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Return Of Small Cells: An Evolution Path for HetNets

24 Feb



The Return of the Small Cell

10 Feb

Not a long time ago, in a galaxy not far away – in fact this one – small cells made their first appearance on the scene. In a 3G network, small cells were primarily used for in building coverage where it was needed. It was an important role, but not a glamorous one.

So what awakening in the force is calling for a return of the small cells now? First, the demand for mobile data took over the world, leaving operators with overloaded networks and scrambling to add both coverage and capacity. Rolling out LTE networks for mobile traffic was the first step, but these networks are already being strained.

Strategy Analytics predicted in its report, Mobile Data Traffic Forecasts 2014-2018,that by 2018 mobile networks will carry 56.2 Exabytes of data, up from 21.3 Exabytes of mobile data traffic in 2014. This growth in traffic is being driven by both strong performance on 4G/LTE networks and rapid growth in smartphone data subscriptions, with future growth driven by tablets, consumer electronics and M2M devices contributing to a larger share of the total data traffic.

There are a number of ways that operators can add capacity to their networks, including acquiring new spectrum, which leads us to our second point – LTE spectrum is both scarce and expensive. Mobile operators are turning to a Heterogeneous Network model – or HetNet – to maximize their spectrum. A HetNet is composed of a combination of macrocells, Wi-Fi, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and small cells. By using a layered network model with deployed small cells, mobile operators not only address coverage concerns between macrocells and in indoor environments, they can also add much needed capacity to the network and improve the overall end user experience.

Provisioning Small Cells

The addition of small cells to the mobile network adds complexity when it comes to RF network planning as compared to a macrocell-only network; therefore, efficient and autonomous coordination between macrocells and small cells is key. Self-organizing Networks (SON) techniques provide the real-time self-configuration, self-optimization and self-healing capabilities that are becoming mandatory features for the HetNet to work as a cohesive network. SON offers the promise of reducing costs in initial rollouts, enabling more effective coordination of time and frequency resources, providing dynamic interference management, and adapting to changing network conditions.

Interference Management and Carrier Aggregation

Mobile operators are deploying LTE-Advanced capabilities such as carrier aggregation and interference management techniques to make their networks even more efficient. Here again, small cells remain critical to operators’ overall strategy as they provide additional capacity in dense indoor environments where a majority of data traffic will be generated.

In a HetNet scenario combining small cells with Wi-Fi and macrocells, mobile operators are rolling out a number of interference management techniques to ensure the network is optimized for capacity and coverage.

  • Enhanced Inter-cell Interference Coordination (eICIC) works as the interference manager for small cells as part of a HetNet. It uses advanced time domain scheduling to reduce radio interference and increase the coordination between network cells to ensure a streamlined flow of information.
  • Multiple Input and Multiple Output (MIMO) is an approach which serves to increase efficiency across the spectrum by leveraging smart antenna technology that analyzes how base stations, antennas and user equipment communicate.
  • Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) is a technique that ensures that even greater performance is achieved at the edge of the network, by increasing coordination between small cells, and between small cells and macro cells.
  • Relay Nodes are low-power base stations that reduce the site-to-site distance in the macro network. They were added to the LTE Release 10 specification.

Mobile operators are currently focused primarily on deploying eICIC and MIMO. Relay nodes add additional complexity to the network and will be rolled out at a later date.

Carrier aggregation aggregates mobile operators’ 3G spectrum freed up by LTE roll-outs along with LTE and LTE-Advanced spectrum to add increased throughput to the network. The scarcity of spectrum has led to faster adoption of carrier aggregation by mobile operators as compared to other LTE-Advanced capabilities. Carrier aggregation is also being used for both LTE-FDD and LTE-TDD modes, allowing mobile operators with both network assets to adopt the technology to gain even more performance.

Carrier Aggregation and LTE-Unlicensed

One of the biggest innovations in driving the return of the small cells is LTE-Unlicensed technology, also known as LTE-LAA (LTE-License Assisted Access). Mobile operators are beginning to aggregate unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band with their available licensed spectrum to add even more bandwidth.

As LTE-LAA is an extension of LTE-Advanced and is based on carrier aggregation, it’s no surprise that small cells remain central to its deployment. Leveraging small cells for LTE-LAA provides a localized approach to carrier aggregation that helps mobile operators co-exist with the Wi-Fi community, while being able to further maximize their spectrum to increase capacity and coverage and ease network strain. Small cells are also suited to deployment in the LTE-LAA 5 GHz band as they are better suited to the band’s low power requirements as opposed to macrocells.

LTE-LAA is expected to be fully standardized in 3GPP Release 13, currently planned to be finalized in 2016.

Breaking Down the Numbers

Dell’Oro Group has forecast that small cell RAN revenues will account for 16% of the total RAN market by 2020. According to Pongratz, “the indoor enterprise/public access market improved significantly in 2015, though outdoor revenues still account for the greatest portion of revenue. We expect the indoor segment to grow at a quicker pace and expect the revenue split between indoor and outdoor to be closer to 50/50 by 2020.” And 5G small cells will account for close to 5% of the small cell market by 2020.

Deployments Around the World

A large proportion of the world’s small cells have been deployed in Asia Pacific in Korea and Japan, with volumes picking up in China and India. In dense environments, mobile operators are deploying enterprise and residential small cells in indoor venues to add capacity locally, with the potential for a 1-to-4 ratio of macrocells to small cells.

Outdoor picocells will most likely leverage a Cloud-RAN architecture and will roll out in 2017. Cloud-RAN deployments are now out of the proof of concept stage and are currently in trials. These cloud-based access points, which are also known as virtual base stations or C-RANs, will form the base of a 5G network architecture. They will handle not only the voice and data traffic for consumers, but will also support the M2M and IoT applications that form the ‘connected network’ of the future.

The majority of small cells will be multi-mode, supporting both LTE and Wi-Fi in the 5GHz band, allowing operators to take advantage of cost savings due to leveraging unlicensed spectrum. By supporting the 5GHz band, mobile operators can also deploy LTE-LAA on the same small cell.

Critical Lessons Learned

Each small cell deployment is unique – and what happens in the lab is never replicated exactly in the field. In addition, we learned that focusing on data speeds in trials wasn’t enough. In real-world deployments, it’s more important to make sure that the small cells gel with the network from all angles and not just provide the required data speeds.

Mobile operators also need to plan for more than just mitigating interference between small cells and macrocells. They also need to mitigate issues associated with small cell placement and acquiring the necessary real estate. This needs to happen early in the planning process to ensure a smooth roll-out.

Small cells have returned in a big way. From a role of just filling coverage gaps in 3G networks, small cells now form a major part of mobile operators’ strategy as they contend with exploding mobile data traffic on their networks and chart their path towards 5G. It’s all about adding capacity efficiently and economically. Now that the small cell force has awakened, we can’t wait for the next sequel.




5G networks will be enabled by software-defined cognitive radios

6 Feb

Earlier this week, Texas Instruments announced two new SoCs (System-on-Chips) for the small-cell base-station market, adding an ARM A8 core while scaling down the architecture of the TCI6618, which they had announced for the high-end base-station market at MWC (Mobile World Congress).

Mindspeed had also announced a new heterogeneous multicore base-station SoC for picocells at MWC, the Transcede 4000, which has two embedded ARM Cortex A9s – one dual and one quad core. Jim Johnston, LTE expert and Mindspeed’s CTO, reviewed the hardware and software architectures of the Transcede design at the Linley Tech Carrier Conference earlier this month. Johnston began his presentation by describing how network evolution, to 4G all-IP (internet protocol) architectures, has driven a move towards heterogeneous networks with a mix of macrocells, microcells, picocells and femtocells. This, in turn, has driven the need for new SoC hardware and software architectures.

