March 2, 2017
To address fast-growing customer demand for service that consumes large amounts of data fed over high-bandwidth connections, mobile network providers add small cells and distributed antenna system (DAS) networks to their macro networks.
Randall Schwartz, a senior analyst and consultant with Wireless 20/20, led a session about small cell connectivity at the Tower & Small Cell Summit in September 2016. He said small cells have an important role in helping mobile network operators to densify their networks.
A panelist in the session, Joey Friend, is director of core carriers at the Black & Veatch Telecommunications Division. As one of the company’s client directors, she works with the core carriers and fiber companies on small cells. Black & Veatch provides turnkey installations for small cells and macrosites. Friend said the company has been focusing on small cells because of the challenges some of its partners have been facing.
“Many newcomers we serve have never worked in the deployment side of the telecommunications business,” Friend said. “Black & Veatch has worked with many of the newcomers, training the jurisdictions about the processes required and training the public utilities about equipment approvals and inspections. Also, anticipating the flood of small cells and the need for accelerated rate of deployment, we developed a cost-efficient plan to deploy small cells as rapidly as our mobile operators need us to do.”
Capacity Versus Coverage
Black & Veatch has been building small cells and DAS mostly to help wireless carriers increase network capacity where the network already provides service, rather than extending service to new areas. “We’re building capacity for small cells, and we’re combining outdoor and indoor DAS for public venues and for college universities and their stadiums, along with the small cell deployments.”
RF Interference and Cost
Friend said two factors affecting small cell deployments are radio-frequency (RF) interference and cost.
When wireless carriers move their antennas from tall macrosite positions of 100 feet above ground level and higher down to structures 30 or 40 feet tall, RF interference from clutter rises. As an example, Friend said, a tractor-trailer truck passing through the right of way can affect wireless service — an effect that causes great concern.
Black & Veatch has performed many feasibility studies for clients regarding small cell deployment cost. This is because where it’s necessary to bring power to the sites, not to mention backhaul, small cells sometimes become surprisingly expensive. “We started doing feasibility studies to point out some of those costs so the surprise is not as great,” Friend said.
Carriers sometimes cancel plans for small sites when feasibility studies reveal high costs, which Friend said is a disappointment. “The more sites we have to build, the better,” Friend said. Further, when carriers balk at high-cost sites, she said, “we have to back up and decide which nodes or which sites are the most critical.”
With the process of acquiring sites for small cells, Friend said Black & Veatch is fortunate to be able to draw upon years of experience — not only with the telecommunications industry, but also its work with many jurisdictions and public utilities involving its other divisions, such as power and water, and special projects. She said many relationships already exist among those entities and Black & Veatch that the core carriers group uses.
“When small cells came along, we set up education sessions with the jurisdictions,” Friend said. “They had questions. They wanted to understand the differences between small cells and macros. What is the advantage of one over the other? What size of equipment? In that process, too, while we were educating and sharing drawings and specifications, they were also helping us through the process of zoning and permitting. It gave us an advantage to fast track over some of the others that were coming into the small cell industry.”
Friend said Black & Veatch also has site acquisition specialists, located in the jurisdictions, who know and understand most of the requirements. “From time to time, requirements change, and our specialists learn a few new ones. But they give us a big advantage. Our RF and field engineering teams are working together to identify RF nodes and put together as much information up front that our site acquisition team gathers from the jurisdictions, along with public utility equipment and inspection requirements.”
Information from each of the other teams reaches project management or construction management teams so that they have a better understanding of what they’re deploying. “It’s a unified effort,” Friend said. “Much of our advantage comes through the relationships that we have in helping us to overcome problems in most jurisdictions. Even so, there are some jurisdictions that even Black & Veatch has difficulty with. But it’s nice when you’re going to have a partnership with them.”
Small Cells and DAS
Turning to the challenges for deploying wireless systems indoors, Friend said indoor DAS has the same RF interference problems that small cells have. Yet, she said there is a big difference. “When you look at a DAS project, you look at it as a whole,” she said. “Depending on the complexity and size, the project can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to as much as a year.”
In comparison, Friend said the acceleration rate and volume needed for small cell deployments is huge. “For companies such as Black & Veatch, the comparison between macrosite and DAS deployment and small cell deployment is like a world in which you have to buy and prepare your food today — and then tomorrow and every day thereafter, you have to do the same,” Friend said. “The small cell acceleration rate is so great that it requires a robust logistics system; whereas, with DAS, the acceleration rate doesn’t add to the complexity. And then with small cells, there are other technical issues involving whether crews are working at night or in areas with restricted security.”Shared Infrastructure
Friend said that smart city initiatives are affecting how much wireless carriers want to or have to share small cell infrastructure. She said Black & Veatch installations reflect the combination of demands by cities and venues, and demands from different entities within cities.
