December 11, 2014 — As the year draws to a close, HetNets, the golden child of wireless, are beginning to see some purposeful movement. However, overall deployment of small cells is not moving as quickly as has been expected or desired. It is becoming painfully clear to
mobile operators, who in order to provide the services that they are looking to deploy, are going to have to have homogenous networks that connect all the technologies on a ubiquitous platform, transparent to the user. But easier said than done.
Mobile operators have, for some time, realized the advantage of a seamless network of macro and small cells. However, small cell deployment and integration is not without challenges – challenges that have been slow to overcome.
Perhaps the most challenging issue for small cells is backhaul. Such cells generally use microwave, copper, or fiber. According to Monica Paolini, president of Senza Fili Consulting, “Unquestionably, fiber is the best solution for small cell backhaul, so where it is available and cost effective, it typically wins over wireless solutions,” said. “But it is not always available, and when it is, often it is not cost effective, because of either the installation or the operating costs.”
Microwave is a good alternative, but frequency availability or location can be a challenge with it. Copper is also a good alternative, but it can be costly to hook into.
As well, siting small cells isn’t without its challenges, especially within public rights-of-way. Acquisition of sites on street furniture requires a detailed understanding of zoning requirements, and non-disruptive integration of local architectures. There are no models for this so it is being developed on the fly and many that do not understand small cell sites are slow to come around. All in all, a lot of work has to be done before we see a homogeneous network of cells, offering the kind of euphoric, unlimited bandwidth and ubiquitous coverage we have been promised.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of AGL Small Cell Magazine.