Tag Archives: Cellular network

What is a Small Cell?

22 Oct
What is a Small Cell or Femtocell?

Small cells are fully featured, short range mobile phone basestations used to complement mobile phone service from larger macrocell towers. These range from very compact residential femtocells, the size of a paperback book and connected using standard domestic internet broadband through to larger equipment used inside commercial offices or outdoor public spaces. They offer excellent mobile phone coverage and data speeds at home, in the office and public areas for both voice and data. Small cells have been developed for both 3G and the newer 4G/LTE radio technologies.

The term femtocell was originally used to describe residential products, with picocell being used for enterprise/business premises and metrocell for public/outdoor spaces. As the underlying femtocell technology expanded to address this wider scope, the term small cell was adopted to cover all aspects.

Standalone or integrated femtocells

Early residential femtocell products look very much like WiFi broadband modems, needing only two cables – one for power and one internet connection.

Several vendors such as Thomson, Netgear, Pirelli, Cisco and others integrated the femtocell with other features such as DSL modem, WiFi and even IPTV into a single box. The vast majority of residential femtocells sold to date are standalone.

Larger enterprise and metrocells are also standalone, having sturdy casing and better protection against weather and operating in unsupervised areas.

Locked to a single mobile phone network

Unlike WiFi, these devices use licenced radio spectrum, so must be operated and controlled by a mobile phone company. Thus it will work with only one mobile phone operator, and thus encourages all users in a household or business enterprise to switch to the same network operator.

When in range of the small cell, the mobile phone will automatically detect it and use it in preference to the outdoor cellsites. Calls are made and received in exactly the same way as before, except that the signals are sent encrypted from the small cell via the public or private broadband IP network to one of the mobile operators main switching centres. Making and receiving calls uses the same procedures and telephone numbers, and all the standard features (call divert, text messaging, web browsing) are available in the same way – indeed data services should operate more quickly and efficiently due to the short range involved.

Low power but high quality

Small cells operate at very low radio power levels – less than cordless phones, WiFi or some other household equipment. This substantially increases the battery life, both on standby and talktime. Since they are so much closer to the handset or mobile device, call quality is excellent and data devices can operate at full speed. The smallest femtocells can handle up to 4 simultaneous active calls from different users, with many having a standard capacity of 8. Larger small cell designs for business (enterprise) or public area use can handle 16, 32 or more concurrent calls. These numbers are in addition to passive users not actively making or receiving voice or data calls.

Open or restricted access

Restrictions can be applied on who can access a small cell. Residential femtocell owners may be concerned about paying additional charges for DSL broadband supplier where a quota applies – even though this would equate to many long voice calls or heavy data service use. For this reason, many residential femtocells include a facility to restrict service to a whitelist of up to 30 specified telephone numbers. Enterprise use is more commonly open to all, including visitors, but may prioritise phones belonging to the business itself. Metrocells are always fully open access.

Secure and self-managing

Small cells encrypt all voice and data sent and received, ensuring a high level of protection from sniffing or snooping.

In order to reduce operational and installation costs, these units are self installing and use a variety of clever tricks to sense which frequency to transmit on and power level to use.

Unlike large outdoor mobile phone basestations (masts), femtocells don’t require specialist RF planning engineers to design, calibrate or configure themselves – minimising the ongoing cost of maintaining them. They do have remote management from the network operator, who can upgrade the configuration and software as required.

Doesn’t require special phones

They are compatible with existing standard 3G mobile phones and are not restricted to any specific models. No additional software is required to enable the phone to work with a small cell.


Most of the excitement is based around the 3G UMTS/HSPA mobile phone technology, deployed in almost every country worldwide today and which includes the ability for high speed data services. There are products available for other technologies, including 2G GSM, CDMA and more recently LTE.

So if anyone asks you what a small cell or femtocell is, you can now confidently reply. Read more about the various small cell system architectures, vendors and operators on the rest of this site: http://www.thinksmallcell.com/


Source: http://smallcellsboothbay.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/what-is-a-small-cell/

Should you Build a WiFi Network?

3 Jun
Free Wireless (WiFi) Minneapolis Hotspot in Su...Free Wireless (WiFi) Minneapolis Hotspot in Sumner Field (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For years I have had clients who have been building WiFi networks and then trying to figure out ways to make money with them. For the first time I think there is now enough opportunity to sufficiently monetize a WiFi network to make it look like a good investment. The following are some of the ways that other carriers are making money from WiFi. A good business plan will probably need to combine several of these together to make a viable business.

