisher, AGL Magazine

At the Connectivity Expo, Connect (x) conducted by the Wireless Industry Association, executives of Cheytec and Squan spoke of the added value that their partnership provides building owners and enterprises seeking to invest in in-building wireless communications systems.

Cheytec has an extensive real estate portfolio and an ability to procure and license wireless carrier-certified RF signal source and base station equipment required to power in-building systems. Squan makes use of its network engineering and fiber construction know-how to solve complex and evolving telecommunications problems found in macro networks, small cells, distributed antenna systems, 5G wireless technology, the Internet of Things and smart cities for wireless, wireline and enterprise customers.

Ed Myers, regional vice president of sales and marketing at Cheytec, spoke about the future the company sees for in-building wireless systems. He said the company has seen a call for its services in all types of venues, from a single 30,000-square-foot office floor in Manhattan to large hotels with mixed-use retail space to new construction hospitals and apartment complexes to entertainment and theater venues.

“We remain focused on serving the enterprise customer,” Myers said. “We do this through multiple channels, but remain true to our value proposition of leveraging our unique OEM equipment distribution capabilities with Nokia and Ericsson and tight carrier programs to provide approved signal sources and wireless operator licensing to all of the projects we work on.”

Some say that building owners are receptive to paying for in-building wireless systems to attract and retain tenants, and some say the opposite: that the owners are not receptive because they view ownership turnover and tenant turnover as too short to warrant the expense. Myers explained Cheytec’s view.

“Building owners are coming around to the reality that they don’t have much of a choice when it comes to funding an in-building wireless system for increased coverage and capacity,” Myers said. “Not only is ubiquitous, high-quality wireless coverage a customer and tenant expectation — or in the case of public safety a legal requirement — but given the scope, scale and capital requirements of providing in-building coverage, wireless operators cannot do it alone. In the case of Cheytec, we work with the building owner to understand that there is both an acceptable return on investment analysis and an increase in overall building revenue and valuation associated with an in-building system deployment. We then engage our channels to design, build, and commission an indoor solution. Our programs for signal source and wireless operator participation allow owner-funded projects to retain more control over the timelines of the build and ensure carrier signal and service within a property.

The Cheytec program that Squan is joining is called Accelerate. In the program, Cheytec licenses small cell radio and signal source equipment to end-users for use in distributed antenna systems and other in-building cellular solutions. Myers said that during the past year, Cheytec has carefully selected the partners that are now part of its channel.

“We have several distributed antenna system vendors, national and regional systems integrators, and even a few smaller boutique shops that specialize in one or two verticals,” Myers said. “We will add a few more companies to the program this year. Bringing on a new partner is a bilateral commitment. The Accelerateprogram is bringing something to market that previously has not been available — owner-funded baseband units and carrier signal — in one package. There is extensive technical training, sales, operations and logistics, marketing and even legal support that goes along with program participation. As such, we are fairly selective about expanding the program too fast.

Keith Pennachio, executive vice president of Squan, said that the end users of in-building systems are the tenants, visitors, owners and maintenance workers, and the network operators provide the infrastructure. He said Crown Castle, American Tower and some emerging players are a surrogate for the network operator as it specifically relates to the fiber, conduit and ancillary support infrastructure
“Traditionally, network operators like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon would fund the infrastructure design and construction,” Pennachio said. “Historically, the model would vary between neutral host (where others could join the infrastructure as a tenant) or dedicated network (where the design was exclusive to one network operator). The former would often seek capital contribution from the other carriers to offset costs of the design and construction, where the latter was often a strategic play to support a specific client under specific conditions.  An example of specific conditions may be a scenario where a network operator sells 500 devices to company and commits to improving services in the form of a distributed antenna system.”

Pennachio said that in 2018, fewer carrier operators are willing to wholly support the design and construction of distributed antenna systems unless the economics make sense. He said this typically means that large venues like stadiums, airports, shopping malls and other large-scale, publicly accessible environments receive the attention in the form of budgetary dollars from the carriers. The network operators in these cases may look to companies such as Crown Castle or American Tower to build, own and operate the systems, although that may not always be ideal.

“With those design and construction dollars directed to these larger venues, it leaves a huge area of unsupported facilities, including office buildings; condominium, apartment and high-rise buildings; mixed use developments; and other environments whose occupants are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to wireless telecommunications as an amenity,” Pennachio said. “In turn, this has given rise to a mix of parties who are tired of waiting for the carriers to fund these types of projects.”

