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eMagazine Covers Public Safety In-building Wireless Challenge

ImperativeThe In-building Wireless and Public Safety Imperative is an eMagazine recently published by SOLiD and Hutton that describes the need for in-building wireless public-safety networks and the steps necessary for their widespread deployment. The publication, which was created for public-safety professionals, building and property owners, and the in-building wireless integration industry, looks at in-building wireless through eyes of fire and police chiefs, association leaders, a journalist, and solution providers and integrators.

The Public Safety “Imperative” is also a call to arms for safer in-building environments for the public and the first responders, according to Mike Collado, SOLiD’s vice president, marketing.

“To meet the challenges of the imperative, the stakeholders must implement fire and building codes and standards for indoor public safety communications; develop and innovate a toolkit of robust wireless communication technology and networks; and identify business models to overcome the burdens of complying with an unfunded mandate,” Collado said in a blog post. “To be sure, the imperative is shared by the public safety, commercial wireless and venue owner ecosystems. It’s time we move the imperative forward.” eMagazine Download

LTE, Small Cells, In-Building Coverage Top 2014 Trends

By Morgan Kurk…

As 2014 rolls in, the continued implementation of LTE and the ongoing data boom mean that for most wireless operators, modernizing and enhancing the capacity of their networks with the most efficient architectures and equipment possible will be a major focus. Increasing network capacity intensifies the focus on metrocells and indoor coverage. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what will be the biggest and most important wireless infrastructure trends of the next 12 months.

Everything LTE

The newest focus in the wireless industry globally is LTE. GSMA Intelligence expects the number of LTE connections worldwide to pass one billion by 2017.  As the world’s population begins to access the Internet at the speeds available on LTE, there will be no turning back. Operators will be forced to quickly update and fortify their networks.  Operators must ensure that their network evolution is well architected and accurately implemented to provide the exceptional experience that is 4G LTE to their customers.

Prior generation systems such as GSM were designed in a voice-only era and have aged as much as 20 years. As such they are not very efficient when delivering data. Forward-looking operators who are not deploying LTE yet will use 2014 to update their network equipment and architecture, preparing their networks for the arrival of 4G. Central to this preparation will be shifting to a remote radio architecture that will put much of the radio function on the top of the tower. This design replaces traditional coaxial runs with hybrid fiber optic and power cable, which is used to connect the remote radio heads at the tower top to the baseband units that remain at ground level. Advanced multiband and multi-technology capable antennas will be connected to the radio heads, improving performance and increasing power efficiency while servicing 2G, 3G and 4G simultaneously.

Implementing such technologies to modernize the wireless network is a sound investment for improving operating expense in all of its forms, from energy efficiency to maintenance, while improving reliability and preparing for an LTE rollout.

Bigger focus on small cells

Wireless operators will continue to increase their focus on “small cells” in 2014. This term is defined as everything that is not the macro cell. We further break it down into the metro (or micro) and indoor layers of the network. These layers are designed to significantly increase capacity by moving closer to the mobile device, working in conjunction with rather than in competition to sector splitting on the macro layer. The indoor layer of small cells may include pico and femto radios, distributed antenna systems and low power remote radio heads, while the metro layer is made up of microcells and medium power remote radio heads. Operators will place more focus in 2014 on how to most efficiently deploy and integrate small cells in more buildings and urban centers where increased use is dramatically slowing the network. With the proliferation of data intensive devices like smartphones and tablets, focusing on how to offload traffic from the macro site will become increasingly important in 2014.

Inside becomes the new outside

The increased focus on indoor coverage may ultimately compel operators to trial a whole new approach to their network, which I call the “inside-out approach.” Historically, operators deployed wide area macro sites and eventually worked their way indoors on an ad-hoc basis, starting with the most heavily used areas such as airports and arenas. With the recognition that more than 70 percent of mobile sessions occur indoors, operators will take a fresh look at how best to architect their networks. The inside-out approach will likely start in the heavy traffic areas indoors, where the exception rather than the rule is being on the macro network. The first trials of using indoor sites to cover outdoor areas as part of an inside-out architecture could occur in a large city in 2014.

Morgan Kurk is senior vice president, Wireless, CommScope.

