April 23, 2015 — Last issue I penned a missive on the state of small cells. I guess I am not the only one looking at the small cell landscape and wondering about the state of the platform. I recently came across some interesting metrics that make sense along the road to small cell deployment and making the small cell picture a bit clearer.
The first one being carrier small cells. Two things here are a given. Licensed spectrum will continue to be under the crunch gun, regardless of the evolution of the “Gs,” and macro cells will never be able to cover the world.
Extrapolating, small cells will be the great equalizer. In a recent statement, Verizon CTO Tony Melone, said small cell deployments will be an increasingly cost-effective way to add capacity while at the same time improving cell-edge performance and thus further increasing the value of the spectrum we hold. He went on to say that as small cell technology is improving and backhaul issues are worked out, small cells will move forward.
Next, enterprises are beginning to see the value in small cell deployments. That is significant because now they will put dollars into it. Building owners, hospitals, sports and entertainment venues are feeling the pressure to have ubiquitous wireless connectivity within the premises. And, once the small cell network is in place, MNOs are also seeing the value in connecting that network to theirs. It is a win-win for the enterprise and the MNO.
And, vendors are coming to the table with integrated solutions, not just products. That is a sure sign that they are seeing dollars. Here’s why; Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia have announced plans to merge next year. Nokia has acquired a strong small cell deployment capability in the United States with its recent purchase of SAC Wireless. The company’s program for carriers is called Services for HetNets.
Ericsson has launched Small Cells as a Service (SCaaS) to facilitate deployments for carriers. The network equipment giant wants to deploy small cell networks that will serve multiple carriers from a single location.
And Huawei is partnering with facilities owners that can provide location, power and backhaul for small cell deployments. The company calls its solution Crowd-sourcing Small Cells, and incorporates an open platform which supports third-party interfaces.
Next, the move to higher frequencies is in full swing (see the FCC short below). The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength, and the closer the cell. Can you see the obvious here? That is a sure recipe for densification of cells, and small ones are the only logical solution.
Plus, In ABI’s recent report on the small cell backhaul market pegs the dollars at $4 billion in five years. “We believe that 4G / LTE small cell solutions will again drive most of the microwave, millimeter wave and sub 6-GHz backhaul growth in metropolitan, urban and suburban areas with backhaul for 4G/LTE small cells growing at double-digit rates and surpassing 3G in this year,” Nick Marshall, research director at ABI Research, wrote.
Finally, someone told me that VoWi-Fi is going to impede the progress of the small cell segment. Hmmm….aren’t Wi-Fi cells small cells? I don’t really see how adding voice to them changes anything… really.
February 11, 2015 — One of the biggest marketing worries, for any company or any product is, is the fear that the excitement will wear off before the product becomes available. It seems that such may be the case for 5G. It has had a flurry of hype for the last couple of years, yet reality says it “may” be here by 2020. The balloon is starting to deflate. Much of the 5G noise is starting to see a “ho-hum” response. So, what do shrewd marketers do? They create a perception that things are progressing. Offer something new or different to rekindle interest.
That is exactly what Huawei did. To keep the momentum towards 5G going, they came out with an interim solution they call “4.5G.” Cool…at least they are trying to offer something in the next-generation wheelhouse that will keep confidence in 5G going.
Their 4.5G is impressive, IMHO, ~10 milliseconds latency (as compared to ~75 milliseconds for LTE), 6 gigabits per second (Gbps) downlink data rates (vs. 300 megabits per second (Mbps) for LTE), and the capability to support 100,000 connections within a single square kilometer. And, it is practical. It is further up the food chain than LTE or LTE-A, but isn’t held captive to the lofty 5G promises, (and 5G is almost guaranteed to have its home in the millimeter-wave spectrum, which will require a paradigm shift in technology).
There are some issues, however. First of all, what technology will be used? Will it be backwards compatible with existing LTE? Will Huawei get any support from vendors or cooperation from standards bodies? It is unclear at this time. Other players are worried that this may push 5G deployment out even farther than 2020, especially if it works well.
There is a lot at stake here. 5G has been a difficult sell so far. There is little hard data on what exactly it will be. It really hasn’t even been defined well, yet. Michael Peeters, wireless CTO at Alcatel-Lucent made an interesting statement about 5G recently. He cautioned that “5G should not become a technology dumping ground for the industry.” And noted that wireless companies are throwing pretty much everything that was not included in earlier technology evolutions into 5G. That is not a good thing.