The Squan executive explained the nature of end-to-end wireless coverage solutions for enterprise clients. He said end-to-end wireless coverage starts from the fiber demarcation point in an enterprise facility, which feeds the signal source and head-end, which feeds strategically placed wireless componentry. This blankets a facility with wireless network coverage that is limited only to the quality of the design and the execution of the installation. Pennachio said that, at the end of the day, wireless coverage is wireless coverage. He said it is really more a matter of funding, design, installation and long-term operation of a system, which has become more of a fourth utility, along with water, electricity and natural gas as the other three.

“The user is defined as anyone who visits, lives, works, owns and maintains a building or facility,” Pennachio said. “If you consider that wireless coverage is an amenity akin to climate control, let’s say HVAC, the perception is more clearly aligned with a hierarchy of needs that is hyper-sensitive to the user experience.  The moment some individual walks onto the premises of a facility, there is a minimum basic expectation that they will be able to use their mobile device with unimpeded access to their network provider.”

Pennachio gave what he said is an example of a defining scenario: “A new class A building is soliciting tenants in a vibrant part of town,” he said. “The lead partner in one of the biggest law firms in town views the top floor with her Realtor and realizes immediately that there is no reliable mobile coverage in the building. The owner of the building is now in jeopardy of losing that high-profile tenant to the nearly identical new building across the street, which will be completed in 30 days, and which has installed their own DAS that hosts all major carriers.”

Along with its other services, Cheytec also provides real estate and lease management services for wireless operators. Squan focuses on the evolution of communications networks for wireless and wireline communications and the componentry involved. Its services include backhaul, small cells, C-RAN, fiber, right of way, and the design, construction and technical installation services that support them.

Comm-Infra Provider Combination Blurs Telecom Lines

J. Sharpe Smith, Senior Editor

You may not have heard of ZenFi Networks and Cross River Fiber, which agreed to merge this week. But the communications infrastructure provider that will result will have operations across the New York City and northern New Jersey metro areas spanning both wireline and wireless worlds.

ZenFi brings its primary focus on helping mobile operators densify their networks to the merger, while Cross River Fiber delivers its primary concentration on telecom solutions for large enterprises and carriers. The resulting entity will have more than 700 route miles of fiber optic network, 130 on-net buildings, 49 colocation facilities and 1,700 outdoor wireless locations with more than 3,000 under contract.

“The merger enhances our network reach, deepens our product portfolio, and delivers a next generation network infrastructure that is the foundation of tomorrow’s communications networks,” Ray LaChance, CEO of ZenFi Networks, said. “The merger not only extends each company’s network reach but also provides an enhanced product set and customer diversity. The entity known as ZenFi Networks will deliver the combined services of both companies.”

The next generation of network infrastructure, according to LaChance, is one where the underlying infrastructure supports both enterprises’ wireline telecom services needs and carriers’ wireless needs.

“In the future, there is going to be less and less differentiation between traditional telecoms and tower companies,” he said. “It is all converging. It is one unifying infrastructure and the glue that keeps it together is under fiber and a network of collocation facilities.”

ZenFi deployed its first fiber infrastructure in support of outdoor DAS installations alongside existing enterprise fiber networks in 2008. There was a distinct separation of the networks.

“The old networks were built for backhaul of sparsely connected end points,” La Chance said. “We saw a need for a new type of network that is focused on a lot of fiber capacity and a lot of connection points, one on every street corner.”

ZenFi provides fronthaul fiber and passive wavelength services, facilitating the wireless industry’s initiative to move baseband processing from antenna sites to hub locations, known as centralized RAN.

“When I meet with the mobile operators now, they clearly see that fronthaul is a horizontal tower. There is a lot of velocity behind this convergence,” LaChance said. “Fronthaul fiber is being built much like towers are. It is a shared resource to get economies of scale. We see that as a huge opportunity.”

Both companies provide services in their respective markets: ZenFi Networks in the five boroughs of New York City, and Cross River Fiber in New Jersey. The current ZenFi Networks and Cross River management teams will continue to lead the combined company with the support of Ridgemont Equity Partners, a middle market private equity firm and majority shareholder of Cross River Fiber.