Cognitive radios will be enable spectrum re-use
in both the frequency and time domains. (source – Mindspeed)

While 4G networks are still just emerging, Johnston went on to boldly describe the attributes of future 5G networks – self-organizing architectures enabled by software-defined cognitive radios. Service providers don’t like the multiple frequency bands that make up today’s networks, he said, because there are too many frequencies dedicated to too many different things. As he described it,  5G will be based on spectrum sharing, a change from separate spectrum assignments with a variety of fixed radios, to software-defined selectable radios with selectable spectrum avoidance.

Software-defined cognitive radios will enable dynamic spectrum sharing,
including the use of “white spaces” (source Mindspeed)

Touching on the topic of “white spaces“, Johnston said that the next step will involve moving to dynamic intelligent spectral avoidance, what he called “The Holy Grail”, with the ability to re-use spectrum across both frequency and time domains, and to dynamically avoid interference.

Mindspeed’s Transcede 4000 contains 10 MAP cores, 10 CEVA x1641 DSP cores, and 6 ARM A9 cores, in a 40nm 800M transistor SoC (source Mindspeed)
Moving to the topic of silicon evolution, Johnston said that to realize a reconfigurable radio, chip architects need to take a deeper look at what needs to be done in the protocol stack, and build more highly optimized SoCs.  For Mindspeed, this has meant evolving data path processing from scalar to vector processing, and now to 1024b SIMD (single-instruction, multiple-date) matrix processing.

At the same time, Mindspeed’s control plane processing is evolving from ARM-11 single issue instruction-level parallelism, to ARM-9 dual issue quad-core SMP (symmetrical multi-processing), to ARM Cortex-A15 3-issue quad core.  SoC-level parallelism has evolved from multicore, to clusters of multicores, to networked clusters, all on a single 800M transistor 40nm SoC that integrates a total of 26 cores.

The Transcede 4000 contains 10 MAP (Mindspeed application processors) cores, 10 CEVA x1641 DSP cores, and the 6 ARM A9 cores – in dual and quad configurations.  Designers can use the Transcede on-chip network to scale up to networks of multiple SoCs,  in order to construct larger base-stations. How far apart you can place the SoCs depends on what type of I/O (input-output) transceivers you use. With optical fiber transceivers, the multicore processors can be kilometers apart (see Will 4G wireless networks move basestations to the cloud? ) to share resources for optimization across the network. The dual core ARM-A9 processor in the Transcede 4000 has an embedded real time dispatcher that assigns tasks to the chip’s 10 SPUs (signal processing units), which consist of the combination of a CEVA X1641 DSP and MAP core.  To build a base-station with multiple Transcedes, designers can assign one device’s dual core as the master dispatcher to manage the other networked processors.

The evolution of software complexity is also a challenge, with complexity increasing 200X from the less than 10,000 lines of code in the days of dial-up modems, to 20M lines of code to perform 4G LTE baseband functions. Software engineers must support multiple legacy 2G and 3G standards in  4G eNodeB base-stations, in order to enable migration and multi-mode hardware re-use. Since the C-programming language does not directly support parallelism, Mindspeed takes the C-threads and decomposes them to fit within the multicore architecture, says Johnston.


Opensource Small Cells for the lab and unserved rural communities

30 Jan

 What exactly is Opensource?

The Opensource concept has been highly successful in many areas of software. This website, as do the majority of the web, runs on MySQL and Linux – both developed by volunteers from around the world. Source code is published and can be used by anyone, on the basis that any improvements made are also shared with the community. Most of the successful projects have a commercial business co-ordinator that is funded by providing support and/or more robust/complete for those organisations that want to pay for it. Well supported crowd-sourced developments can achieve high levels of functionality, security and maturity because they’ve been stretched, scrutinised and tested in many different ways. Smaller projects that haven’t attracted critical mass can fall by the wayside leaving poor quality or incomplete designs.

Opensource also applies to other fields, and includes hardware, media (photos, videos etc.). Popular opensource licence agreements, such as GNU and Creative Commons encourage sharing by making it clear what the author intends.

This doesn’t avoid the issue of patents and Intellectual Property Rights – there are many involved in all aspects of mobile networks, embedded in the standards. Many of the original GSM patents have expired since the system was originally developed more than 20 years ago. Others still apply.

Opensource for Mobile

There are several Opensource projects working towards a complete mobile network, including both the hardware and software, compatible with today’s standard mobile phones.

OpenBTS is the most successful, with quite a mature and stable solution for GSM with 3G UMTS released in October 2014. It builds on Asterisk, an opensource voice switch used in many PBX and Internet VoIP services, extending it with the GSM protocols. It’s managed by Range Networks who own the trademark and strongly supported by others including Fairwaves.

Osmocom appears to be more research lab oriented including GSM alongside other radio technologies, such as DECT and TETRA. Core network is GPRS but there is no voice switch in scope.

YateBTS was recently started by one of the founders of OpenBTS. It has a long term vision to create a unified core network using VoLTE for calls for both 2G and 4G, and substantially reducing bandwidth for voice over satellite links compared to traditional SIP. The project is co-ordinated by Romanian company Legba.

OpenLTE is relatively new project to implement the core 3GPP LTE specifications. Today, code is available for test and simulation of downlink transmit and receive functionality and uplink PRACH transmit and receive functionality. This is very much research lab oriented and nowhere near ready for field use. Three other LTE opensource projects are also at early stages as described here.

These projects all benefit from and build on other Opensource projects, such as OpenSS7, Asterisk, GNURadio etc.

Limited capabilities

Although not nearly as extensive as a standard commercial product, these can be feasible for basic use with isolated service. Mobility, handover and roaming capabilities are included as are voice, SMS and data services. Looking a bit deeper, each cell/sector is configured as a completely separate Location Area so a full location area update is used to handover between cells. GPRS supports only two of the four coding schemes; manual configuration is required of many parameters, such as neighbour lists, timeslot allocation, RF power levels. In my view, this would hamper anything other than a small scale deployment.

The system can be connected to wholesale VoIP, SMS and Internet connections to provide inbound and outbound voice and data. One complication is that because different suppliers are typically used to provide wholesale voice and text services, each would require a different MSISDN (phone number) – definitely confusing for end users.

GPRS data does work but isn’t as fast or mature as a commercial EDGE implementation. One company doesn’t recommend using it at all, reasoning that Wi-Fi is cheaper/better in such low price markets for data only. However VoIP over Wi-Fi is considered far less attractive than GSM for voice.

SIM Cards

The system can use existing SIM cards from an existing network, assigning a local number and automatically registering them for use. The full GSM security can’t be used in this case (because the encryption key is hidden inside the SIM card), but a simpler form of encryption is offered.

Today, it’s possible to program your own SIM cards manually. For larger quantities, a full production run can be bought with your own logo design using your own specified parameters.

Off the shelf hardware

Several vendors offer all you need to run a basic GSM service, including the core network, with off-the-shelf hardware for use in the lab or outdoors.

Just don’t expect a fully automated SON solution that sits comfortably with any existing network on the same frequencies – you’d still need a commercially mature small cell solution for that. You’ll also need some spectrum to use this legally, either a test licence for your lab or a fully blown one from the regulator. In a few countries, low power GSM is legally permitted in certain guard bands (eg at 1800MHz) without a licence.

Example products include:

  • Range Networks products based on OpenBTS include a standalone GSM development kit for $2,300 and a full size outdoor basestation.
  • Fairwaves offer solutions based on OpenBTS and Osmocom hardware with their development board for just $850 and a packaged lab system for $2,500
  • Sysmocom in Germany use Oscocom; products include a 200mW small cell and larger 10W outdoor product.
  • Legba, the new company behind YateBTS, currently offer a GSM lab radio kit for about $2000 and an outdoor model for $12,000. Licences for their HLR/HSS and other modules run from $12,000.

