After a lot of talk about what constituted a small cell, OEMs clearly gave the matter more attention in 2013. Through acquisitions, alliances and new product announcements, vendors began to flesh out the future of small cell networks. Here are some of the highlights from the last 12 months.
Cisco Confirms Small Cell RAN Strategy
In April, Cisco left no doubt of its intention to be a player in the small cell RAN space, with the purchase of Ubiquisys, a U.K.-based intelligent small-cell software provider. The Ubiquisys acquisition, valued at $300 million, followed the purchases of Intucell and BroadHop in January of this year, and the November 2012 acquisition of Cariden. Ubiquisys had helped develop the 3G small cell debuted by Cisco earlier this year. Cisco is now attacking the mobility market with an end-to-end product portfolio that includes integrated, licensed and unlicensed small cell solutions, which are coupled with SON and backhaul.
Alcatel-Lucent, Qualcomm to Develop Next-Gen Small Cells
As it struggled to survive in 2013, Alcatel-Lucent made the decision to specialize in ultra-broadband wireless access technology in July. Then the vendor that kicked off all of the small cell buzz in 2011 with its lightRadio cube announced its collaboration with Qualcomm on small cell base stations that enhance 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity in residential and enterprise environments. The two companies plan to jointly invest in a strategic R&D program to develop the next generation of Alcatel-Lucent lightRadio small cell products featuring Qualcomm Technologies’ FSM9900 family of small cell chipsets.
Ericsson Takes the Plunge into Small Cell Market
Telecom giant Ericsson launched a minimalist small cell radio late in September, which will provide indoor coverage that mirrors the functionality of the outdoor cellular infrastructure, according to Johan Wibergh, head of networks and executive vice president. The disk-shaped small cell, which is small enough to fit a person’s hand, is called Ericsson Radio Dot System.
The radio fills the gap between pico/femtocells and distributed antenna systems, according to Wibergh. Perhaps the most important goal for small cell technology is the functional parity between the indoor wireless systems and the macrocellular network, Wibergh said.
“If you want to have seamless connectivity, you need the same functionality indoors, so you need to use the same software everywhere,” he said. The product is expected to be commercially available in late 2014.
Industry’s First Dual-Mode Small Cell Unveiled
The increasing wireless industry focus on indoor spaces is opening the door for smaller OEMs to compete with new small-cell technologies. Early in November, scrappy SpiderCloud Wireless introduced a dual-mode small cell, the SCRN-310, which is targeted at the enterprise market. The radio node, which simultaneously offers UMTS and LTE service, combines an integrated 3G/LTE baseband system on a chip from Broadcom with SpiderCloud’s software.
“The in-building wireless market is the next frontier. That’s where data traffic happens, and the variety of building types and enterprise types will create a very dynamic market,” said Joe Madden, principal analyst, Mobile Experts. “Even better, because the indoor environment does not need the same kind of mobility, new competitors like SpiderCloud have an opportunity to beat the major OEMs by offering a more tailored enterprise solution.”