August 20, 2015 — There is some real movement on the small cell front. Someone other than a vendor is hyping small cells. The industry is gearing up. And hopeful vendors are now expecting a carrier to deploy.
The reason is that small cells are expected to be the primary focus of Sprint’s network upgrade. Macro network upgrades are on the back burner perhaps until after the next spectrum auction. The carrier is bullish on rolling out up to 70,000 outdoor picocells.
And why it may work is because Softbank, which owns 78 percent of Sprint, has already deployed a small cell network in Japan. The company’s hyperdense network uses cloud-controlled base stations no bigger than a suitcase, packing in as many as 150 nodes per square kilometer in Japan’s largest cities. Softbank has also installed thousands of small cells on post offices throughout rural Japan, using satellite backhaul. They want to try this here. We’ll see.
Small Cells (and C-RAN?) in San Fran
My position on small cells has always been that they will play various roles in networks. But it is still a small cell. And in that vein, Verizon Wireless said it negotiated the right to place small cells on 400 San Francisco light poles and utility poles by moving “the brains of the network” to remote locations. Shades of C-RAN. While it isn’t exactly C-RAN, it is close enough for government work.
“What’s unique to this deployment for the United States, is that it’s going to be a C-RAN-type configuration,” said Jake Hamilton, engineering director for Verizon Wireless’ Northern California region. “Our baseband units, or the brains of our network, will be remotely housed in hub locations, and we use dark fiber to connect out to the city … poles on the streets. That really allows us to minimize how much equipment we put on the poles, which was kind of a requirement from … the planning department.”
And finally, Huawei expects to ship 400,000 small cells this year. Huawei expects small cells to play a key role in the future “4.5G” and “5G” network deployments. It is the fastest-growing segment of the company’s business. According to Huawei, the increasing demand for small cells will make the small cell business grow by 18 times in terms of revenue by 2020.
That is promising.