December 11, 2014 — SpiderCloud Wireless ended the year with a bang, announcing that it has begun working with Verizon Wireless to supply scalable small cells for the in-building wireless needs of business customers.
“It is a sign that Verizon Wireless is getting behind small cells,” said Ronny Haraldsvik, SpiderCloud Wireless CMO. “This is another large operator that recognizes that the enterprise is a very important space.”
SpiderCloud Wireless’ small cell system has been in commercial use for three years by companies such as Vodafone UK and Vodafone Netherlands.
The E-RAN system can be installed in just days using an enterprise Ethernet local area network (LAN) as a managed service by a mobile operator’s network. The speed of deployment and lower cost of small cell systems is having an effect on DAS deployments, according to Haraldsvik.
“Anyone who can deploy Wi-Fi can implement our small cell system,” he said. “The uptake of small cells has forced DAS vendors to make deployment of their systems simpler and more affordable. There is a lot of room for DAS as they bring the price point down and make it easier to deploy.”
SpiderCloud has a portfolio of Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) Radio Nodes operating in 3G (single band), and software upgradeable, dual-band 3G+4G and 4G+4G small cells as part of the system.
“Verizon Wireless is the first carrier to use the SCRN-310 radio node in a 4G+4G configuration, and the radios are software upgradeable to provide carrier aggregation, which speaks to its commitment to the LTE rollout and increased capacity,” Haraldsvik said.
While the hype around small cells continues unabated, there is one knock on the new technology. Experts say there is no neutral-host solution, but Haraldsvik isn’t buying the common wisdom. Single-carrier small cell system deployments give the operator a competitive coverage advantage and a speed-to-market advantage.
“It is a silly assertion that small cells can’t be neutral host facilities,” he said. “The reason that small cells have taken so much interest from carriers is that they do not have to share infrastructure with other operators, which is what holds back a lot of DAS deployments.
“If a carrier needs capacity in a certain area, they can deploy the smalls in about a week, as opposed to waiting for all the operators to certify a solution,” he added.
Small Cells at Home in Enterprises
A majority of the 40,000 small cells promised by AT&T by 2015 are being deployed indoors in public venues and other enterprises. The reason? The need for backhaul and power, as well as interference concerns.
One example of the importance of backhaul is Crown Castle’s September purchase of 24/7 Mid-Atlantic Network, which owns 900 route miles of fiber in the Baltimore/Washington corridor. Crown had just won an RFP from Verizon Wireless to deploy a small cell network in that area.
Zayo Group raised $400 million in an initial public offering partially based on the promise of using its 81,000 route miles of dense metro and intercity fiber assets to provide backhaul for small cells.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Link and AGL Small Cell Link newsletters.
Panelists described small cells as anything and everything that is smaller than a macrosite, and agreed that further definition was needed as well as a greater understanding of the deployment complexities, during “Small Cells…Big Deal,” a panel at the AGL Conference, March 20, in Nashville.
“The challenge is defining exactly what is a small cell and how do you put it into a box so everybody understands it,” Seth Jones, Sprint senior manager, network engineering, said. “It is not quite baked yet. We are looking for further guidance from PCIA concerning the definition. It has an impact on zoning laws and how regulators look at what you are trying to deploy.”
At the Gaylord Opryland Resort, panelists from three major carriers — AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint — and an equipment manufacturer, SpiderCloud, discussed how multi-band, multi-protocol small cells are a necessity for carriers, because they are constantly worried about exhausting their spectrum.
“We have to innovate very aggressively to make sure we have the tools to keep up the capacity offload systems, which demand multi-band, multi-protocol small cells,” Jones said.
Small cells have evolved from consumer to IT-grade enterprise technology, similar to the evolution of Wi-Fi 15 years ago, according to Russell Agle, director of business development, SpiderCloud Wireless.
“Femtocells are akin to the consumer Wi-Fi market, good for residential use, but when you get to the dense, indoor deployments, particularly for enterprises, a separate architecture is needed,” Agle said.
Jones said that increasing spectral efficiency through macrocell splitting is simply not enough to keep up with the pace of today’s data traffic.
“As carriers begin to talk almost casually about terabytes and petabytes of information, we cannot rely only on macrocells to provide all of our users with a great level of service,” Jones said. “We have to find another ways. We have to keep distributing the network and get smaller and smaller and smaller.”
Another challenge that the wireless industry faces is getting people to realize that small cells are not lick-it and stick-it technology.
“The early intoxicating idea was that all it took to deploy a small cell was to stick it on a wall and plug it in, and it would be fully integrated and self-discovered,” Jones said. “These technologies take a lot of integration work, a lot of network optimization.”
