May 1, 2015 — For small cells to become a bona fide option in the coverage toolkit, the capacity of the individual small cells must be increased to rival their macrocells, Amit Mehrotra, sales engagement lead for UDN Services, Nokia, said during the Mobile Network Densification panel on April 29, the second day of sessions at the Wireless Infrastructure Show in Hollywood, Florida.
“DAS is a great densification strategy when you want a neutral-host facility, but there is a huge need for developing small, fully contained mini-macrocells,” Mehrotra said.
The small cell solutions so far have served a limited number of users so they offer less utility. The next generation of small cell technology will do everything that a macrocell does but in a much smaller form factor than even the current small cells, according to Mehrotra.
Nokia Networks recently showcased a high-capacity small cell solution to increase China Mobile’s macrocellular network capacity at a three-day international sports event in Shanghai. Using macro software parity and Nokia Smart Scheduler, each Flexi Zone TD-LTE small cell managed the wireless data for up to 600 simultaneous active TD-LTE users.
During the peak period of activity, the system handled wireless data traffic generated by 49,000 subscribers, with more than half of the traffic carried by small cells.
“We are talking about coming out with a small cell that will do exactly the same capacity as a macrocell,” Mehrotra said. “You want the small cell to do VoLTE, MIMO and carry the same amount of users that you are used to with macrocells. If you are going to deploy a small cell in Times Square, you want it that will cover more than half the people in a Starbuck’s. In that sense, we are beginning to see the technology catch up with macrocells very quickly.”
Small Cell Deployments Evolving
It will take time before this next generation of small cells, known as macro-parity, goes to market, according to Mehrotra, but it will change the way carriers look at the enterprise market.
“When you have an access point the size of a Wi-Fi node that takes care of your cellular needs for 600 people [inside a convention center], it is a completely different type of deployment,” he said. “Enterprises are a huge target segment in this area. Some of the operators are not quite there yet. They are not looking inside of the buildings yet in this type of coordinated, focused way.”
Verizon and AT&T are moving away the strategy that requires a massive coast-to-coast rollout of small cells, according to Mehrotra, in favor of an approach that uses targeted surgical deployments.
“That’s a 180-degree turnaround from, for example, trying to sign a lease with every Hilton property to deploy DAS,” he said. “Even if I have a master service agreement Hilton, every hotel is managed differently, so I still have the same hurdles and maybe I don’t want to use DAS everywhere, all the time.”