Case study deployments

An example installation described here is of a remote Mexican village of 700 inhabitants 5 hour away from the nearest city. It has a simple network with two GSM transceivers that handle around 1000 voice calls and 4000 texts in a typical day. The antenna mast is constructed from a 6 metre bamboo pole. Another Mexican village of 500, San Juan Yaee, was connected for just $8,000 – about 15% of the cost quoted by the national operator – with ongoing monthly rates of $2. At those prices, nobody’s going to get rich.

Other applications

Software definable radio hardware can be used for a wide variety of different applications, ranging from detecting/decoding shipping and aircraft location beacons. This article outlines 10 different possibilities.

One application which I though remarkably innovative was used to locate stranded hillwalkers from a helicopter. The GSM basestation onboard takes several measurements of the walker’s phone signal from different positions and triangulates to find where they are. Using simple GSM time-advance measurements, the results are displayed on an iPad inside the helicopter. It’s not dependent on mobile data or the victim being conscious, as is needed for a similar app called SARLOC.


I’m enthusiastic about the use of Opensource projects to stimulate research and development into new pioneering new ways and means of improving and extending mobile technology. It should enable our academic institutions to demonstrate and prove their theories with limited budgets.

There may also be an opportunity to connect some of the most remote and unserved communities which commercial organisations haven’t been able to reach. The scale of this would be limited by spectrum licences and IPR. The recent proposal by Mexican regulators to allocate some 850MHz spectrum for community use by unserved areas Mexico sends a signal to commercial operators that they can’t simply ignore this demand.

In most cases, I believe it would be better to use commercially mature, mass market solutions managed by professional organisations. Only where those needs are not being served, and regulators support and encourage it, would we see this self-driven community driven approach adopted more widely. The lack of scalability and management features of these solutions limits their scope to very small and simple deployments. Commercial ventures could either develop their own products using proven software from companies such as Radisys or NodeH, or adapt and extend many of the existing proven small cell products already on the market (look in our vendor section for plenty of ideas!)



Small cells: the only way to 5G

11 Nov

Workable 5G needs small cells, the author argues

It’s been estimated that the volume of global monthly mobile data traffic will exceed 15 exabytes by 2018. LTE is already proving to be a major bandwidth hog. While 4G represents only a fraction of mobile connections today, it accounts for at least 30% of mobile data traffic, thanks to a surge in high-bandwidth content such as video calling and music streaming.

Yet, the growth in bandwidth demand is not only about smartphones, tablets and other mobile computing gadgets. The sales of these devices are set to reach 2.4 billion units this year, but other types of connected ‘things’ will require their share of the already stretched networks too. Industry analysts have estimated that the number of wireless connected things will exceed 16 billion in 2014, up 20% from the year before. This growth is set to continue as the Internet of Things gathers pace, with more than double the number of connected devices – 40.9 billion – forecasted for 2020.

As existing 3G and 4G networks struggle to cope with the influx in data traffic, mobile operators are looking at solutions to offload traffic from their current base station networks. Small cells will be their solution of choice – so the number of small cells networks deployed across Europe is going to increase dramatically over the next few years. Small cells that are connected to city-wide superfast fibre networks will be the most economic and scalable way of ensuring that the needs of mobile users for more and more bandwidth are met in the future. Small cells will also be an enabler for the Internet of Things, paving the way for more connections than ever before.

Shortcomings of rooftop base stations

Today’s badly congested 3G and 4G networks rely on rooftop base stations. Many operators have been scrambling to acquire enough rooftop space for LTE, but still 4G networks don’t often meet their bandwidth hungry customers’ expectations, especially in dense urban areas such as pedestrian zones. While filling rooftops with base stations might have been a good solution for 3G, in the LTE era, the cells are becoming smaller, and mobile operators need ten times more base stations to cover the same footprint of a city.

Imagine a situation today where you have five people waiting for a bus, all with a brand new 150 mbps iPhone 6. The existing rooftop base station infrastructure is not able to cope with the sudden surge in bandwidth demand, as all five try to read the news, order groceries or download a restaurant menu, at the same time.

Recognising the need for faster evolution of mobile networks, the European Commission has committed to investing up to €700 million for the developments of ‘ubiquitous 5G communication systems’. This funding is part of a joint public and private sector initiative that aims to overcome today’s data traffic challenges. The ambitious goals of this 5G initiative include increasing wireless area capacity by a factor of 1,000 compared to 2010, creating a high-bandwidth network with 0% downtime, and enabling the roll-out of very dense wireless networks that are able to connect over 7 trillion devices amongst 7 billion people.

Getting ready for the future

As mobile operators gear themselves up for 5G, many of them realise that they can no longer rely on rooftop base stations. Why would a customer splurge on a 5G contract and a 5G-ready smartphone, if they aren’t able to get superfast download speeds? Instead, they will go to an operator that is able to give them the capacity they crave.

To eliminate the well-known capacity problems with rooftop base stations, future proof their networks and stay competitive, more and more European mobile operators are starting to tap into small cells. They are realising only small cells connected to fibre can bring mobile users the great user experience they expect on their LTE-enabled superfast mobile devices – down at street level where it really matters. When connected to fibre networks, these small cells can collectively deliver up to Gigabytes per second of capacity, making entire cities 5G ready in a cost effective way.

The mobile operator community has been talking about the potential of small cells for a couple of years, but up until recently, the size of the boxes prevented their widespread use. All leading networking vendors have invested in the development of more suitable equipment, so the technology is now ready to allow mobile operators to start planning their roll-outs in earnest.

To be able to roll out faster than their rivals, many European mobile operators are now starting to buy space on lampposts, billboards, bus stops or even public toilets, and equip them with  small cells.

Small cells – the only way to 5G

Still in recovery from the substantial investment needed for 4G, some cost-conscious mobile operators might be tempted to tighten the purse strings with small cells to protect their margins.

Yet, they really don’t have a choice but to invest. If they don’t, they will lose customers. It’s as simple as that. Why would a user buy a top of the range LTE-enabled smartphone or smartwatch, if they aren’t able to make the most of its superfast download speeds – unless they are standing on a rooftop? Instead, they will get their device from an operator that is able to give them the capacity they crave.

Other small cells-ready players aren’t the only competitive threat for mobile operators. Street furniture providers might eat into the profits of those mobile operators who drag their heels over small cells too. Through city-wide wifi schemes, street furniture companies are eliminating completely the need for mobile users to use their operator for data in some cases. Why would a mobile user pay a premium for patchy 5G connectivity, if they can get better speeds and coverage with free wifi?

In any way you look at it, 5G will only materialise with small cells connected to existing superfast fibre networks. And all European mobile operators’ competitiveness – and survival – will rely on 5G.



Femtocell Opinion, comment and reviews

26 Sep
There’s been a lot of media hype around the term 5G in the past year. Is this groundless  and just another excuse for more conference events, or is there some substance to it? Setting some constraints

Telecoms professionals have a pretty poor track record of predicting what applications and services will be most popular. For example, 3G had plenty of hype around personal videocalls and M-commerce which have still to come to fruition. 4G certainly provides faster data speeds (especially uplink), but we seem to have forgotten about voice.

Moray Rumney of Agilent (soon to be rebranded Keysight) spoke of the tradeoffs when designing any new generation. Do we want high speed, long battery life, reachability or resilience. It’s tempting to say we want all of those. For sure, the focus in recent releases seems to be mostly around peak data rates and many other benefits have gone out the window. I still find many buildings or locations where I can’t be connected or have poor quality voice/slow or unusable data service. The conference venue itself was a relevant example. Further confirmation can be found in a recent UK OFCOM report based on RootMetrics data which established that 30% of consumers find themselves outside coverage at least once a week.