“In addition, our partnership with Ridgemont Equity Partners further strengthens ZenFi Network’s financial position by providing access to additional capital to continue to deliver on our vision of building the most pervasive and high capacity connectivity platform in the region,” LaChance said.

ExteNet’s Acquisition of Axiom Another Example of Blurring Lines

Another example of wireline/wireless convergence occurred in December of last year when ExteNet Systems acquired MetroFiber d/b/a Axiom Fiber Networks, which added 20 miles of 864-strand fiber-count network in lower Manhattan ExteNet’s fiber-optic network that supports the firm’s +2,000 nodes constructed or under construction in the New York metropolitan area.

But there was more to Axiom Fiber Networks than just fiber. The firm provided telecom infrastructure services over its dark fiber network to enterprise customers including, financial firms, government agencies, healthcare providers, educational institutions and media organizations.

Axiom goes deep inside the enterprise to provide companies with dark fiber and custom network solutions. With the deal closed, ExteNet can pursue new vectors in the enterprise space.

The Axiom network, which has five major carrier hotels, allows interconnection and connectivity to the cloud. It also gives the firm the ability to put together solutions that interconnect buildings with edge devices at the carrier hotels.

J. Sharpe Smith
Senior Editor/eDigest
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with  Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.  Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: ssmith@aglmediagroup.com.

How Analog Fiber DAS and Digital Fiber DAS Support Public Safety Wireless Communications Reliably

By Don Bishop, Executive Editor, Associate Publisher, AGL Magazine

Both technologies, analog fiber DAS and digital fiber DAS, have advantages to offer. One need not replace the other. The key is to use each system’s strengths to deliver maximum reliability.

At the Network Infrastructure Forum conducted during the International Wireless Communications Expo in Las Vegas on March 27, Fernando Sommariva  emphasized the need for reliability in critical situations when selecting distributed antenna system (DAS) technology for public safety communications. He works at Fiplex communications as director of engineering, and he manages the company’s research and development team.

Figure 1. An analog fiber distributed antenna system uses analog modulation of light in fiber-optic cable. It offers broadband design from 50 MHz to 2.7 GHz and needs a Class A headend for over-the-air applications. In general, analog DAS is limited to 12 miles in fiber length. Source: Fiplex Communications

Comparing analog DAS with digital DAS, Sommariva explained that digital DAS holds promise because it works well with the limited bandwidth normally used for public safety communications. He said analog DAS can have problems with harmonic generation, near-far communications and uplink noise. A digital fiber DAS can use automatic gain control to overcome near-far communications problems, and it can use squelch, a circuit function that acts to suppress the audio output of a receiver in the absence of a sufficiently strong desired input signal, to limit uplink noise.

Sommariva gave what he said is an old definition of DAS that applies to both the analog and digital versions: A distributed antenna system is a network of spatially separated antenna nodes connected to a common source via a transport medium that provides wireless service within a geographic area or structure.

Figure 1 shows the basic architecture of an analog DAS. Green lines represent fiber-optic cable, and gray lines represent RF paths. An analog DAS basically consists of a headend with remotes.

“The head end is where the base station or similar boosters are located,” Sommariva said. “Different vendors use a point of interface (POI) connection or a master optical unit (MOU) to connect the base station or boosters with the master distribution unit (MDU). Among vendors, you will find various architectures in use.”

Figure 2. Analog fiber DAS networks have to deal with analog transceiver harmonics, especially when including the public safety frequency bands. These are some examples of possible harmonic interference. Source: Fiplex Communications

An analog system uses analog modulation of light in the fiber. It has analog RF to fiber transceivers, which Sommariva said offers the advantage of wide bandwidth. He said a standard bandwidth is 50 MHz to 2.7 GHz, but analog systems can be made with even more bandwidth. The broadband remote units amplify full bands, so wherever you connect on the MOU will appear at the output of the remote units. But, said Sommariva, the analog system needs Class A headend, such as a Class A channelized signal booster, if the objective is to pick the signal off the air. He said that most public safety DAS networks pick the signal off the air from a macro system, which requires using a channelized head end to feed the DAS. “In general, you can get up to 12 miles in fiber length,” he said.

With public safety systems that use VHF, UHF, 700-MHz and 800-MHz frequency bands, the wide bandwidth of an analog DAS means everything will fit. But along with this advantage comes the need to deal with analog transceiver harmonics, Sommariva said (see Figure 2).