Multi-mode Metrocells to Aid AT&T in Densification

While the metrocells that AT&T is currently deploying support UMTS and HSPA+, the carrier plans to push forward with more advanced technology in the future. Later this year the carrier expects to deploy units that will also support Wi-Fi and LTE, but it has not released the name of the vendor yet.

Jim Parker, AT&T spokesman, told AGL Small Cell Link, “Metrocells are largely in their infancy. They support a single technology, a single frequency band and a single sector. It is extremely limited.”

AT&T requested a neutral host metrocell last summer from the OEMs through the Metrocell Forum, which created a requirements document and distributed it around the world. “We expect metrocells to evolve into a neutral hosting ability, but not for a few years,” Parker said.

The carrier is in the second year of its three-year Project Velocity IP, which will deploy 40,000 metrocells.

AT&T is deploying metrocells through three separate divisions, the Antenna Solutions Group, which targets large public venues, the Advanced Enterprise Mobility Solutions Group, which targets enterprises, and local RAN organizations, which are deploying them outdoors.

Expansion of the Addressable In-building Wireless Markets

AT&T is seeing significant growth in metrocell deployments in retail outlets, such as Best Buy and Walmart, because of the large number of customers, but also because they are retail outlets for the carrier’s phones. Metrocells can be economically deployed in places where a DAS network would be too expensive.

“The total number of addressable markets for wireless in-building systems has now significantly expanded with the advent of metrocells,” he said. “Now with metrocells at a much lower cost, we are able to go after markets that were previously unattainable, like multiple-dwelling units, retail and smaller hotel chains. We will even drop metrocells into the basement of a building that otherwise has good in-building coverage. In the past we would simply walk away from those opportunities.”

The carrier has negotiated master lease agreements with several nationwide chains of hotels and retail stores. Big box chain stores, with cinder block walls and metal roofs don’t always have the best macrocell penetration. An in-building metrocell helps facilitate the salesperson’s ability to activate the handset, according to Parker.

The decision to deploy metrocells versus DAS is also guided by capacity needs. Current metrocell technologies support up to 32 users. Compare that to a DAS. The DAS antenna can support multiple wireless operators, multiple wireless technologies, multiple frequency allocations, and the system can be expanded through sectorization.

Don’t expect to see a lot of metrocells in stadiums where capacity is king. Metrocells can be used where capacity needs are not as great, such as Marriott Courtyards.

“We are deploying metrocells in corporate America where the employees are encouraged to bring their own devices, but they don’t have adequate coverage,” Parker said.

Project Velocity IP, which includes macrocells, DAS and metrocells, had its first metrocells field application in the fourth quarter 2012, with wide-area deployments commencing the first quarter of last year. By 2015, metrocells will be the dominant technology of choice used in AT&T’s densification program, according to Parker.

“We are very much in the early stages of deployment and currently utilize specially trained personnel to deploy the metrocells, but due to their plug-and-play architecture, simple IP-connectivity and self-organizing architecture, we envision a day when we will be able to simply ship them to our enterprise customers and have their IT technicians deploy them,” Parker said.

The RF output of each metrocell varies from 39 milliwatts to 250 milliwatts, which is comparable to the power output of other indoor wireless solutions. The metrocell has a Fast Ethernet interface, which can use the building’s existing Internet access for backhaul and can be either shared or dedicated. The self-configuring architecture reduces the time and cost of installation.

Each metrocell can support 16 or 32 devices and can support simultaneous voice and high-speed data sessions. Each metrocell covers from 7,000 to 15,000 square feet depending on building layout and construction. Multiple metrocells can be deployed within a facility, allowing for seamless call handoff within the premises.

Each metrocell has a Fast Ethernet interface and can use the building’s existing Internet infrastructure, which offers less cost, simplified site acquisition and faster deployment. However, the quality and performance of the system is dependent upon the customer’s infrastructure, routers, switches and the cables that are maintained by the customer. The operator has restricted visibility into the network, making it more difficult to manage and maintain.