Looking at it from a performance perspective, you might think:

Features we’d all like Consequences
(in no particular order)
Higher bit rates
Lower latency
Higher capacity density
Higher spectral efficiency
Higher connection density
Terminal and Network Cost
Terminal battery life
Energy efficiency

Where others might prefer to focus more on availability and efficiency:

Features we’d all like Consequences
(in no particular order)
High service availability
Lower terminal and network cost
Higher energy efficiency
Lower mobility
Longer Batter Life
Lower or sufficient bit rates
Higher latency
Lower spectral efficiency
Lower capacity density
Lower connection density

The tradeoffs are perhaps best illustrated using a Spider Chart:



Surely 5G won’t be just a single technology

This leads to the view that 5G will become more than one technology to serve our needs – perhaps amalgamating one or two that go really fast with one or two that reach the most remote regions. Perhaps it could focus on one (sub)set of requirements and rely on existing technologies to cater for others.

Indeed, as with 3G and 4G before it, we would expect 5G to be able to interwork with previous generations rather than replace them. With Carrier Wi-Fi also emerging strongly, including the new Gigabit 802.11ad short range technology, 5G will have to deliver significant additional benefits to justify heavy further investment and shouldn’t be considered a never-ending gravy train.

Finding customers across different verticals

One theme we heard many times throughout the event was the need to develop and extend telecoms services into the many vertical market sectors. Perhaps 5G could look to build on and extend the value of fully mobile wireless service differently for each sector.

The theme of M2M (Machine to Machine) comes up a lot in this context, but again it seemed to be all encompassing and widespread. We’re not talking about a specific radio technology here – any and every technology available would be considered. Low power Bluetooth was mentioned more than once.

As an example of one vertical (energy retailers), what I learnt was that (here in the UK) we’re implementing two somewhat contradictory approaches. Our first responders and emergency services, who today use the expensive and outdated European TETRA radio system, will find it replaced by standardised LTE – possibly using different frequencies with a few extra standardised features added in. This will save huge amounts of money and benefit from the mass market of LTE.

At the same time, the UK is installing a completely separate national radio network to communicate with smart energy meters. In the north of the country, Arquiva has a contract to do so and uses their own proprietary system. In the middle and south, Telefonica will simply reuse their existing 2G/3G/4G mobile network which seems to be a lot more practical to me. Extending coverage of the cellular network where needed to reach outlying meters would bring wider benefits of cellular connectivity to those areas overall.


The headline timeframe for 5G is really quite short. Japan (DoCoMo) have made bold assertions that they would have it available for the 2020 Summer Olympics. They’ve even announced their six suppliers for 5G trials. Meanwhile the South Koreans have announced trials in 2018 and commercial service in 2020, perhaps aiming to showcase it during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Given the uncertainty of what 5G requirements are, I think it could easily take much longer. We’ll need some clear agreements of what the goals are (probably from the ITU) before the industry can make real progress.

Perhaps the UK should rebrand its smart meter project as 5G, which will be delivered in a similar timescale.

The current reality

While we discussed the finer points of multi-gigabit, low latency wireless service that 5G could offer, a reality check was the poor (i.e. non-existant 3G) cellular service at the conference venue. This isn’t unusual at conferences and no specific to any particular network operator. We already have plenty of in-building small cell technology to fix these issues today without needing 5G, but seem to lack the commercial and operational focus to make it happen.

There has been a gap of about 10 years between each new generation of radio technology, during which time the previous one matures and develops considerably. Even 2G GSM continues to evolve and remains present in almost every phone. We can expect to see substantial development for both 3G and LTE over the next 10 years, so I wouldn’t wait for 5G to come along and solve all our problems quite yet.

Moray Rumney’s 5G presentation can be found on the Cambridge Wireless event website here


Cost Optimised Indoor Coverage

24 Sep

In my last post Bringing LTE Indoors, I discussed the compelling need to address LTE coverage indoors to enable service migration off 3G, particularly for Voice. We know there is a variety of options for MNOs to address indoor coverage, either from outside in with more outdoor sites, or from inside with wider use of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), repeaters or small cells. The “outdoor in” approach would mean even more BTS sites, but site acquisition challenges and build costs generally mean this is no longer an option in urban areas. Addressing coverage from indoors makes sense, but what is the optimal solution?

I’ve heard people talking about a “toolbox” approach to indoor coverage, but which tool is right for which job? There is no point using a six inch spanner on a 1/4 inch nut, and it’s the same with providing coverage and capacity you need an optimal cost solution for the size of the indoor hole to fill.

Cisco has worked with many operators on modelling Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for various indoor coverage solutions. The results of one recent study are shown below, comparing Distributed Antenna Systems to small cells; either installed by the MNO or by the end-user themselves (DIY).


“5-Year TCO study for various indoor coverage solutions”

Obviously this isn’t an “Apples for Apples” comparison since the capacities are so different. But even if we normalise by the number of design users, small cells show clear TCO per user benefit.


“Normalised TCO per user for various indoor coverage solutions”

The other thing I observed in this study was how much the DAS system TCO improved when a larger number of users are required to be served in a location. I therefore extended the study to look at how the DAS vs Smallcell TCO comparison varied for different sized enterprises.


“Comparison of DAS versus Smallcell TCO for various Enterprise sizes”

For small enterprises of <50 people, which represents the majority of businesses, small cells are clearly more cost effective. Due to their more modular capacity, re-use of WLAN infrastructure and easier installation small cells could be more than five times cheaper to own. As the size of the enterprise to cover gets larger, DAS TCO is more comparable, but even for large enterprise (>250 people) small cells could still work-out with 50 per cent lower TCO. Such comparisons would vary on a case-by-case basis, for example often larger enterprise locations are already covered with DAS for 3G which can be reused.

The “toolbox” approach to solving indoor coverage challenges makes sense, but for SME locations small cells seem to be the right tool for the job.


Unlocking the Enterprise for Small Cells – a new White Paper

23 Jun

CIOs, property owners, hotel managers and other Enterprise users now seek cost effective solutions that would deliver reliable in-building cellular service – many would even be willing to pay for or contribute to the system installation. Cisco makes the bold claim that the incremental cost of adding cellular service to a new Enterprise Wi-Fi deployment can be as low as 20%. This reinforces how cost effective small cells can be, but are network operators grasping the opportunity quickly enough? Should Enterprises take matters into their own hands, self-installing cellular equipment and simply asking the operators to adopt and commission it? What tools and processes are needed and what practical implications arise?

In a brand new ThinkSmallCell White Paper, we ask what it would take to achieve “The Enterprise – Unlocked”.

A growing problem indoors

Poor in-building cellular services becomes more significant as we connect fully wirelessly at work. A common combination today mixes Wi-Fi for laptop/smartphone data with 3G for direct voice calls and accessing data on the move. Rapid adoption of tablets exacerbates the demands on corporate IT departments, which are expected to ensure adequate wireless connectivity throughout business premises (and not just in meeting rooms or public spaces).

Service quality inside buildings is more difficult to maintain than before for several reasons, primarily due to the:

  • Change in construction materials that are used for new buildings and designed to make them more energy efficient, increasing the RF isolation from outside and making it more difficult for cellular service to penetrate indoors.
  • Vastly increased data traffic demands, from data hungry devices and multiple devices per person, outstrip additional capacity available from existing cell towers
  • Greater reliance on wireless devices during our daily lives increases the significance of poor service quality

Slow takeup compared to Enterprise Wi-Fi

Take-up of Enterprise Small Cells has been slower than many of the early analyst forecasts, for reasons which are less to do with technical capabilities or equipment price and perhaps more to do with lack of marketing drive from operators, lack of scalable processes (from sales through to installation and on-going support) and lack of a clearly understood and adopted strategic business cases.