“Small cell installation already has become very complex, and future installations will become even more complex,” Friend said. “But there’s a need for the city to share the capacity and the coverage, which will provide more and more benefit.”
Joey Friend, director of core carriers at the Black & Veatch Telecommunications Division. Photo by Don Bishop
February 28, 2017 —
The cost and difficulty of providing backhaul to small cells can make the difference in whether carriers would construct the access points. In the early days of cellular network construction, carriers were reluctant to share antenna space on their towers with competing carriers. Similar reluctance to share small cell installations with other carriers either provides a competitive advantage or hampers network densification, depending on one’s point of view.
Randall Schwartz, a senior analyst and consultant with Wireless 20/20, led a session about small cell connectivity at the Tower & Small Cell Summit in September 2016. He said when connecting the small cell to the wireless network costs more than the small cell itself, it drives Wireless 20/20 crazy as it develops business plans for small cell deployment. “If you can buy a small cell for $3,000, but a broadband connection with wireless is $5,000, that’s an immediate red flag for us,” he said.
Schwartz questioned whether wireless carriers should view small cells as dedicated resources (one carrier per small cell) versus shared resources, the way carriers share antenna space on towers.
A panelist in the session, Nitin Madan, product line manager at semiconductor manufacturer Broadcom, is responsible for his company’s 60-GHz products and some of its Wi-Fi combination products for mobile phones. He said that mobile network operators pursue deployment of access points such as small cells primarily to increase capacity, sometimes referred to as network densification, and extending coverage is not a high priority for them.
“The only way we can provide gigabit speed to the next billion people on a mobile platform is with network densification,” Madan said. “Although that’s well understood, many underestimate the logistics. Each of these small infrastructure nodes has to be supplied with power and fiber or some other high-bandwidth backhaul. This is more expensive than what we imagine it could be if installers have to dig up the streets. The permitting process of going municipality by municipality, community by community, blows up any business case.”
Broadcom’s effort to make the process of connecting the small cells with a fiber hub over multiple hubs wirelessly as inexpensive as possible rests on three elements: its use of radio-frequency (RF) spectrum; phased antennas; and high-volume, consumer-grade silicon devices (semiconductors).
First, Broadcom tries to use unlicensed frequencies in the band from 57 GHz to 71 GHz. “There’s plenty of spectrum out there, with no upfront cost to obtaining permission to use the frequencies,” Madan said.
Second, the company tries to use phased antenna arrays for electronic beam-steering. “Using beam-steering allows you to be pretty sloppy in your deployment,” Madan said. “You do not need two dish antennas precisely pointing at each other anymore, because of electronic beam-forming. Each node can find the next node or backup node in case the first node is blocked for some reason.”
Third, as much as possible, Broadcom uses high-volume consumer silicon that goes into the mobile cell phones so that, at the outset, the components the company uses have a certain base volume that subsidized much of the research and development. “This is important, and it’s also not traditional in the infrastructure industry,” Madan said. “Because we use consumer silicon, each wireless link is not five-nines reliable. But you can do mesh networking to make sure that the network, as a whole, is robust.” (Five-nines reliability refers to making the connection 99.999 percent reliable, which represents a maximum of about five hours of outage in a year’s time.)
In the semiconductor business, cost is a function of volume, and Madan said Broadcom uses derivatives of technologies architected for consumer electronics to control the cost. He said the architected solutions tend to be modular.
Path loss at 60 GHz is extremely high. “It’s a hostile frequency because of oxygen absorption and other effects that reduce range, Madan said. Engineers can increase the range by increasing the amount of power that the antenna panel can output, which Broadcom does by increasing the number of antennas. Madan said the use of 60-GHz frequencies makes it simple to increase the number of antennas because they are so small. “With the form factor of an iPhone, you can have units that can communicate 300 meters line-of-site with a good margin of signal strength at multigigabit-per-second speeds,” he said.
To serve the 4G small cell market, Broadcom makes use of the technology it developed for Wi-Fi, including the intellectual property of the semiconductor chips themselves. The company also uses software it developed for Wi-Fi test infrastructure so its customers won’t have so steep a learning curve — because they’re familiar with products the company already makes.
Moreover, Madan said the company views the market as too new for accurate product forecasts. “I cannot tell you today what RF range the market needs to connect a small cell site to the closest fiber over wireless,” he said. “That’s why we’ve tried to make our system as flexible as possible, so that as people learn and discover the optimum configuration, it does not demand us to tape out and design new chips for each iteration.”
The RF side offers Broadcom flexibility, because it can arbitrarily increase the number of antennas the RF module has to support. Meanwhile, on the baseband processing side, most of the timing’s sense of logic is in software that the company can change with a firmware upgrade.