A metrocell can also be deployed with a dedicated network and backhaul, which provides additional network control for the operator, more network visibility and the ability to maintain the system end to end. The disadvantages of this approach are: more site acquisition requirements, running cable to each metrocell, increased capex and opex, and longer deployment time. More control over a network is always preferred by the carrier.

“We have been deploying our own LAN infrastructure to be able to manage and monitor end-to-end performance,” Parker said.

Metrocells Pass the Test

In the first field applications that took place in 2012, AT&T wanted to evaluate the performance of metrocells across a wide range of environments, including an outdoor residential area, an office campus and an urban high-rise in New York City.

For the outdoor environment, AT&T deployed 14 metrocells in the residential area of Crystal Lake Park, Mo., a small town located west of St. Louis. The system resolved spotty coverage caused by hilly topography. After deploying the metrocells, the macrocell performance improved with a 40 percent reduction in dropped calls.

To test the technology in the office campus environment, AT&T deployed 12 metrocells in an office building in Waukesha, Wis. “We realized a 15 percent increase in network traffic and a reduction in the call drop rates,” Parker said. “With ubiquitous wireless coverage throughout the facility, we have seen a significant increase in data traffic with more than 50,000 data sessions per day.”

AT&T deployed 20 metrocells for multiple enterprise customers in New York City. In order to reduce the amount of time to deploy the system, the carrier used the customers’ existing Internet wiring or a shared network to backhaul the metrocells.

Enterprises Need a Hand in IBW Deployment — Butchko

Since the birth of the iPhone in 2005 and the resulting wireless data demand, in-building wireless (IBW) systems have gone from curiosity to luxury to amenity and, finally, to utility status. Most recently, IBW communications —DAS, public safety and Wi-Fi — have crossed the chasm from being seen as a technology to being accepted as an intelligent building solution, RF Connect marketing executive Bob Butchko told DAS Bulletin.

“Today, the commercial real estate industry recognizes that having a positive in-building smartphone or tablet experience is critical to tenant acquisition and retention,” Butchko said. “It is commonly accepted that most commercial, residential or office buildings need, or will need, some form of in-building wireless enhancement if only for satisfying government-mandated public safety radio regulations.”

But that success has led to its own challenge: Who is going to pay for this solution?

As DAS moves from amenity to utility, building owners must figure out how to deploy and pay for wireless within their buildings. Carriers, which deploy DAS in hundreds of public venues and for thousands of their major accounts, are not much interested in the 1.2 million or so commercial buildings, most of which are not strategic to their business plans. Tower companies work on the same ethic; if the carriers don’t see a site as strategic, the tower companies won’t build there.

The only option left for most building owners, unless their building has a very high profile, is to purchase and deploy the IBW systems, which sets up a new dynamic. Building owners who are not knowledgeable about DAS are pressed into the position of project managing a wireless deployment, interfacing with carriers, the building tenants, municipality, general contractors, system integrators, OEM manufacturers, financial/legal experts and consultants. Butchko points out that just negotiating with the carriers is fraught with complications.

“[You need to] go to the carriers and find out if the building is strategic or not. What would they be willing to do? Would they provide a base station? Would they want to put antennas on the roof?” Butchko said. “What are their restrictions? Any DAS plan must be cleared by the carriers.” He recalls a DAS that was built at a hospital, and the carrier came by and told them they couldn’t do it.

To assist building owners in deploying an indoor wireless system, at RealComm IBcon 2013 on June 12, RF Connect launched a new service, known as the RFC Connection, which elevates RF Connect from the status of mere integrator to business partner and consultant for the building owner.

“Instead of skinnying down the bid to beat the competition, we will be trying to put the wireless systems that are really needed in the building for the lowest cost and best results over the long term for the client,” Butchko said.

The RFC Connection offers an end-to-end integrated package of services, where it assesses, designs, implements and provides long-term support for the wireless systems, as well as serving the building owner as a partner and advocate.

“The industry needs a new approach where a third party looks out for the building owners’ interests,” said Butchko. “Effectively, the burden of providing and supporting cellular coverage, Wi-Fi and all in-building wireless capabilities is contractually outsourced to RF Connect. All this adds up to a much better outcome for the owner.”