While the cellular industry moves slowly to adopt Enterprise Small cells, we’ve seen Wi-Fi deployments grow quickly to provide  quality and low cost in-building data connectivity. ABI Research forecasts that the installed base of carrier-deployed Wi-Fi hotspots will grow from 4.2 million at end 2013 to 10.5 million by end 2018. That’s a small proportion of the 139 million Wi-Fi access points shipped during 2013, and still significantly fewer than the installed base of femtocells or macrocells.

The quality and capability of Wi-Fi has continued to improve and now forms a significant part of our total data communications. More than half the data sent to/from smartphones goes via Wi-Fi rather than cellular. 64% of hotels offer free Wi-Fi and 38% of hotel guests see lack of Wi-Fi as a deal-breaker. The unregulated and low cost nature of Wi-Fi has enabled rapid mass deployment that in most cases bypasses the cellular operator.

Should Building owners become more proactive?

An alternative could be for building owners and IT departments to install their own Small Cell solutions. These could be engineered and deployed by in-house staff or 3rd party systems integrators, ready to be commissioned and integrated with external mobile networks. This is the norm for other utility building services, such as water, electricity, gas and even fixed line telecommunications services. Such an approach could rapidly accelerate take-up of cellular in-building solutions and complement the extensive use of Wi-Fi.

In a new ThinkSmallCell white paper, we consider whether property owners and CIOs, frustrated with progress and the available options open to them today, should take a more proactive role in Enterprise Small Cell deployment. Could we see buildings being equipped with their own cellular network equipment, ready to be commissioned and adopted by mobile operators? What are the operational and commercial barriers to making this happen?

Get your free copy today from our White Paper download section

White paper “The Enterprise – Unlocked” is written and published by ThinkSmallCell, sponsored by Cisco and iBwave.


Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution: Reduce Costs, Improve Coverage and Capacity.

23 Jun


The Cisco® Licensed Small Cell Solution is designed to address the challenge of mobile service coverage and to expand network capacity. Small cells extend voice and data services to mobile subscribers while offloading traffic from the macro network. Additionally, Cisco Small Cell capabilities are uniquely used to deploy consumer services that are based on indoor location and presence and new enterprise services such as integration with enterprise voice systems and access to local enterprise networks.

The Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution represents what we’ve learned from our extensive experience deploying residential femtocells, implementing scalable carrier backhaul and rolling out Cisco Service Provider Wi-Fi to a rapidly growing base of customers. This experience has enabled Cisco to deliver a comprehensive solution that addresses the real-world challenges of small cell deployments. Among the challenges we’ve addressed are interference management, network security, broadband backhaul requirements, access control, zero-touch provisioning, and mobility. The Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution is fully deployable today and complies with the small cell architecture and interfaces as defined in the 3GPP standards, delivering unprecedented Quality of Experience (QoE).

Market Trends

Several trends in the market are causing operators to incorporate small cell solutions into their network infrastructure plans (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Small Cell Market Trends

Cisco Visual Networking Index shows that operators can expect mobile data traffic to increase 13-fold over the 5 years between 2012 and 2017. Analysts also point to the exponential growth in signaling traffic helping to promote the data growth.

• Coupled with this growth in traffic is the lack of available new spectrum and the difficulty for operators to quickly and cost-effectively add new macro cell sites. In this environment, small cell solutions become very attractive.

• Distinctions between consumer and business services on mobile devices have become blurred. Small cells can help deliver those services transparently across third- and fourth-generation (3G and 4G) cellular networks and Wi-Fi.

• Wireless usage is shifting indoors. Network analytics show that the majority of mobile data usage – close to 80 percent – is indoor and nomadic, rather than truly mobile. Macro networks were built for voice on the go. Small cell networks are designed to address modern mobile data traffic patterns.

• Small cells offer new monetization opportunities by taking advantage of the intelligence inherent in the network, including policy, hyperlocation, context, application, and device information. Businesses can use this information to engage with their customers in new ways, including through augmented experiences, location-based content, and personalized loyalty programs.

With the increased demands on the network, operators are investing in small cell solutions to help optimize consumer and business services on mobile devices across 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi networks. These small cell solutions can provide efficient connectivity and coverage for all users. Small cells are low-powered indoor and outdoor radio base stations that operate in both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, have a limited range serving a limited number of users, and are managed by an operator to provide a transparent experience between enterprise and consumer services. Small cells are expected to increase the overall capacity of the mobile network and deliver the same, and in some cases more, bandwidth as macro cells.

Evolving from our market-leading Service Provider Wi-Fi, Femtocell, and Mobile Backhaul solutions, this overview covers the Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution.

Improve and Enhance End-User Services

Deploying small cells will allow mobile operators to improve their service value proposition. This is first realized by simply enhancing indoor coverage, which improves the user experience for all of the mobile services consumed in-building. All of the mobile data services, including those requiring high throughput, will be available (for example, high-definition streaming and live video).

Secondly and more interestingly, small cells offer the possibility to define new services that will only be available when the users are under small cell coverage. These new services rely on the ability to detect that the user has arrived at home, in the office, or in a public venue. The following are some examples of new services under consideration.

Femtozone Services

These correspond to standard mobile data and voice services but are triggered when the phone comes in range of the small cell. This could include services such as:

• Automatic profile switch when entering home (for example, moving from business to personal services)

• Short Message Service (SMS) alert when a family member comes home

• Application triggering with a state change (for example, linking with Facebook)

Connected Home Services

These services are linked to local breakout capabilities that will enable the small cell to locally route traffic within the home network. This brings two additional benefits. First, it allows the operator to offload that traffic from the mobile core network. Secondly, the mobile handset can then become a true component of the mobile home network per the connected home standards (for example, those for a media player or media server). Examples of connected home services include:

• Backup of mobile hosted content (music or pictures) to the home PC

• Playing videos or slide shows from the phone to another element

• Transforming the phone into a remote control for other elements

Enterprise Services

A set of enterprise services are also being developed that will allow integration of home small cell services with enterprise services. The main benefit is that any user will be able to access those services without needing any specific client on their phone. Moreover, the architecture will help to ensure optimum user experience with full coverage and mobility. Examples of enterprise services include:

• Integration of mobile handsets with the enterprise PBX dial plan and services

• Local access to the enterprise LAN.

Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution Overview

Cisco applies architectural innovation to mobile networking, transforming small cells into a platform for business and service innovation. Cisco delivers the industry’s only proven small cell solution for both optimization and monetization.

Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solutions are easy to deploy, innovative, and proven across the globe.

• Frictionless deployment: Cisco offers operational ease by applying network intelligence that is based on years of design and implementation expertise. From radio performance to policy and management to backhaul, we design simplicity into our solution to keep operators’ costs down and mobile users satisfied.

• Innovation for business results: Cisco is guiding the market toward a unified and scalable standards-based licensed and unlicensed architecture for wireless service delivery, meeting the needs that result from the dramatic increases in consumer capacity requirements. On top of this we add analytic tools that operators use not only to monitor the network, but to monetize the network, allowing operators to unlock new business models.

• Real-world heterogeneous networking: We deliver standards-based self-organizing network (SON) technology, not just for fully integrated heterogeneous 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi networks, but also for multivendor network deployments. Our solution provides an elastic, flexible architecture of infrastructure and software with intelligence.

Cisco offers more than products; we offer an easily deployed solution. We have a dedicated Advanced Services team that is experienced in delivering large commercial small cell solutions. To help service providers deploy the solutions efficiently and successfully, Cisco offers professional services for custom design, implementation, integration, and support of the small cell network. With this approach, Cisco is in a unique position to help operators go to market quickly with new and enhanced small cell services.

