It is important to drive the small cell equipment ecosystem in the direction of the carriers’ wants and needs, Gordon Mansfield, executive director of AT&T’s Small Cells and Radio Access Network Division, told the audience during his keynote address at the Tower and Small Cell Summit, February, in Las Vegas.
He also spoke of the Small Cell Forum, of which he is chairman, and its commitment to promoting small cell deployment through education, noting that there may be more upside to small cell deployment than carriers realize. Shrinking cells not only boosts capacity, but cellular densification unleashes new applications in the marketplace, Mansfield said.
“If you think about having great coverage, great penetration, but then having those small nodes that give you greater ability to do triangulation and location-type functionality, it starts to open the door for new applications,” he said.
Mansfield noted that a Universal Mobile Telecommunications System study showed that if four small cells are placed within a macro cell, traffic offload can be increased by 56 percent, but median throughput can be increased by 315 percent. In effect, the performance of the macrocell is improved by the inclusion of small cells.
“Most people think that that’s all about the small cell,” he said. “What you actually see … is that by taking some of that traffic and offloading it onto the small cells, you actually are improving the performance of the macro as well.”
Nine out of 10 operator groups are deploying small cells. While today that consists mostly of femtocells, the types of deployments are diversifying, Mansfield said.
“There is not an operator that I talked to anywhere around the world that doesn’t have some view that small cells are necessary for the future of their networks,” he said. “Now, we’re getting beyond the focus on residential and enterprise and we are starting to look at a greater emphasis, greater focus on in-building enterprise in public areas.”
Although 98 percent of operators say small cells are important, Mansfield conceded that only 50 companies are deploying the technology to date. The Small Cell Forum has set a goal to increase the number of carriers deploying small cells.
The group created the Small Cell Forum Release Program to educate the operator community on the full range of questions about how, why and what to deploy in terms of small cells. To create the program, the forum collected information in the early stages of femtocell and small cell deployment in order to provide carriers with information on real-world examples of small cell deployment, including residential, enterprise, metro and rural case studies.
“From a Small Cell Forum perspective, we really consider the Release Program as a how-to guide to accelerate commercial deployments of small cells,” he said. “From an operator perspective, it is an all-you-need-to-know guide.”
From the vendor perspective, the Release Program provides a resource of data to understand what’s been done, what’s worked and what hasn’t.
“To make sure they are developing the right products, they’re basing it on mobile operator requirements and successful roll out experience,” Mansfield said. “We start by simulating the investment, getting the operator requirements, building and gathering the ecosystem.
Release One, which was published at this year’s Mobile World Congress, included the femtocell market. The next release will include the enterprise space, followed by public access and metro. Each Release includes reports, technical papers, videos and conference PowerPoint presentations.
Release One features case studies on AT&T’s 3G femtocell deployments, which provide a simple, out-of-the-box indoor coverage solution for users.
“When you think about these volumes, you have to make it simple,” Mansfield said. “The common user has to be able to plug that in and it has to work. You’ve got to be able to integrate. Integrating with key carrier building systems, etc. and regulatory systems is important. And you can’t have interference.”
Mansfield said that providers of small cells may be able to take the strategies deployed in the femtocell space and transfer them to other use cases.
“If we think about the capabilities that have been demonstrated and millions of use cases across the U.S. and elsewhere, it’s not uncommon for us to be able to apply some of those capabilities and get simpler ways to install small cells in a public way as well,” he said.
Mansfield discussed AT&T’s announcement to move beyond the residential space with the deployment of 40,000 public access small cells as part of the Velocity IP program during the next three years.
“No one should think that we’re thinking about going and replacing our macro network with small cells,” he said. “That’s not practical, but going in and enhancing that macro coverage in a targeted way is very practical: some indoor, some outdoor. Think about on utility poles. Think about in buildings, on buildings, etc.”
The ability for small cells to coexist with existing macro cells, compatibility between different vendors and ability to manage interference are all interrelated, Mansfield said. To facilitate this integration, the Small Cell Forum has developed operator requirements focused on the public access space.
“I don’t think anybody believes that in the small cells phase that we can do that without self-optimizing networks,” he said. “I really start to bring all of those pieces together and I say, 90 percent of what operators are saying is that it’s got to work together.”