For example, the third harmonic of VHF could place interference in the UHF band. The fifth harmonic of VHF could place interference in the 700-MHz band, the public safety 800-MHz band and the cellular 850-MHz band, if you use the same fiber for cellular. The UHF second harmonic could place interference in the public safety 800-MHz band and the cellular 850-MHz band. Sommariva said the harmonics do not mean analog DAS cannot be used, but it means the harmonics have to be taken into account. He said sometimes preventing harmonic interference  requires separating the fibers and having VHF on one fiber and UHF in a different fiber.

The Near-Far Problem

Figure 3. The far-end problem, also known as the near-far problem, is the problem that occurs when a remote unit captures a strong signal making difficult to receive a weaker one. In a DAS, the near-far problem occurs because of the remote unit’s uplink automatic gain control. Source: Fiplex Communications

Sommariva identified two aspects of a public safety DAS that often determine how well a system responds in a critical situation and whether the system would pass inspection for customer acceptance. The aspects are the far-end problem — sometimes called the near-far problem  — and the noise problem.

The far-end problem occurs when a remote unit captures a strong signal, making it difficult to receive a weaker signal. Sommariva said the extent of the far-end problem is one of the big differences between a public safety radio application and a cellular application, and it stems from the uplink power of the portable (see Figure 3).

“A cellular system controls the uplink power of the portable. A cellular handset or other device has a maximum power limit much lower than that of a public safety two-way radio, which probably is 5 watts,” Sommariva said. “Also, the cellular system controls the handset uplink power. For example, when a cellphone is right below an indoor antenna, it receives a good downlink signal. In response, the cellphone won’t send much power in the uplink — the cellular system controls its power and reduces its output.”

Most public safety radios don’t have power control, and those that do have a range of control that is only a few decibels, Sommariva said. When someone uses a portable public safety radio right below an indoor antenna, the DAS reduces its gain to protect the receiver. If someone using a second portable near the edge of the coverage, the receiver may not hear it because of the reduced gain.

The Noise Problem

Figure 4. Analog fiber-optic transceivers have a noise figure of −40 dB. The more remotes are added, the more uplink noise is received at the headend. Source: Fiplex Communications

The noise problem stems from the use of analog fiber-optic transceivers that typically have a −40 dB noise floor. Sommariva said that noise from the transceivers adds together when the remote transceivers all feed a common master, further reducing noise performance (see Figure 4). “That’s something that may or may not bother you at the master, but if it doesn’t, the noise will make the far-end problem worse,” he said. “The more remotes you have, the more uplink noise will be received by the master. It doesn’t mean that you cannot use one of these systems and deal with the noise and with the far-end problem. That’s something that you can definitely do. But it’s something that you need to understand.”

Turning to compare analog and digital fiber DAS, Sommariva explained the difference (see Figure 5). “With analog fiber DAS, RF from the analog RF transceivers modulates the light inside the fiber,” he said. “So what the figure shows are two fiber transceivers. The one that receives the RF converts it into light, so you have a light in the fiber modulated by RF. The fiber attenuates the light as it travels. At the other end, a fiber-optic-to-RF converter captures the light and produces the RF output. That’s how analog DAS works.”

With digital fiber DAS, Sommariva said an analog-to-digital converter uses a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) to sample the RF and converts it into light that’s modulated by digital 1s and 0s in what amounts to a digital-to-fiber-optic transceiver. A transceiver on the other end with a different FPGA converts the digitally modulated light into analog RF.

Figure 5. a comparison between analog fiber DAS and digital fiber DAS shows the with analog, RF modulates the light. With digital, the digitally sampled RF modulates the light in 1s and 0s. With digital DAS, the use of light to carry signals does not contribute any losses in the RF link budget. Source: Fiplex Communications

“The optical link budget differs from the RF link budget such that fiber length does not affect the RF link budget,” Sommariva said. “The output has the same amplitude. The output RF signal has no difference compared with the input signal for intermodulation interference, gain and noise. This makes the digital fiber DAS easier to deploy because all you have to do is make sure you are within the needed loss. Once you establish the optical link, you already have the RF. You can extend the fiber-optic cable as far as 25 miles, instead of 12, as with the analog DAS.”