Panelists described smalls as being at the base of the “growth hockey stick.” In the next three years, carriers will deploy a huge number of metrocells, microcells, picocells, which will provide ample opportunities for the industry as a majority of that work will be outsourced, according to Melissa Ashurst, area business development manager, AT&T Antenna Services Group.
“AT&T is working with partners to design and deploy small cells,” Ashurst said. “It is not something just anyone can do.”
OPINION by Art King, SpiderCloud Wireless, Director of Enterprise Services & Technologies
When the partner of a mobile operator or business representative shows up with a cellular bolt-on module to attach to the existing Wi-Fi access points, to make life better for all mobile devices operating indoors, it may sound like a win-win proposition.
But, for enterprise IT professionals who have been exposed to the challenges of indoor cellular, easy is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. If the Wi-Fi network is a scalable WLAN with controllers and access points, how can 3G simply be strapped on without consideration for security, scaling and interference issues? As the saying goes, “they don’t know, what they don’t know.” There are hidden challenges.
Before we discuss the challenges, keep in mind this snapshot of IT inside the enterprise:
Enterprise IT networking is overwhelmingly complex with pressure to “do more with less” and increased workloads.
Capital budgets are not keeping up with infrastructure refresh demands.
IT often ends up doing bare-bones technology implementation of new projects.
IT is burdened with management and operations of an array of software and hardware, all of different vintages, and supplied by various vendors.
IT has to deal with staff acquisition, training and retention in intense competition with other enterprises.
There is constant pressure on security and the integrity of the enterprise network.
Enterprise IT Bolt-on Concerns, Challenges
Operator Trust Relationship:
It starts with trust. Because the bolt-on cellular coverage and capacity network must be integrated into the live Wi-Fi infrastructure, the enterprise must trust that the business partner/mobile operator has the expertise and capability to build and support the implementation. Can an enterprise IT leader stake his or her career on the business partner/mobile operator with a bolt-on deployed inside the perimeter? If a trusted relationship with enterprise IT has not been established, the bolt-on should not be considered by IT.
Capital Planning and Budgeting:
The bolt-on cellular module requires an access point that can host the bolt-on and PoE+ capable Ethernet switches. If the required hosting AP and PoE+ are not widely deployed, this presents a hidden capital problem. For the enterprises that want to implement the bolt-on on a large scale, they will need to replace older APs, possibly the WLAN controller and Ethernet switching. If the bolt-on cellular network is competing in a tight capital environment, it could take 18-24 months to get the funding and implement the basic foundation to connect and enable the bolt-on to be installed into the access points. To further complicate the approach, writing off equipment in the middle of its life has dire consequences for future budget requests. Enterprises are accustomed to a five-to-eight year depreciation and replacement cycle. Shortening the life of already invested equipment has budget and career implications.
Because each bolt-on” cellular module is attached to production network equipment, will the mobile operator indemnify the enterprise for breach of network security, should a device sniff live network traffic? And, will the mobile operator ask the enterprise to indemnify them from any damage caused by a breach using the IT network that may impact the enterprise network?
Context: SpiderCloud Wireless has deployed separately from the enterprise’s production data network in a VLAN and used third party audit of the architecture conducted to provide external assurance of integrity to the enterprise.
Operations Management, Ownership, and SLA:
In a mixed ownership model (where the WLAN is managed by enterprise IT and the cellular bolt-on is managed by the operator), day-to-day operations and SLAs need to be clearly defined. A mobile operator’s SLA can be impacted by actions of the network engineers in the enterprise. For accounts where IT procurement determines SLA agreements without enterprise network operations, the operation’s responsibility gap for the bolt-on cellular network inside the enterprise’s premise could impact long-term operations. This is about trust, and clearly defined lines of operations and responsibilities.
Information Security Acceptance:
If a cellular bolt-on module or network is deployed behind the firewall of an enterprise, there are a plethora of systems integration and operations hurdles to consider. Even if the WLAN network is owned and operated by the mobile operator, the customer will have to accept that all of the mobile operators’ subscribers may attach to the system on the same network with enterprise data. This is simply unacceptable to information security policies of military, government, financial and other security conscious entities. Where enterprise IT demands a physical separation, a bolt-on will most likely be eliminated from consideration.
A bolt-on cellular network approach is deeply intermingled with the customer’s existing deployed architecture. To take it into service will require edge-to-edge reconfiguration/replacement of Wi-Fi access points, the Ethernet switches, and possibly other components. This implies a significant amount of project management, IP network engineering staff resources, planning and after hours implementation work to prepare:
Access points each need to be taken down to install the bolt-on (considering that the existing access point can indeed power a strap on module in the first place)
Most likely, all older access points will require a new AP replacement. The financial ramifications are substantial to the enterprise and/or mobile operator.