Not alone in this approach, a company called ZTE has come up with “pre5G.” In their case, a Massive MIMO base station has been “setting new records in single-carrier transmission capacity and spectral efficiency,” according to ZTE.
5G will come. However, we need innovation in the mean time. According to the company, it has achieved peak data throughput more than three times that of traditional base stations. The average data throughput exceeds conventional systems by at least five times. And this using existing 4G standards with no modifications to existing air interfaces.
“Being a pre5G technology, ZTE’s Massive MIMO solution is delivering exponential advances to 4G networks without modifying existing air interfaces, making it possible for carriers to provide a 5G-like user experience on existing 4G handsets in an accelerated timeframe,” said Xiang Jiying, chief scientist at ZTE, in a prepared statement.
Well, it works. And noise in the industry is saying that is will be comparable to the Huawei offering.
But the point here is that there is real fear that 4G and the flavors of LTE just won’t have the capacity to keep up with what is coming down the pike. Well, I tend to agree. Streaming media is catching fire. The fear is that it will bog down spectrum like nothing we have seen so far. And the existing networks will rapidly become overloaded – long before realistic 5G is even a blip on the radar screen.
My hat’s off to you Huawei and ZTE. At least you are trying to be practical and deliver something that is next generation and addresses the impending data tsunami, rather than pinning all hopes on a yet-to-be-defined platform.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of AGL Small Cell magazine.
August 28, 2014 — Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, which can always be counted on to be at the edge of the envelope, has demonstrated that LTE can work in the 5-GHz band. Typically, that band is used for LAN networking.
DoCoMo and Huawei have been working on Licensed-Assisted Access (LAA), a technology that allows LTE to function in the unlicensed spectrum. If experiments prove successful and the technology is commercially viable, network operators will be able to use this unlicensed band to deploy LTE networks.
Test results indicated that LAA can work in 5-GHz bandwidth. On the technical side, LAA has the capability to offer a higher cell capacity (approximately 1.6 times) than the IEEE 802.11n standard for WLAN. The result is that LAA can be used to enhance LTE, and possibly LTE-A as well.
On another LTE note, as of the end of 1Q 2014, ABI Research estimates there were 60 LTE-A trials, commitments and commercial deployments worldwide, of which 22 commitments were from Western Europe, 16 from Asia Pacific and five from North America.
Carrier aggregation (CA) is playing a big role in LTE-A. “CA is the most important feature of LTE-Advanced, which helps mobile carriers to utilize all spectrum resources to increase data rates,” said Marina Lu, research analyst at ABI Research.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cell Magazine.
By Ernest Worthman, While 5G is getting a lot of rumblings, the reality is quite different and that weighs heavily on the positions of carriers on small cells. The 5G camp is saying that 5G will do everything, with nothing, transparently. So why follow the small cell roadmap?
The reality is that 5G is a long way off, 2020 by some estimates. The media hype says it is the panacea for all carrier and mobile operator ills. Well, some claims are that 5G will provide a 1000-fold capacity increase and support 100 billion devices! Wow…really Huawei?
That is a boisterous claim for a technology that isn’t sure where it is going to play in the worldwide spectrum bucket yet. In reality, most of it hasn’t even been defined yet. And, there remains doubt about, what level of coordination between cells would be required, and whether the benefits are primarily outdoor or indoor applications.
That being said, with or without 5G, small cells are here to stay. In fact, 5G will have a difficult time upstaging small cells. Simply put, no matter how 5G emerges, it will likely be nothing more than the next iteration of packing more devices into existing networks. There has been some discussion (by Broadcom) that it will include 802.11ac but that is a different set of standards (with very different speed and propagation metrics).
By Ernest Worthman, editor, Small Cells magazine
Software-designed networks are poised to make another leap forward, which is good news for small cells.
Virtualization of networks is something that carriers have shown keen interest in of late. The reason? Virtual networks have the potential to reduce, drastically, the cost of small cells and dramatically shorten the time it takes to deploy them.
At the forefront of this technology, Huawei has developed a prototype that can dynamically create “multiple virtual networks on demand to meet individual tenant needs – all from the same physical network.” This is news. They claim that the system’s flexible optical network control design will allow for automatic on-demand adjustment in modulation format and line-rate based on need; and the network health analysis application is designed to track network resource utilization, key performance indicators and alarms in real time.
If the prototype lives up to the hype, Huawei stands a good chance of capturing a piece of the estimated $35 billion per year market by 2018, as predicted by SDN Central, which projected the sector could grow by three-fold next year and will continue its expansion 10-fold by 2018.
— Ernest Worthman, editor, AGL Small Cell Magazine