Cisco Licensed Small Cell Architecture

The Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution is an end-to-end architecture. The primary elements depicted in Figure 2 are:

• Enterprise and home small cells

• Small cell gateway

• Management and provisioning

• Small cell backhaul

Figure 2. Cisco Small Cell Solution

Enterprise and Home Small Cells

Cisco offers a portfolio of licensed small cells for the home and office to support multiple deployment environments and technologies. All Cisco small cells are standards-based and operate as the Home Node B (HNB) in the network as defined by the 3GPP Release 8 femtocell architecture. Cisco small cells are fully managed by the mobile operator, so the network is secure and controlled.

Cisco 3G Femtocell

With over a million deployed, the Cisco 3G Femtocell is our flagship small cell for the home. The Cisco 3G Femtocell is an in-building mini cell tower designed for ease of use by the end-user. It carries the 3G signal inside a home or small office, providing cellular voice and data service for up to four simultaneous callers within a coverage area of up to 5000 square feet. It connects to the network by a cable or DSL network, so traffic can be offloaded onto the fixed broadband network. The Cisco 3G Femtocell is optimized for low-cost, low-capacity 3G processing for IP-based backhaul.

Cisco 3G Small Cell

The Cisco 3G Small Cell (Figure 3) is a self-contained small cell base station that can be quickly and easily deployed to enterprise locations. The 3G Small Cell delivers mobile operators a rapid and cost-effective deployment solution for increasing coverage and capacity, creating a new platform for mobile broadband services.

Figure 3. Cisco 3G Small Cell

The Cisco 3G Small Cell generates a high-quality 3G signal inside offices, shops, and public spaces, using broadband backhaul for rapid deployment and low-cost operation. The 3G Small Cell delivers high performance, 3G coverage indoors to enhance the mobile user experience, while allowing operators to significantly reduce infrastructure costs. It supports bidirectional handover with the macro network and operates in open access mode so all customers in the office or shop can get the benefit of improved coverage and fast data speeds.

Cisco 3G Small Cell Module for Cisco Aironet

The Cisco 3G Small Cell Module (Figure 4) takes advantage of the flexible modular design of the award-winning Cisco Aironet ® 3600 Wi-Fi access point to offer mobile operators a rapid-to-deploy licensed radio network extension on the footprint of their Cisco SP Wi-Fi solution, creating a new platform for mobile broadband services.

Figure 4. Cisco 3G Small Cell Module for Cisco Aironet

Three key challenges face mobile operators interested in deploying licensed small cells: where to hang them, how to power them, and how to backhaul the traffic. Cisco solves these problems with innovation. Building on the Cisco Aironet heritage of robust, award-winning Wi-Fi access point design, the 3600 Series delivers extreme flexibility with its modular configuration. The 3G Small Cell Module for Cisco Aironet is the first licensed radio module to take advantage of this flexibility by delivering a fully integrated, high-performance, low-cost 3G small cell for voice, data, and messaging services.

Portfolio Advantages

Cisco’s small cell portfolio offers the following advantages.

• Increased mobile network capacity and coverage indoors, where it is most needed. Usage reports show that up to 80 percent of mobile traffic today occurs indoors and while people are stationary.

• Reduced network costs and operations. By having a self-contained small cell radio, mobile operators have the ability to quickly and easily deploy either with a desktop-mounted solution or a wall-mounted solution. And by integrating the 3G Small Cell Module into the Aironet 3600 Series, network, power, and operating costs are dramatically reduced.

• The capacity to install, power up, and go with zero-touch configuration. There are no extra steps required to enable Cisco small cells to run in a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) environment. This approach can quickly provide 3G coverage to end users.

• Self-optimization based on back-end network intelligence for easily managing millions of devices so they do not cause interference with neighboring femtocells, picocells, and macro cell towers.

• Secure, carrier-grade 3G base station technology. Cisco small cells provide the technology equivalent of an in-building mini cell tower. The device is secure and fully managed by the mobile operator to provide for 3G signals inside an office or enterprise.

• Standards-based technology. A Cisco small cell operates as a HNB in the standard 3GPP architecture for small cells and is connected to the network with the specified Iuh interface. This architecture provides for rapid deployment and multivendor interoperability.

Cisco ASR 5000 Series Small Cell Gateway

The Cisco ASR 5000 Series Small Cell Gateway is an integral element in both the Cisco SP Wi-Fi Solution and the Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution. The Cisco Small Cell Gateway gives subscribers easy access as they transparently roam between 3G, 4G, licensed, and unlicensed small cell networks.

The Cisco Small Cell Gateway (Figure 5) provides high-capacity, intelligent HNB gateway (HNB-GW) functionality as specified in 3GPP Releases 8 and 9, in both the interfaces towards the HNB (Iuh) as well as towards the 3G core network (Iu-cs and Iu-ps over IP and ATM). This standards compliance helps to ensure smooth network integration.

Figure 5. Cisco ASR 5000 Small Cell Gateway

The Cisco ASR 5000 has a unique hardware and software architecture that is ideally designed for the HNB-GW application and is capable of connecting millions of 3G Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) small cells to the core network. The Cisco solution is 100 percent standards-based, on a single platform that scales to millions of small cell subscribers in a single chassis, for a low total cost of ownership.

The Cisco ASR 5000 Small Cell Gateway includes IP Security (IPSec) termination capabilities so that it can be deployed as an integrated Security Gateway (SeGW) and HNB-GW. The HNB can be authenticated using Extensible Authentication Protocol – Authentication and Key Agreement (EAP-AKA) or using certificates as inserted into the HNB typically during the manufacturing process. In case of EAPSIM/AKA, Cisco can also offer a specific AAA server (Cisco Access Registar) that interfaces directly with the existing Home Location Register (HLR) over MAP/M3UA. The Cisco ASR 5000 SeGW supports the standard IPSec/Internet Key Exchange (IKE) v2 procedures with standard security profile (ciphering and integrity) to set up the secure communication between the HNB and the network.

Small Cell Backhaul: Cisco ASR 901S

For residential and enterprise small cell deployments, the backhaul of traffic is easily managed by existing broadband networks. Where small cell backhaul can be a challenge is in outdoor metropolitan environments where broadband networks may not be easily accessible. Cisco has solved this problem by bringing intelligent routing out to the pole where small cells are being deployed.

Cisco took our market-leading cell-site router, the ASR 901, and ruggedized it for use in the harshest outdoor environments. The Cisco ASR 901S Series Aggregation Services Router (Figure 6) features a flexible architecture that supports “any-G” from any vendor, and dramatically reduces operating costs through zero-touch provisioning capabilities and extensive management tools.

Figure 6. Cisco ASR 901S Series Aggregation Services Router

The Cisco ASR 901S Series is optimized for the backhaul of true multivendor heterogeneous small cell networks. The ASR 901S is a compact, environmentally hardened, low-power-consumption router that can be installed in the outside plant without an enclosure. The router can be easily deployed in challenging locations such as lampposts, telephone poles, and sides of walls. By using the Cisco ASR 901S, operators can reduce backhaul operating costs, simplify deployment and provisioning, and enhance their profit opportunities with premium mobile and Ethernet services.

The ASR 901S platform provides unique Cisco value to the small cell backhaul market:

• Flexible architecture that supports true multivendor “any-G” heterogeneous radio technology and backhaul topologies

• Dramatically reduced operating expenses (OpEx) and TCO through zero-touch provisioning capabilities and extensive management tools

• Unsurpassed user experience through Cisco’s best-in-class routing and comprehensive end-to-end operations, administration, and maintenance (OAM) capabilities

Cisco Quantum Radio Access Network Optimization

The size and complexity of multivendor heterogeneous networks necessitates SON technology and the move to live and automatic optimization in the radio access portion of the network. Cisco Quantum RAN Optimization addresses this pressing need, allowing service providers to maintain control and benefit from major network investment savings for both OpEx and CapEx.