Cellular Data Upload. The biggest use of WiFi is becoming the uploading of cellular data to the network. Most cellular carriers sell data plans with low caps and they want and expect their customers to use WiFi to keep data traffic off the cellular networks. In most places the cellular networks are not nearly robust enough to handle all of the data they would need to carry if it wasn’t for WiFi. There are two different possible ways to monetize this.

If your service area has enough customers of one or more of the major cellular companies, the carriers might be interested in buying wholesale access into your WiFi network. This is something that is happening in big cities, and in many places the cellular carriers are deploying the WiFi directly. But there are now a number of markets where cellular carriers are buying bulk WiFi access from other carriers.

However, deals with cellular carriers are not yet something that has been commoditized, and the alternate plan is to sell data plans directly to cellular customers in your town for their smart phones. Many cellular customers already have WiFi in their homes, but with a city-wide WiFi network they could then get the WiFi benefits anywhere in town. Statistics say that 85% of cellular data is used in the home territory and you can sell data for less than the cellular carriers and make good money at it.

MVNO Wireless. Even better than selling cellular data to others is consider offering your own wireless plans using an MVNO. In this scenario you buy bulk cellular minutes, text messaging and cellular data and then package them your own cellular plans. If you have a city-wide WiFi network you have a big advantage because you can make sure that your cellular customers use your network for both voice and data when that is possible. This means that you can charge them cellular-level pricing for traffic that you are delivering at landline costs. The margins on MVNO wireless are already decent, but combining it with a robust WiFi network really enhances the bottom line.

Broadband Alternative. There are now a significant number of customers who don’t want traditional broadband delivered by wireline. In addition to smartphone users, there are many customers who now use pads and laptops instead of traditional PCs. So you can sell WiFi business plans as an alternative or as an adjunct to your existing data plans. WiFi-only plans can be priced similarly to traditional low-level landline plans and you might sell a ‘portability’ additive plan to your normal landline data customers. Finally, you can sell hourly, daily and weekly WiFi to visitors or occasional users.

VoIP / Local Only Phone. In every market there are customers who almost never leave town and with a WiFi network you can give them a much lower cost portable phone alternative than using a traditional cellphone carrier. This essentially is a cordless phone that will go anywhere in the town. You also can use WiFi to give local phones to kids and others for low prices, saving parents the cost of pricey cellular family plans.

Public Safety. Most towns and cities would be interested in using your network for public safety and public works. With a citywide WiFi network you can give all city employees access to data anywhere in town, making it easier for police and fire to operate using pads but also improving the productivity for inspectors and other city workers who are mobile in the town. You should be able to sell bulk access to the city and local utilities, particularly if you will arrange a QOS arrangement to give public safety a priority for the network when they need it.

Workforce Needs. And of course, a city-wide WiFi network will also increase your own productivity since your own installers and salespeople can always be connected to the network with a pad or smartphone. This is not a revenue opportunity but rather can save you money.

There certainly some issues to consider and it would make sense to pre-sell to the larger WiFi users before you build the network. But if you can sign up a cellular carrier or the City government as anchor tenants then you can build knowing that these other revenues will materialize if the network is built with good coverage.

Like any business there are operational issues to consider. For instance you will want to insure that only people who are paying for your service use the network so you will want a secure system to validate users and be prepared to boot off customers who give away passwords to others.

From a technical and cost perspective it has never been easier to get into the WiFi business. The price of equipment has dropped and it has become more science and less art to keep the network functioning well.

Source: http://potsandpansbyccg.com/2013/06/03/should-you-build-a-wifi-network/

What Carriers Must Do to Accelerate Innovation-Summary of Telecom Council TC3, Part 3

8 Oct

This summary focuses on an Informa analyst presentation suggesting what carriers must do to innovate (or die).  Consider that wireless carriers  are more than ever in danger of being reduced to purveyors of “dumb pipes,” with little or no financial participation in the mobile network value chain. We also provide a link to innovation priorities from selected carriers, i.e. what they are looking for from suppliers and vendors (especially start-ups).

Informa Telecoms & Media on Telco’s Growth and Innovation Strategies:

Andy Castongua, Informa Principal Analyst covered four areas in his presentation:

  • State of telecom operators’ (i.e., telcos) business
  • Telecom Operators Next Big Bets
  • Relationship with Over the Top (OTT) vendors & content providers
  • Getting the most out of a relationship with telecom operators

It’s no surprise that operators must innovate to prevent them from a future as a dumb pipe provider.  To prevent that outcome, operators have pursued several strategies:

  • Venture Capital divisions as part of an overall strategy of partnering and offering new services.
  • Partnering with Silicon Valley firms- even overseas telcos have set up subsidiaries in SV to do that.
  • Setting up “digital initiatives” across several divisions or in dedicated units, e.g. AT&T’s Emerging Devices Unit

A key point is that telco innovation initiatives are being distributed across the entire network operator reporting structure.