Sommariva dispelled the myth that digital transmission in fiber means more delay. He said delay depends on the signal processing applied on the FPGA. With no signal processing, the delay will be too low to be considered. However, he specified that if, for example, the FPGA applies channel filtering to reduce interference, there will be more delay, but the delay will be because of the filtering and not the fiber cable.

“In any case, if you are going to pick the signal off the air, you are indeed going to use a channelized signal booster to feed the DAS, so you are using filters, anyway,” Sommariva said. ‘When filters are used, the delay will happen. But it’s because of filter theory, not because of using 1s and 0s.”

Figure 6. In public safety applications, portables have high power and no power control. A digital fiber DAS should have uplink automatic gain control (AGC) per channel, and uplink AGL per time slot to support time-division multiple-access systems such as Project 25 Phase II and TETRA. Source: Fiplex Communications

As for the bandwidth in a public safety DAS, Sommariva said the good thing is that as little as 18 megahertz of bandwidth will do the job. “That’s something simple to put into fiber and convert,” he said. “Bandwidth shouldn’t be an issue when choosing digital DAS instead of analog DAS for a public safety application because 18 megahertz can be achieved easily.”

Another good thing Sommariva mentioned about digital DAS is the ability to program the FPGA to use an AGC per channel and an AGC per time slot. He said the use of AGC in a digital DAS means that if someone using a 5-watt portable pushes to talk right below an antenna, the AGC will shrink the gain and protect the uplink. The AGC only shrinks the gain in the particular channel and timeslot that the close-in portable is using, so it allows other portables at the end of the coverage zone to have full gain available to talk out (see Figure 6).

“AGC is needed because it tells you how the system will react during a critical situation,” Sommariva said. “When testing an indoor DAS for satisfactory performance, a fire marshal may test several rooms. But the fire department isn’t going to put 10 first responders inside the building and have them try to talk over the radio simultaneously. That’s not going to happen. That’s why AGC is key parameter, because it will reveal how the DAS will perform.

Squelch Circuit Function

Figure 7. For public safety applications, a digital fiber DAS can have uplink squelch per channel and uplink squelch per time slot to support TDMA systems such as Project 25 Phase II and TETRA. Amplification will only be performed in the particular channel and time slot that the portable is using. This way, no remote contributes noise to the rest of the frequencies and time slots available. Source: Fiplex Communications

Squelch, a circuit function that acts to suppress the audio output of a receiver in the absence of a sufficiently strong desired input signal, is another function Sommariva recommends, and one that is available with digital DAS. He said because public safety communications systems don’t always have a dedicated base station, it’s common to place a donor antenna for the DAS that points toward an antenna site that provides coverage. If the DAS sends noise to that site, its coverage will shrink. This creates problems for the macro system (see Figure 7).

“A digital DAS has the technology to offer a squelch per channel and a squelch per for time slot,” Sommariva said. “Systems such as P25 Phase II, TETRA and digital mobile radio have more than one time slot. Having multiple time slots mean that a single frequency can carry more than one call. The squelch prevents other remotes from sending noise on that channel and in that time slot, ensuring a cleaner spectrum at the output.”

Sommariva’s presentation centered on several characteristics of analog and digital DAS that help to make sure the systems deliver reliable communications, especially during critical situations. He said reliability should be the key factor when considering either analog or digital DAS for public safety communications.

CLICK HERE to see the March AGL Magazine.

Don Bishop
Executive Editor and Associate Publisher
Don Bishop joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He helped to launch and was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletinemail newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and DAS and Small Cells magazine (now AGL Small Cell Magazine). He served as host for AGL Conferences from 2010 to 2012, appearing at 12 conferences. Bishop writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website. Bishop also photographs and films conferences and conventions. Many of his photographs have appeared on the cover, in articles and in the “AGL Tower of the Month” center spread photo feature in AGL Magazine. During his time with Wiesner Publishing, Primedia Business Information and AGL Media Group, he helped to launch several magazines and edited or managed editorial departments for a dozen magazines and their associated websites, newsletters and live event coverage. He is a former property manager, radio station owner and CEO of a broadcast engineering consulting firm. He was elected a Fellow of the Radio Club of America in 1988, received its Presidents Award in 1993, and served on its board of directors for nine years.