Cisco Quantum RAN Optimization is an automated control plane that provides real-time, dynamic performance and capacity optimization for mobile networks. Some of the features include:

• Automatic neighbor relations: Monitors connections between cell sites and automatically adjusts neighbor lists for subscriber handoff to help ensure overloaded cells are bypassed and unused cells are removed from neighbor lists to reduce OpEx

• Load balancing: Shifts traffic between cells, based on availability, congestion, and blocking of radio resources, so that traffic within a cluster of cell sites is evenly balanced across all access technologies

Management and Provisioning

The Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution has been specifically designed to meet management requirements for successful small cell deployment, including fault management, performance management, and achieving true zero-touch provisioning. Cisco also provides custom integration with existing operational support system (OSS) and network management system (NMS) networks, a requirement for managing ongoing operational costs.

The Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution integrates management and provisioning components into our end-to-end architecture for transparent performance. Figure 7 provides a detailed view of the components involved. The Small Cell Remote Management System deals with provisioning and element management and Small Cell Service Assurance provides overall alarm and performance management for the end-to-end architecture.

Figure 7. Cisco Small Cell NMS Layer

It is worth noting that the OAM layer is where the most integration is required with an operator’s existing OSS/business support system (BSS) systems, and some of the elements may already available in some forms in the deployed network. The Cisco solution can easily be adapted to support the current network requirements. Cisco Broadband Access Center (BAC), Regional Distribution Unit (RDU), Device Provisioning Engine (DPE), Femtocell RAN Manager (FRM) and Provisioning and Management Gateway (PMG) are UNIX-based software applications and can be deployed on standard hardware. All applications have been developed to provide high performance and 1:1 redundancy.

Small Cell Remote Management System

Cisco Broadband Access Center

Cisco Broadband Access Center (BAC) is a distributed and scalable application that automates the tasks of provisioning and managing home and enterprise small cells on a mass scale. It delivers secure provisioning and management by using the TR-069 and TR-196 specifications as defined by the Broadband Forum. Cisco BAC 3.5 builds on the core BAC architecture and provides functions specific to small cell management. The application scales to support networks of almost any size and offers high availability, made possible by its distributed architecture with centralized management. Cisco BAC is a proven platform that supports millions of customer devices today.

Cisco BAC serves as the TR-069 Auto Configuration Server (ACS) for HNBs. Its functions encompass registration, location verification, activation, status reporting, firmware upgrade, configuration update, and remote troubleshooting. Cisco BAC incorporates RDU and DPE servers, which are geographically distributed and redundant. The DPEs interface with HNBs using the TR-069 protocol. The RDU interfaces with the mobile operator’s OSS through the PMG.

Cisco Provisioning and Management Gateway

The Cisco Provisioning and Management Gateway (PMG) provides a platform for small cell activation workflows and interfaces to the service provider OSS/BSS. The standard workflows and interfaces are readily customizable to accommodate any unique operator systems. It includes a simple XML/HTTP API that can be used to accomplish small cell preregistration, subscription changes, grouping of devices, location notifications, activation notifications, retrieval of live small cell status, device reboot, service block and unblock, and whitelist maintenance.

The PMG also includes a database containing RAN and RF data used for zero-touch activation and SON flows. This database typically contains information about geographic areas that represent different RF environments or management domains and all the necessary RAN and RF data. This data allows the PMG to automatically assign small cells to their appropriate security gateway, regional gateway, management servers, and management groups so that they can be configured with appropriate candidate frequencies by UTRA Absolute Radio Frequency Channel Number (UARFCN), primary scrambling code (PSC), and location access code (LAC) and routing access code (RAC) candidates. The database also provides for proper assignment of unique over-the-air and billing identifiers.

This is accompanied by a set of tools that allow administrators to make bulk changes and roll them out in a controlled and coordinated fashion. For example, if an additional HNB-GW is introduced in the area, the FRM provides the tools to rebalance HNBs in the area across two gateways. Customer service representatives can also see live information about the customer’s small cell for diagnosing issues from within their existing customer support systems and can make changes such as editing the access control list and suspending the small cell remotely.

Cisco Management Heartbeat Server

The Cisco Management Heartbeat Server (CMHS) provides functions that are not effectively covered by the TR-069 protocol. Using Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), the CMHS maintains a persistent connection with every small cell for active status monitoring. This technology takes advantage of Cisco experience with mass-scale chat, messaging, and collaboration servers and allows CMHS to perform the following functions:

• Real-time status reporting for all small cells

• History of small cell status

• Monitoring of small cell connectivity through ongoing heartbeats

• Status profiling by groups of indicator values

• Notifications about key indicator changes

• Connection requests for TR-069 session over Network Address Translation (NAT)

A single CMHS instance can scale to 250,000 small cells.

Small Cell Service Assurance: Cisco Prime

Small cell service assurance is provided by three elements of Cisco Prime : Cisco Prime Network, Cisco Prime Performance Manager, and Cisco Prime Central.

Cisco Prime Network

Cisco Prime Network provides real-time discovery of network elements, configurations, and services. With Cisco Prime Network, network operators can visualize dynamically discovered virtual connections through topology displays and navigate through corresponding device configurations. Cisco Prime Network eliminates the need for manual inventories and configuration tracking. Real-time understanding of network element configuration combined with the Cisco Prime Network event provides rapid insight to the likely root cause of ASR 5000 and sever errors, which in turn promotes rapid diagnosis and mean time to repair.

Cisco Prime Performance Manager

Cisco Prime Performance Manager is a performance monitoring extension of Cisco Prime Network for the HNB and the HNB-GW. Cisco Prime Performance Manager is an easy-to-deploy and easy-to-use solution for gathering and reporting performance statistics, even in multivendor networks. Cisco Prime Performance Manager gives actionable information that spans core, aggregation, and access networks, with a comprehensive set of prepackaged reports. Cisco Prime Performance Manager transparently integrates with Cisco Prime Network, providing operators with visibility into network key performance indicators (KPIs). The combined solution provides both post-event fault management and information to proactively avoid future disruptions.

Cisco Prime Central

Cisco Prime Central is a common umbrella manager for fault monitoring. Prime Central collects event fault data issued by the BAC for the HNB or issued by Prime Network for the HNB-GW. As an umbrella manager it also provides a single unified and integrated interface for all the Prime components and optimizes the navigation across the various modules.

Cisco Services

Mobile operators can realize the full value of the Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution with professional and technical services from Cisco together with our partners. We can help mitigate risk, accelerate time to market for new revenue-generating services, and improve the end-customer’s experience.

Cisco Services has unparalleled experience and expertise implementing large commercial small cell deployments, and integrating systems and network services. We help operators speed time-to-value and resolve issues quickly using specialized tools, best practices, a collaborative delivery model, and an extensive global support infrastructure.

As operators plan, build, and manage the Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution, we promote success through a lifecycle approach customized to specific needs. Software-enabled smart service capabilities provide better visibility, better information, and better understanding at every stage.

Plan: Create an agile infrastructure and cost-effective strategy with service capabilities ranging from architectural consulting to detailed design.

Build: Speed time to value and reduce deployment risks through solution validation, solution integration and deployment, and migration support. Validate that the solution meets requirements through specialized labs for small cell interoperability testing and system verification testing.

Manage: Improve performance, availability, and resiliency; reduce costs through service offerings that provide better network insight, help improve network inventory management and health, and identify and mitigate potential problems before they can affect the network.