With few exceptions, operators face a challenging mobile market. One caused by stagnation of mobile revenues (especially in Europe) coupled with the phenomenal growth of mobile data traffic which has placed capacity constraints (often bottlenecks) on their 3G/4G mobile networks. Mobile operators are testing a broad range of approaches and strategies to better engage consumers.  They are looking at “non-telecom” benefits to differentiate their core network services. Examples include free tickets to concerts and sporting events from O2, Orange and Vodafone.

Fixed and mobile broadband access revenues are growing at 20+ % per year, with mobile data as a percent of overall wireless service revenues growing even faster, e.g. VZW LTE revenues grew by over 100% (albeit from a very small base) in 2012 year -to- date. Mobile operators are maintaining revenue growth and reducingchurn by adding many low to mid range applications for mobile devices they are selling. Examples include LTE Video Store and Shared Whiteboard (the actual operators offering those apps was not specified).

Machine to Machine (M2M) communications is seen as a huge new growth area for telcos. In the M2M evolution, operators plan to move from dumb connectivity to smart services. The challenge is how to connect the 50B M2M devices (that are predicted in coming years by Ericsson and others) and convert that into a profit producing revenue stream for operators. Informa believes operators are in the very early stage of driving M2M demand and helping consumers understand the significance of the “Internet of Things.”

2015 was said to be the time frame for telco smart services, which might include: business analytics, reports and alerts, business intelligence, communications service management, security & performance management, demand-response (smart grid energy model), and professional services (consulting, systems integration, and software development).

Informa says M2M and Cloud have huge potential but have been way over-hyped. The firm predicts telco cloud revenues will be $5.7B in 2012, while M2M revenues will reach $4.6B.

The market research firm says that operators are moving away from the consumer market to focus on B2B and B2B2C markets.  They are slowing starting to look at industry verticals across their enterprise divisions. Carrier billing is gaining momentum according to Informa. But while a lot of innovation is occurring on top of the mobile network, carriers aren’t controlling it or making money from it.

Informa says that video is a major headache for mobile operators, mainly due to all the OTT players who are making money from exploiting the carrier’s network.  Although some money may be made from new VoD and digital locker services, most streaming video will continue to be consumed for free.  Piracy will also siphon away potential revenues, especially in emerging market countries.  The firm sees carrier video offerings becoming irrelevant as OTT players offer more video streaming apps for smart phones and tablets. A key question is how can operators generate revenue and make money from OTT players and 3rd parties? They really haven’t been very successful selling mobile video services to date. They also haven’t offered network prioritization or guaranteed QoS (which is available in 3GPP LTE standards, but is not yet in general use in deployed LTE networks).

Informa says that network operators are desperate to become more innovative and suggests three ways companies can partner with them to make it happen.

  1. Create new revenue streams for services and applications.  Share revenues with the telco, e.g. Amazon Kindle 3G downloads.
  2. Enhance core services by slowing price erosion, improving customer loyalty and attracting new customers.
  3. Improve processes, network efficiency and retail distribution models.

Examples of companies that have successfully partnered with telcos include Ruckus Wireless, Blue Jeans Network, and Spotify.

As noted in earlier TC3 summaries, network operators have established a huge presence in the greater Silicon Valley area (including San Francisco) to work with companies located there.

Image Courtesy of Informa

The top five areas of telco VC focus are:

  1. Social networking, media and entertainment
  2. Advertising
  3. Cloud Services
  4. Mobile Apps
  5. M2M Communications

These are based on over 184 telco VC investments over the last 6 to 12 months. M2M was cited as being a particularly promising area, as it delivers excellent user experience without heavily taxing the network (M2M communications aren’t characterized by huge amounts of mobile data traffic).

Telcos were encouraged to partner or buy start-ups to get to market quicker with new services/applications, rather than design those by themselves. Network infrastructure, which takes a much longer time to test and deploy, was not encouraged (as we’ve repeatedly reported in many articles for Viodi View and elsewhere).

Informa thinks that Telco Digital Divisions or Departments, like Telefonica’s in London, are a very effective way to partner with start-up companies (or buy them) to offer innovative new services and applications.  In the TC3 part 2 summary, we said, “Telefonica has a venture office in Mt View that’s pursuing global partnerships with startups. The telco has reorganized the entire company to emphasize innovation.”

Some of the new services offered by carriers are OTT, like JaJah’s [1] long distance VoIP service running on Telefonica’s mobile data network, which also provides cellular voice services. This was cited as an example of “pre-emptive inclusion” by  TC3 chairman Derek Kerton.