“But the real flexibility comes in the way we architected the RF front end,” Madan said. “We’re optimistic about it because, with the use of phased antenna arrays, you’re not broadcasting energy in every direction. We focus a narrow beam of energy toward the receiver. This allows us to use the spectrum more wisely.”
Broadcom wants to replace the fiber that comes to the small cell site. “We want to make wireless fiber on the backend.” Madan said. “How the user accesses that network, I’m completely agnostic to — it could be 5G; it could be Wi-Fi. At Broadcom, we like Wi-Fi. We have a strong feeling that 80 percent of all wireless data goes over Wi-Fi, and we don’t see that changing.”
Especially for deployments that call for non-line-of-sight wireless connections, Madan said he is bullish on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, which allows access to frequencies in the 3.5-GHz band. “Indoors, CBRS could be a big advance coupled with our technological innovations such as massive multiple-input, multiple-output communications. With line-of-sight wireless connections, millimeter-wave frequencies still have some advantages.”
The CBRS and millimeter-wave frequencies would complement each other well, Madan said. He said the days in which the telecom industry operated on a cost-plus model may be behind us. “We need to find ways to cut the cost, because I don’t think we can pass on the cost as price increases to the end customers anymore,” he said.
Research into battery technology has led to a new form of battery that may one day replace lithium-ion batteries and extend battery life well beyond that of what we have today. Most manufacturers rate lithium-ion batteries for 1,000 charge-discharge cycles or less. The new battery, called a flow battery, stores energy as liquid solutions with a component that doesn’t decompose. Flow batteries might last as long as 10 years.
Far from attempting to scale the flow battery for use in tiny wireless communications devices and some of the present and future things within the internet of things, present research seems oriented toward scaling the flow battery to an enormous size. Huge flow batteries would take power from renewable power generation, such as wind, solar and hydro, and store it to supply energy to the electrical grid when real-time renewable power generation is low — during darkness, and calm wind and seas.
It can take time for new technology to become pervasive. AT&T spoke of fiber-optic cable in the 1960s, yet its microwave networks continued to serve long-distance telecommunications for decades. At Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers meetings decades ago, engineers spoke of beamforming antennas that only in recent years began appearing in plans for mobile communications networks. Anticipated use of millimeter-wave frequencies made the difference in the practicality of beamforming.
News of the flow battery came from the American Chemical Society, which has published a paper on the subject by researchers Eugene S. Beh, Diana De Porcellinis, Rebecca Garcia, Kay Xia, Roy G. Gordon and Michael Aziz.
Meanwhile, mobile network operators are making extensive use of fiber-optic cable to connect base stations ranging from macro sites to small cells. Beamforming antennas play a role in plans for 5G wireless communications technology that seems likely to be deployed in the United States within a few years. Perhaps both the networks and the user devices they serve will one day be powered by flow batteries that will outlast several generations of wireless communications technology.
Manufacturers expect the first release of the Third Generation Partnership Project 5G specification in 2018. To be ready in time for the release, IBM and Ericsson have created beamforming antennas that support data rates exceeding 10 Gbps with low latency and low energy requirements that will tap batteries for the least possible power, extending operating life even from the current battery technologies.
November 22, 2016 —
With the election of Donald J. Trump to be president of the United States comes change at the FCC. The FCC is directed by five commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The president designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairman. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party.
Chairman Tom Wheeler’s term expires June 30, 2018. The FCC chairman usually leaves if the party controlling the White House shifts to the opposite party. On Nov. 17, Wheeler stated his intention to resign, but he said he has not decided his departure date. Sooner or later, Trump will appoint a Republican successor and the political majority would change. Trump could designate the new commissioner as chairman, which would be typical, or he could designate a current Republican commissioner as chairman.
Wheeler could exit the chairmanship and remain as a commissioner, but it seems apparent from his remarks that he does not intend to do so. I don’t recall any previous chairman doing so.
The FCC has some commissioners who are continuing to serve beyond the expiration of their terms, which the law allows. Their time on the commission may come to an end when the current Congress adjourns at the end of the year. This could leave the commission with vacancies to be filled by the new president’s appointees.
The new president has authority to appoint people to fill nearly 1,200 executive-level jobs with Senate approval and another 321 that do not require Senate confirmation. When the FCC might receive his attention is unclear. But sooner or later, the FCC will have a Republican chairman, and a majority of commissioners will be Republican.
October 11, 2016
Wideband code-division multiple-access (WCDMA) and its high-speed packet access (HSPA) enhancement are third-generation (3G) wireless technologies that continue to experience significant growth in subscribers and population worldwide, according to the June 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report. Although the report predicts 3G growth would continue for years to come, it said global statistics mask diverging trends on a regional level.
