This article originally ran in Network Builder Reports.
Verizon says its CBRS small cells will be smaller and lighter than those it has deployed in other spectrum bands. The carrier plans to supplement its outdoor small cell network with CBRS small cells, and says the new equipment may be easier to permit and install than existing hardware.
Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is expected to launch later this year, when the Federal Communications Commission allows wireless network operators to transmit in the spectrum bands between 3550 and 3700 GHz. Operators will be able to use part of this spectrum without paying for a license, but they will have to pay for software that assigns frequency bands and prevents interference.
Verizon says its first use of this spectrum will be to offload network traffic from other spectrum bands. For that it will need outdoor CBRS small cells, and smartphones that can send and receive in the CBRS bands.
Bill Stone, Verizon’s VP for technology development and planning, described the CBRS small cells that Verizon is testing as “a good product for mounting and concealing on poles.” He said he never likes to underestimate the challenges of site acquisition, but he is encouraged by the fact that the CBRS small cells are more compact and less powerful than the small cells Verizon is deploying for lower spectrum bands. Equipment size, weight and power output are usually important to the jurisdictions that issue permits to companies that deploy wireless access points in public spaces.
Stone said the CBRS small cells will include the radio and antenna in one form factor. The baseband processor can also be integrated into the same hardware, but Stone said that he expects most deployments to use a separate baseband unit. He said the BBU can be mounted at the base of a pole or tower, or even further away.
Verizon has not yet released pictures of the new small cells, but it has been testing outdoor small cells made by both Ericsson and Nokia.
Nokia’s FlexiZone multiband outdoor base transceiver station is currently part of Verizon’s CBRS tests in Irving, Texas. The BTS pairs with Nokia’s TD-LTE CBRS RF module, which has a maximum RF power output of 4 watts (2 watts at each transmit port output.)
At the same site, Ericsson is testing a system that aggregates its outdoor and indoor CBRS small cells. The solution uses 4×4 multiple-input, multiple-output antenna elements and 4×20 megahertz carrier aggregation.
Stone said the first deployments are likely to be in areas with relatively high network traffic. He said the network will be capable of moving smartphones onto the CBRS spectrum when they come within range of the small cells, if the phones include CBRS modems.
The CBRS small cells won’t be able to help the network much until a significant number of people upgrade to smartphones that have CBRS modems. Verizon has said it will add these phones to its line-up this year, but hasn’t said which phones those will be.
“3.5 GHz CBRS: Disrupting the Disruptive Spectrum” is a report available through Network Builder Reports that profiles more than 30 CBRS vendors and projects installed CBRS nodes through 2022. It also explains spectrum sharing, mobile network architecture, and CBRS business models. CLICK HERE to order a copy.
Martha DeGrasse is the Publisher of Network Builder Reports. She has worked in business news media for 16 years, most recently as an editor for RCR Wireless News. She is the author of 20 in-depth reports and 2,500 articles on telecom companies and wireless technologies. Follower her on Twitter : @mardegrasse
March 24, 2016 — Hardware with 5G-like specs is showing up in the prototype stages much faster now. SK Telecom and Nokia Networks have collaborated on a network test claiming OTA transmission speeds of 20+ Gbps. The results are claimed to be in the specs of emerging “5G” performance requirements.
There are other field trial tests that have reached speeds of 25 Gbps as well.
In addition to Nokia’s collaboration previously mentioned, Nokia says it has run 5G on commercially available base stations, showcasing its “5G-ready” AirScale equipment, which it says can enable operators to migrate their existing LTE infrastructure to early 5G services in 2017, with full 5G commercial services expected in 2020.
Nokia has what it calls a “pre-commercial” radio system running in the 28 and 73 GHz bands that is providing fixed wireless broadband service. Link speeds of multiple Gbps, in a real-world environment, with a spectral bandwidth of 1 gigahertz and 1 millisecond one-way air interface latency are claimed.
July 16, 2015 — Another day, another drone application. In this one, Nokia Networks has employed drones carrying smartphones to analyze the wireless network at Dubai International Stadium. The drones gathered network data and provided key performance indicators at the stadium, which seats 25,000, and were also used for tower inspections, radio planning and line-of-sight testing between radio towers.
With automated testing, drones can cover the desired area more quickly than a manual test. Additionally, the test data is sent to a server at Nokia Networks’ Global Delivery Center so that it can be processed and reported to the engineers in the field, who then improve network performance in a timely fashion.
Drones can be used for tower inspections to reduce the number of times technicians need to climb a tower, which increases safety, but sky-high expectations of drones should be tempered a bit, according to Todd Schlekeway, executive director, National Association of Tower Erectors.
“Drones are never going to have the skillset to perform the sophisticated, demanding work done by tower climbers,” Schlekeway told AGL Link. “Installing remote radio heads needed for 4G is really sophisticated work, and we don’t even know what 5G looks like yet.”