Why Cisco?

Operators worldwide are choosing Cisco to take full advantage of the enormous opportunities available in the small cell marketplace. We provide a carrier-grade, end-to-end solution, and can help operators deliver standards-based transparent mobility and the differentiated user experience that customers are asking for as they use their mobile devices to move between consumer and business environments. We have a channel to market for premise-based deployments, with tens of thousands of trusted partners built over years of enterprise deployments.

Cisco Small Cell Solutions provide more flexibility than other platforms on the market, allowing operators to use a single architecture to target the widest range of licensed and unlicensed small cell opportunities and implement flexible business models, while gaining efficiencies that improve profitability and productivity. Cisco can help service providers cost-effectively deploy a network extension from an existing intelligent network infrastructure to deliver small cell services today and prepare for the next generation of revenue-generating home and enterprise services. Cisco is dedicated to industry standards, and actively participates in the key industry bodies that are defining the small cell standards, including 3GPP, the Small Cell Forum, Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), and the Broadband Forum. We contribute recommendations, incorporate standards compliance into our development cycles, and support new releases as they are defined.


The Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution offers increased network intelligence and performance to help operators:

• Deliver high-bandwidth applications to indoor locations from an indoor location

• Meet today’s increasing bandwidth demand at dramatically lower costs

• Break the small cell backhaul bottleneck with ruggedized cell-site routers

The end-to-end Cisco Licensed Small Cell Solution:

• Delivers comprehensive security, exceptional scalability, and fast time to market

• Is autoprovisioned and uses existing handsets for improved voice and data coverage

• Is standards-based for real-world heterogeneous networking



How small cells are becoming an integral part of futuristic mobile networks?

8 May

LTE as a technology and air interface has been hogging the bulk of limelight in the world of wireless communications. But another strategically crucial technology that many major mobile operators globally are going after is the small cell. In simple terms, small cell is a miniature version of the traditional macrocell. It compresses the attributes of a cell tower like radios and antennas into a low power, portable and easy to deploy radio device. Small cells typically have a range varying from 10 meters to a few hundred meters and are used by operators to either offload traffic from the macro network in a high density short range environment or to strengthen the range and efficiency of a mobile network. Before going into further details about small cells, have a look at the following diagram that illustrates how they fit into an operator’s network and strategy.

Small Cell Network

As seen in the image above, small cells provide enhanced coverage and capacity both indoors and outdoors. Umbrella coverage is provided by the macrocell. Microcells and picocells are designed to support hundreds of users and can be used in smaller networks that are not necessarily inside the range of a macrocell. Residential areas that are located outside the range of a cell network can deploy femtocells for better signal and bandwidth indoors. WiFi can be utilized for traffic offload or can serve as a standalone high speed short range network. Following are some of the advantages that small cells bring to the table –

  • Augmented coverage and capacity – The quality of signal on a device and whether that signal is good enough for multimedia data browsing are two factors that decide a customer’s experience in the mobile world nowadays. Small cells bring ubiquity to this idea, along with the added advantage of low latency. So whether you are in a packed stadium or office basement, you will be covered.
  • Superior in-building and cell edge performance – Contemporary wireless networks regularly face issues of poor coverage inside buildings and in areas far away from the cell tower. Small cells significantly improve the overall experience in such circumstances.
  • Support for various environments – The main conclusion to be drawn from the diagram above is that these tiny base stations find utility in multiple scenarios. Femtocells inside a house not only provide 3G or higher level speeds, they also reduce strain on the user devices’ battery. And all this is achieved by using the Internet service provider’s backhaul. At an enterprise level, microcells enhance service quality in the highly dense office environment. Similarly, they can be equally effective in remote rural or dense urban spaces.
  • Easier technology integration – Small cells can be integrated with all flavors of 3G, LTE, LTE-Advanced and WiFi technologies. An operator’s small cell strategy could be influenced by the type of wireless technologies it has deployed, the area of service and regional demand. Microcells, picocells and femtocells are fortunately compatible with all major types of wireless networks.
  • Higher spectrum bands are welcome – Recently, the mobile network providers have been fighting a battle for the lower band spectrum below 1 GHz. But since limited propagation characteristics are not an issue for these miniscule networks, and more bits/Hz are required, spectrum over 2 GHz is considered good. The FCC in US has been pushing for 3.5 GHz spectrum for small cell networks. Some stakeholders have asked for unlicensed spectrum for such networks. Europe is said to be discussing the 2.3 GHz TD-LTE spectrum this purpose.
  • Long term solution for the operator – Even though more base stations and state-of-the-art technologies can be deployed to temporarily resolve network congestion issues, the demand will generally exceed the supply. However, small cells are designed to offer adequate network resources to handle growing data demand for a few years within a specific environment.
  • Attractive business case – The reduced capital and operational expenditure (CAPEX/OPEX) involved in the small cell ecosystem has made them a tempting business proposition for the mobile service provider. Studies have shown that the cost of radio equipment for small cells could be just one-tenth of the corresponding costs for a macrocell. The ease, flexibility and swiftness of deployment make such networks even more appealing.

Many operators and vendors around the globe showcased their small cell strategy and progress at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona earlier this year. Vodafone emphasized that this technology is vital to their network portfolio. The telco plans to deploy about 70,000 small cells within the next 2 years. Korea Telecom announced that they have 18,000 such cells already active in urban areas of the country. Samsung Mobile was tapped by Verizon as a vendor for indoor LTE small cell solutions. Verizon already had similar partnerships with both Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson for indoor enterprise and outdoor environments. TIM Brazil, the country’s second largest operator, shared details about a deal with Alcatel-Lucent at MWC that will integrate femtocells into the carrier’s 3G network. SingTel from Singapore has been investing in these tiny networks too and has contracted Ericsson for the deployment. Many other small cell related developments have been picking up in the last year or so. AT&T’s 3G small cells are available in 18 states across the US. The operator has committed to deploying 40,000 multimode little base stations by the end of 2015. Sprint has been testing indoor and outdoor small cells for many months and intends a commercial launch later this year. The telco has also been running trials with Qualcomm’s network equipment. World’s biggest wireless service provider by subscribers, China Mobile, recently showed off a self-organizing outdoor small cell backhaul system as part of its TD-LTE network. Japan’s NTT Docomo has been using multiband small cell base stations for more than a year in some of its major markets. Note that as of now, most small cell networks operate on service provider’s existing spectrum holdings. But in the near future, dedicated airwaves could be allocated for these networks.

Multiple recent studies and analyses have predicted a ramp up in the small cell market. Infonetics Research has reported that small cell revenue was a modest $771 million last year but will grow by 65% to $1.3 billion this year. According to their report, 642,000 small cell units were shipped last year and about half of them were 3G, although LTE is projected to take the lead this year. ABI Research forecasted $1.8 billion market for outdoor small cells in 2014. The Asia-Pacific region will represent half of the small cell market by 2019. Allied Market Research put the global femtocell market size at $305 million in 2013 and predicted that this could grow more than ten-fold to $3.7 billion by 2020.

Although the predictions are upbeat, challenges remain for the small cell ecosystem. The cost and availability of backhaul for such stations is an issue. Because of municipal regulations, outdoor site acquisition can be a problematic process. The coordination and synchronization of these cells with local WiFi and the macro network is not as easy as it sounds. In urban scenarios, achieving line-of-sight may be technically difficult for low height in-building base stations. Despite these challenges, the overall small cell industry outlook is favorable. All major telcos and equipment providers have been evolving a small cell strategy. With consumers becoming increasingly intolerable towards bad wireless service, these tiny towers and stations are set to establish a niche but substantial market for themselves.


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