The report found that in some regions, there is high growth of WCDMA subscriptions as declining smartphone prices offer an economic entry into mobile broadband. In others regions, there is a growing focus on re-farming WCDMA frequency bands to Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology, enabled by the ability to fit higher HSPA traffic volumes into smaller frequency allocations.
“This is made possible by new radio access network software functionality that enhances smartphone handling and network capacity,” the report reads. “Operators are also seeking additional ways to make the network simple to handle and thus increase network operational efficiency.”
1 Gbps Downlinks
The demand for enhanced app coverage continues to push LTE data rates to new heights, according to the report. It found that in 2016, a long-anticipated milestone is being passed, with commercial LTE networks supporting downlink peak data speeds of 1 Gbps.
“The 1-Gbps LTE peak data speeds will provide users with significantly faster time-to-content,” the report says. “Gigabit speeds will also enhance the usefulness of personal hotspots, as well as making LTE a more attractive alternative to deliver fixed wireless services.”
The report identifies one of the barriers to delivering higher LTE data speeds as spectrum. It says new, commercially available LTE capabilities provide greater spectral efficiency and make the delivery of commercial LTE peak data rates of 1 Gbps feasible using 60 MHz of spectrum. The capabilities the report identifies include:
· Three-component carrier aggregation that enables the aggregation of 60 MHz of LTE spectrum
· 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) that can increase downlink data speeds by 33 percent
· 4×4 multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) communications, which doubles the number of unique data streams being transmitted to the user’s smartphone, thereby enabling up to twice the capacity and data throughput
“When used in combination, two aggregated 20-MHz LTE carriers using 4×4 MIMO and 256 QAM aggregated with a single 20-MHz LTE carrier using 2×2 MIMO and 256 QAM can support a LTE peak data rate of 1 Gbps over the downlink,” the report reads. “256 QAM is susceptible to interference. However, system interference can be reduced, hence increasing the utilization of 256 QAM in the network.”
The report found that the number of commercial LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) carrier aggregation launches continues to increase. It says that operators are evolving their LTE-A networks with Category (Cat) 4, 6, 9, 11 and 16 implementations. Cat 16 devices, which support 1 Gbps data speeds, are expected in the second half of 2016.
“These higher speeds will enhance the user experience both indoors and outdoors,” the report reads. “The network speeds mentioned are a theoretical maximum. Typical user speeds will be lower and depend on factors such as device type, user location and network conditions.”
According to the report, demand for communication services remains strong, despite declining voice and messaging revenue. It refers to the August 2015 Ericsson ConsumerLab study, “Bringing Families Closer,” which shows that text messaging and voice remain the main methods of communication for the majority of families in the United States.
“Communication services based on VoLTE enable operators to offer bundled data and high-quality communication services packages, with telecom-grade high-definition (HD) voice, video communication, multi-device capabilities and more, while enabling simultaneous LTE data services on smartphones,” the report reads. “GSM Association standards-based rich communication services enable globally interoperable Internet Protocol messaging and content sharing during calls. This can also be combined with VoLTE natively on smartphones.”
LTE and Wi-Fi HD Voice
HD voice improves mobile voice quality, the report explains. It requires device support and new functionality on 2G, 3G and LTE networks. According to the report, an evolved HD voice service — 3rd Generation Partnership Project standardized Enhanced Voice Services (EVS) for VoLTE-enabled networks — further improves the user experience by delivering even higher-quality voice and music within calls (e.g., call announcements or sharing music from a concert during a voice or video call).
EVS also provides a better-quality service than HD voice in challenging LTE radio conditions, as well as more robust service when using Wi-Fi calling.
The report says that with Wi-Fi calling, operators can extend their voice service indoors so consumers can make calls in their homes over their own Wi-Fi access points, using any internet service provider. It says this benefits users with limited circuit-switched voice or VoLTE indoor coverage, as well as roaming users.
“All major chipset and device vendors now support natively integrated Wi-Fi calling on many smartphone models,” the report reads. “Some device and network vendors also support Wi-Fi calling on devices without a subscriber identity module (SIM) card, such as tablets, smart watches and personal computers. This means the users’ personal devices can be located at different Wi-Fi access points across the world, and the smartphone can be on cellular or Wi-Fi access. The users can select to answer and make calls on any of the devices and transfer calls between their personal devices.”
The report concludes its description of the state of the networks by saying that the IP multimedia subsystem and evolved packet core enable the packet-switched communication services, which can be run over LTE, Wi-Fi and fixed broadband on any device, as the device ecosystem evolves. “VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling are the first consumer services that have been deployed using network function virtualization in core networks,” the report reads. “A 5G-ready core takes network function virtualization one step further by adding the concepts of distributed cloud and network slicing.”