Access Point Location Mis-match:
Protocols such as 802.11A, G, N, AC, AD and future types each have their own propagation characteristics for RF. Power outputs and frequencies are different between Wi-Fi types and the variety of bands available in the mobile operator’s licensed spectrum. The site survey process to add a bolt-on cellular module or network to existing APs/WLAN is more complex than doing a Greenfield installation of integrated Wi-Fi/Cellular small cells because the existing AP locations become a major factor for installation. The bolt-on could require substantial additional expense in cabling due to the shuffling of access points to meet cellular needs – causing disturbance of coverage patterns that the enterprise’s Wi-Fi users have become accustomed to. In summary, re-locating access points can quickly make the business case go negative for all parties involved.
Software Release Compatibility:
For a given mix of enterprise hardware and feature requirements, there may be only one release of operating system software that supports a particular enterprise’s mix of Wi-Fi operating requirements. This is a “hidden in plain sight” fact that senior network engineers are well acquainted with, which can influence infrastructure evolution. Another factor to consider is that most enterprise LAN configurations are unique to the enterprise. With this in mind, operating system revisions needed to support the bolt-on must be regression tested and qualified against the present usage. If the tests show a negative impact on the enterprise Wi-Fi operating environment, a cellular bolt-on will not be accepted for use. Where software intersects, plan for the unexpected conflicts.
This is similar to software compatibility, but may require replacement or re-flashing of the access points. Replacement is a physical activity that would become the path to installing a bolt-on onto the access points. Regression testing and multi-access dependencies as outlined in software compatibility, apply here also. Where hardware intersects, plan for the unexpected conflicts.
Options for Multi-Access RAN Synergies
Will a bolt-on cellular network enable future capabilities and services of the merged 3G + Wi-Fi network? Can the bolt-on cellular modules use the existing AP as a source of power and transport access? If the direction of a bolt-on cellular network is ‘a’ with no possibility for future services, perhaps the operational complexity of adding it to the existing APs might have little incremental value, but carry a lot of overhead in the life of the installation. In summary: If the bolt-on only uses the access point for power and transport, stop and think about future ramifications.
So what about Return on Investment (ROI)?
At first, the bolt-on proposition is compelling. It is positioned as an easy way to leverage the massive investments that enterprises have made in Wi-Fi. The low amount of access points in production networks today that can actually support a “bolt-on” module are few. Therefore, is the real driver for this technology not so much a “bolt-on” cellular module for cellular coverage, but rather the replacement of older Wi-Fi equipment installed in enterprises?
Peeling back the layers of the onion reveals complex enterprise issues that most mobile operators are not geared up to address. Holistically, Wi-Fi is a potential enterprise revenue generating opportunity. A bolt-on cellular network to Wi-Fi network is only a limited indoor coverage and capacity solution for small businesses. If the mobile operator is seeking to resolve indoor coverage and capacity for larger enterprises, the systems and operations integration and RF hurdles may quickly kill the business case. The integration hurdles for a bolt-on implementation for medium to larger enterprises requires careful lifecycle cost analysis.
Will a bolt-on go-to-market strategy fail because every customer that wants it will have to enter a capital budget cycle to get refresh funding for its existing WLAN? What about scaling and interference issues for the cellular “bolt-on” modules? How will that be handled? SpiderCloud Wireless has already covered these issues in this network architecture paper.
A Safer, More Scalable Option for Medium to Larger Enterprises
A complimentary LAN-RAN strategy has few of the complex engineering, technology, and operational dependencies that we believe will be a barrier to success of overlaying a cellular-to-Wi-Fi bolt-on architecture on top an enterprise’s incumbent Wi-Fi infrastructure.
SpiderCloud E-RAN enabled mobile operators can offer their customers a flexible cellular solution that can be loosely coupled to customers LAN via an isolated private VLAN (see “Using VLAN’s in Network Design” by Nexus). The other option is a physically isolated network from the enterprise LAN infrastructure using a separate Ethernet LAN. With deployment costs lower and implementation agility far higher, a SpiderCloud Wireless E-RAN architecture is IT friendly, solves the coverage and capacity problems and has a seamless path to future opex services.
A bolt-on module may save a cable installation charge per access point for a small business deployment, but introduces a new family of unknown expenses and issues. A strap on cellular module or network is not suitable for medium to large enterprise networks.
Therefore, a cellular bolt-on proposal should come with an enterprise IT health warning. “Use of a bolt-on may have unforeseen consequences to your network, and may be unsafe to your IT career.”
But, what do I know? I was only responsible for a global brand’s enterprise IT mobility and wireless issues for 10 years – now working to help educate mobile operators and enterprise IT, as we all go mobile.
Visit our Enterprise IT site http://SpiderCloud.com/EInsider
— 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:
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/