Ballyhooed by some, feared by others (DAS providers) and a source of confusion for most, small cells continue to move from concept to reality, allowing carriers to fill in dead spots, beef up congested areas and provide coverage for enterprises.
During the second half of 2013, Verizon Wireless will begin deploying small cells in its LTE network, which totals 497 markets, using access points from network vendors Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson.
“As part of an overall 4G LTE network, [small cells] help deliver the quality, reliability, footprint and capacity to accommodate new applications, the burgeoning use of video and the popularity of smartphones and tablets with larger screens and sharper images,” according to a Verizon Wireless blog.
More than 200 LTE small cells will be deployed in the next six months to enhance localized capacity and coverage in business districts and shopping malls, wherever there is concentrated traffic. Because they are only the size of a mini refrigerator, small cells can be deployed on lampposts, utility poles and building walls.
“Like macro cells, they must be connected to the core wireless network and may pose operational challenges ranging from site acquisition and leasing to regulation and permitting by local authorities. While not a panacea, they are a valuable addition to a 4G LTE network, part of a balanced network strategy,” according to a Verizon press release.
Ericsson will be providing its micro remote radio unit small cells (RRUS) for Verizon’s LTE network, which can be easily integrated into the overall network because it works with any baseband unit as part of the RBS 6000 product line. It is the first commercial deployment of Ericsson’s micro RRUS.
Later this year, Ericsson will also provide Verizon with the micro RBS 6501, which is a multi-standard base station supporting 3GPP 37.104 and provides local-area and medium-range coverage in a heterogeneous network environment. The micro RBS delivers high-capacity coverage in a small form factor.
Small Cells Already Seeing Action for AT&T
AT&T has been rolling out HSPA+ small cells since the beginning of this year as part of its Velocity IP program and is planning to deploy a multi-technology (UMTS, LTE and Wi-Fi) version of the small cell in 2014. Jim Parker, AT&T spokesman, told DAS Bulletin that small cells would complement DAS deployments.
“It is interesting to see where small cells play,” Parker said. “In vertical markets where they demand neutral host access points, such as airports, shopping centers, major hotels, that is where DAS still has a play. This is not the death knell for DAS.”
Small cells will be deployed in distinct verticals where there is an unmet need and DAS is not a cost-effective solution, such as the enterprise, where it is easy to install the access points above ceilings and to use the company’s backbone to backhaul the signal, Parker said.
“We are really going after the enterprise market and other public venues, such as smaller hotels,” he said.
AT&T is deploying small cells outdoors where they have a need for additional capacity. To gain real time on where the network is suffering from congestion, the carrier uses feedback directly from its phones, which record the location of a dropped or blocked call and then transmit it back to the carrier.
“I can pull up a map of the United States on a computer that shows all the cell towers and, in real time, check to see which towers are under a heavy load,” he said. “Using these diagnostics, we are able to develop a strategy for small cell deployment.”