Nevertheless, in short order, the role of drones has expanded. They were also used for radio planning and line of-sight testing in Dubai. The INSPIRE1 drone was used for network optimization at the stadium, and Microdrones md4-1000 was used for tower inspection, LoS and radio site planning.
“The engineers knew if a frequency used was impacted by trees, if there was sufficient power to cover the distance, what the simulated latency would look like and what performance over such a connection could be expected. This helped achieve optimal site design, establish a clear LoS, as well as suitable antenna height and site location,” said Marwan BinShakar, vice president, Mobile Access Network & Operations at du, in a press release.
One sign that drones are here to stay in the tower industry is that several companies in the drone space have become members of NATE.
U.S. Convenes Meetings to Discuss Drones
Meanwhile, the United States must establish new regulations for drone use. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is holding several meetings to discuss privacy, transparency and accountability issues regarding commercial and private use of unmanned aircraft systems. The meetings will be held on Aug. 3, Sept. 24, Oct. 21 and Nov. 20 in the boardroom at the American Institute of Architects, 1735 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006.
May 1, 2015 — For small cells to become a bona fide option in the coverage toolkit, the capacity of the individual small cells must be increased to rival their macrocells, Amit Mehrotra, sales engagement lead for UDN Services, Nokia, said during the Mobile Network Densification panel on April 29, the second day of sessions at the Wireless Infrastructure Show in Hollywood, Florida.
“DAS is a great densification strategy when you want a neutral-host facility, but there is a huge need for developing small, fully contained mini-macrocells,” Mehrotra said.
The small cell solutions so far have served a limited number of users so they offer less utility. The next generation of small cell technology will do everything that a macrocell does but in a much smaller form factor than even the current small cells, according to Mehrotra.
Nokia Networks recently showcased a high-capacity small cell solution to increase China Mobile’s macrocellular network capacity at a three-day international sports event in Shanghai. Using macro software parity and Nokia Smart Scheduler, each Flexi Zone TD-LTE small cell managed the wireless data for up to 600 simultaneous active TD-LTE users.
During the peak period of activity, the system handled wireless data traffic generated by 49,000 subscribers, with more than half of the traffic carried by small cells.
“We are talking about coming out with a small cell that will do exactly the same capacity as a macrocell,” Mehrotra said. “You want the small cell to do VoLTE, MIMO and carry the same amount of users that you are used to with macrocells. If you are going to deploy a small cell in Times Square, you want it that will cover more than half the people in a Starbuck’s. In that sense, we are beginning to see the technology catch up with macrocells very quickly.”
Small Cell Deployments Evolving
It will take time before this next generation of small cells, known as macro-parity, goes to market, according to Mehrotra, but it will change the way carriers look at the enterprise market.
“When you have an access point the size of a Wi-Fi node that takes care of your cellular needs for 600 people [inside a convention center], it is a completely different type of deployment,” he said. “Enterprises are a huge target segment in this area. Some of the operators are not quite there yet. They are not looking inside of the buildings yet in this type of coordinated, focused way.”
Verizon and AT&T are moving away the strategy that requires a massive coast-to-coast rollout of small cells, according to Mehrotra, in favor of an approach that uses targeted surgical deployments.
“That’s a 180-degree turnaround from, for example, trying to sign a lease with every Hilton property to deploy DAS,” he said. “Even if I have a master service agreement Hilton, every hotel is managed differently, so I still have the same hurdles and maybe I don’t want to use DAS everywhere, all the time.”
March 12, 2015 — Before we get small cells that blend Wi-Fi and cellular into a unified solution, the intermediate step will be to physically integrate Wi-Fi equipment into cellular base stations. At the Mobile World Congress, Ruckus Wireless announced that it has been working with Nokia Networks to integrate its 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology into selected Flexi Zone products to address the demand for cellular base stations that provide Wi-Fi data offload.
Purpose-built small cells with Wi-Fi provide carriers with flexible, cost-effective solutions to ease this pressure on their existing infrastructures serving high-traffic stationary areas and indoor deployments, according to Greg Beach, vice president of Product Management at Ruckus Wireless.
“While operators continue to embrace the licensed spectrum to address ballooning traffic demands, it’s clear that integrating carrier-class Wi-Fi into Small cells is a smart, forward-thinking approach to addressing this challenge, even in the most advanced cellular networks,” Beach said.
The combined Ruckus/Nokia Networks Small cell solution will be commercially available in the first half of 2015 from Nokia Networks.
Ruckus has experience integrating Wi-Fi with small cells, working with Alcatel Lucent in a system deployed by O2 a couple of years ago. The small form factor was developed to give local municipalities a system that would pass zoning regulations.
In preparation for the London Olympics in 2012, the 02 wireless network was deployed on street lamps and using a Ruckus 8800 wireless AP, which integrated 3G/4G, Wi-Fi and backhaul into a single, small-form factor. A Ruckus 7762 unit provided backhaul, and a 5 GHz Wi-Fi mesh was used to link each node.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Link and AGL Small Cell Link.