Guest Column: Addressing the Mobile Data Explosion with Small Cells

Amit Jain,
Vice President,
Product Management,
SpiderCloud Wirelesss

—  Consumer femtocells and their higher power cousins, enterprise and public-access femtocells, provide coverage in hard-to-reach areas. But they do not address the mobile data capacity explosion. Why? Because they cannot be used in places where the demand for mobile data is actually exploding!

The demand for mobile data is highest in places where hundreds or thousands of people congregate, such as large shopping centers and large office buildings. Using a single small cell, irrespective of its power or capacity, will not help operators meet the demand for data. All that the operator will get is dissatisfied subscribers, who can see five bars of coverage, but merely get a few hundred kilobits of data.

To address the mobile data explosion, operators need a small cell system that enables them to:

  • Build a dense small cell network inside buildings, with numerous small cells
  • Easily add more small cells as more smart phones and more apps come on the network
  • Provide consistently high throughout, and consistently low call drop rates
  • Deploy this small cell network in hours or days, with technicians who are not cellular gurus

This is a tall order. The indoor RF environment, especially in large multi-story buildings is very challenging. In a dense deployment, a handset can see several small cells at the same time. Because of fast fading, a handset may handover from one cell to another several times a minute without moving at all.

So, is a dense small deployment not possible?  Yes and no. It depends on the architecture adopted. Broadly, four architectures have been proposed in the industry:

1)      Femtocells connected to a Home Node B Gateway (HNB-GW) with hard handover

2)      Small cells connected to a Home Node B Gateway (HNB-GW) with soft handover using “Iurh”

3)      Pico-cells connected to a traditional 3G Radio Network Controller (RNC)

4)      Small cells connected to a small local controller. Local controller connects to the core network as single HNB.

The first option, hard handover of femtocells, has been trialed by many operators and most agree that it is not practical to deploy more than 5-10 femtocells in a large building.

Many suppliers who initially proposed the first architecture are now moving to the second architecture. They are implementing soft handover using a variation of the Inter-RNC handover protocol called Iurh. Since soft handover requires synchronization between small cells, some suppliers are building small cells with expensive oven-controller oscillators. All handover signaling goes over the backhaul link and can become a significant expense. And there is no way for an operator to locally offload data traffic without breaking inter-small cell mobility. Products based on this architecture are currently in development.

The third option, using pico-cells connected to a RNC, is another way to do soft handover between small cells. This architecture is often offered by macro cellular infrastructure suppliers, who are able to scale down their macro NodeBs and reuse existing RNCs. It can be attractive if an operator requires a small number of small cells, but in the case of high-density deployments, the cost of RNC ports can add up. Further, this architecture does place very stringent requirements on backhaul, and it unclear how SON functionality will be implemented.

In the fourth architecture, all small cells in a building are connected to a small local controller over Ethernet. This controller is responsible for managing mobility, interference and SON. It aggregates all the traffic and connects to a HNB gateway as a single HNB would using standard Iuh signaling. All inter-small cell mobility events stay inside the building, and do not load the backhaul link or the HNB gateway. The local controller acts as the master-clock and synchronizes all the small cells, eliminating the need for expensive oscillators in every small cell. If an operator wants to offload data traffic locally or integrate with enterprise applications, it can do so using the local controller. Some operators are working on enterprise applications that use the network intelligence that can be accessed at the local controller.

SpiderCloud’s 3G small cell solution is based on the fourth architecture. Operators have used it to deploy as many as 65 small cells in a 16-story office building, with thousands of subscribers and hundreds of thousands of inter-small cell handovers daily and the technology is now ready to provide coverage, capacity and new applications in even larger buildings.

This blog was based on a speech by Jain at the LTE LATAM 2013 conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 16, 2013. Jain joined SpiderCloud in September 2011. Prior to SpiderCloud, he was vice president of marketing, sales and service for Airvana’s CDMA femtocell business. During his 10 years at Airvana, which included the company’s inception,  Jain held several leadership roles in marketing, business development and sales for 3G EVDO macro cellular products and femtocells. Prior to Airvana, Jain held both technical and business positions at Qualcomm, Ericsson, and McKinsey & Company. He holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, an MS in Electrical Engineering from University of California at Irvine, and a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. www.spidercloud.com/