C-RAN Gets Serious

By Iain Gillott, contributing editor

The act of Nokia joining the membership organization xRAN, puts pressure on other manufacturers to demonstrate a viable, open radio access network (RAN) architecture. It would improve the chance of getting cloud RAN deployed for outdoor cells.

The promise of cloud radio access network (C-RAN) technology has always been great, but what was needed was the support of one of the major radio and base station original equipment manufacturers. After all, for the last three decades or so, mobile operators have purchased outdoor RAN equipment for a specific market from a single vendor, because the interfaces between the various RAN components are not generally open.

When small cell architectures were first discussed, many believed that those architectures would open up the RAN to other vendors. But when it came to implementation, the same proprietary interfaces were still there, and the outdoor small cell vendors were all forced to look for new markets in-building. As a result, the Long Term Evolution (LTE) RAN market consisted of the same RAN vendors. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, we are now left with five vendors who operate globally: Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung and ZTE. All are stronger or weaker in various markets, and the vast majority of operators buy RAN equipment from one or more of these vendors. Some operators (usually operating in rural markets) have deployed other vendors for specific markets; Vanu is a good example.

Virtualization of the mobile network has started with the core and slowly expanded outward toward the RAN. The RAN is generally seen as the last part of the network to be virtualized, with the deployment of a virtual baseband unit (vBBU) and radio using off-the-shelf components with open interfaces. Just as virtualization has reduced the cost of deploying and maintaining an Evolved Packet Core (EPC), so the goal is the same for the RAN — reduced capital expense (capex) and operating expense (opex).

xRAN, a membership organization named after extensible RAN (xRAN), provides a good example of the current work going on in RAN virtualization. The goal of the industry group is simply to develop, standardize and promote a software-based, extensible RAN and to standardize critical elements of the extensible RAN architecture. xRAN members include some of the biggest and most advanced operators in the industry: AT&T Mobility, Deutsche Telekom, Telstra, Verizon Wireless and SK Telecom. Note that these operators have been pushing virtualization hard and are also moving ahead to 5G as quickly as possible. xRAN vendor members include Intel, Cisco, Mavenir, Amdocs and others.

What has been missing industry groups involved in the open C-RAN debate is the involvement of the big RAN OEMs. Without one or more of the big vendors willing to move to an open C-RAN architecture, there is little chance of getting C-RAN deployed meaningfully into the major markets for outdoor cells.

So now the big news: Nokia has joined xRAN. The Finnish company has been working behind the scenes for a few months and has now executed all the necessary paperwork (and, I assume, has written a check for the dues).

When I discussed this news with someone in the industry, their first reaction was skepticism, because the major OEMs have joined similar virtualization and open forums in the past, only to use the opportunity as a fact-finding exercise without making any changes in their strategy or the openness of their products. But having spent a week in December in Finland at Nokia’s industry analyst event, I concluded that Nokia is sincere: The company has made a big move to cloud architectures using open interfaces, and xRAN is the latest development with this strategy. In short, it does not appear that Nokia is simply in this to sit back and listen, but to contribute to the forum and move toward open RAN interfaces as quickly as possible.

It is also worth remembering that building, optimizing and operating radio networks is always harder than it appears. Although some people draw comparisons to Wi-Fi, LTE and soon-to-come 5G are completely different animals. 5G will support network slicing and prioritization of traffic. All cellular networks hand off between cells to (hopefully) maintain the connection. These all add complexity to the network and operators. As such, Nokia and its major OEM competitors have considerable experience and expertise building and operating networks, expertise that will be as valuable as it has ever been as the industry moves to 5G.

Nokia is unlikely to lose its place in the industry simply because the company is moving to open RAN interfaces. With open architectures and virtualized 5G networks, there are considerable opportunities for network analytics, optimization and professional services. There will be no shortage of things to do.

The question now is, assuming this initiative is successful and continues to make progress, what will Samsung, Huawei, ZTE and Ericsson do. Nokia’s move has put pressure on the other OEMs to follow suit, if not by joining xRAN, then at least by demonstrating a viable, open RAN architecture. 2018 is going to be interesting.

Read the rest of the March AGL Magazine HERE.

Iain Gillott is the founder and president of iGR, a market strategy consultancy focused on the wireless and mobile communications industry. The company researches and analyzes the effect new wireless and mobile technologies will have on the industry, on vendors’ competitive positioning and on its clients’ strategic business plans. Visit www.igr-inc.com.