[1]  JaJah was acquired by Telefonica in December 2009

Source: http://viodi.com/2012/10/07/analysts-on-what-carriers-enterprises-must-do-to-accelerate-innovation-summary-of-telecom-council-tc3-part-3/ October 7, 2012 By Alan Weissberger (Disclaimer: We were originally going to highlight the WiFi Hotspot 2.0 Panel Session in this part 3 summary, but no comments or suggestions were received.  An assessment of this initiative to integrate WiFi hotspots with 3G/4G mobile networks, along with the associated standards from Wi-Fi Alliance (Hotspot 2.0 ) and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (Next Generation Hotspot) can be provided under a consulting contract. The consulting fee is negotiable.)

Small cells or Wi-Fi offload?

3 Oct

The answer to this question is easy: We need both small cells and Wi-Fi to  fit all the traffic generated by smartphone, tablets and laptops.

Historically, the increase in wireless capacity has mostly come from  increased cell density. Over the last 45 years, greater cell density accounted  for a 1,600-fold increase in capacity, according to Martin Cooper, who led the  Motorola team that developed the mobile phone in the 70s. The increase in cell  density was mostly aimed at achieving coverage across the footprint.

Source: Senza Fili. Survey sponsored by Radisys.

Today the challenge is different. Mobile networks cover most of the places  where humans live, work, or travel. The need is to increase cell density where  coverage is already provided by the macro cells. Technological advances and new  spectrum allocations will definitely help to improve capacity, but alone they  are not sufficient to address the 18-fold traffic increase over the next five  years predicted by Cisco’s VNI. According to Alcatel, increase in cell density  will have five times the impact of new spectrum allocation or improvements in  spectral efficiency from new technologies such as LTE.

And small cells and Wi-Fi will play a central role to this increase in  capacity, because it is no longer possible to expand capacity by increasing  macro-cell density, as it was in the past, because in areas with high traffic we  are at saturation. More cells would create further interference and the marginal  capacity gains from new cells would be too low to justify their deployment.

Different solutions, different strategies

But where do operators plan to deploy small cells and Wi-Fi? While both  solutions increase capacity, they do so in different ways. The table below  compares the two solutions and the challenges they pose to mobile operators.

Wi-Fi offload Small cells
Already deployed, but being expanded A few deployments launched, major deployments in two to three  years
Mostly indoors Mostly outdoors
Residential offload is major benefit Focus on high-traffic urban areas
Operators benefit even without building own hotspot network Femto cells offer additional offload potential where the home/office or the  device has no Wi-Fi
Best-efforts QoS tiered services can be implemented

–Transparent access to subscribers

–Introduction of hotspot 2.0 / Passpoint with  SIM-based authentication to improve user experience

–Integration of Wi-Fi traffic management within  the cellular network


–Network coordination and interference  management with macro network

–Selection of backhaul that is affordable and  meets performance requirements

–Site acquisition and lease  agreements

Source: Senza Fili

Wi-Fi offload has been around for a long time. While the way it is  implemented is developing to support better support for mobile subscribers  (e.g., with the roaming framework or SIM-based authentication from Passpoint and  Hotspot 2.0), it is a mature solution that operators understand well and have  largely deployed already. As it uses license-exempt spectrum that mobile  operators cannot control, Wi-Fi offload will necessarily remain a complementary  tool that will not replace mobile networks or that will not have any performance  guarantee, but it can play a huge role because it has a low cost-per-bit and  sufficient spectrum to support high throughput rates to subscribers.

For Wi-Fi offload, most of the attention–as well as the costs and challenges  for mobile operators–comes from public hotspots, which tend to be in those  areas where mobile networks are at capacity. But it is residential Wi-Fi offload  that is shifting most of the Wi-Fi traffic away from mobile networks. And for  operators this is highly valuable because residential usage which has a clear  peak in evening hours cannot be inexpensively accomodated by increase in macro  cells. While in most residential areas it would be possible to increase macro  cell density (unlike in dense urban areas), it would be expensive and  inefficient to do so. Wi-Fi residential networks require no additional  expenditure for the operator (no capex, no backhaul, power or maintenance  costs), and virtually all devices support it.

Small cells offer a completmentary solution to Wi-Fi when deployed in public  areas (we are not talking about femto cells here, which are a small cell  solution which competes with residential Wi-Fi offload, but we think it will  remain a niche solution because of the ubiquity and simplicity of Wi-Fi).  Operators control the spectrum that small cells use, manage their traffic, and  decide where to install them. They are fully integrated within the mobile  network, but also they often use the same spectrum channels as the macro cells,  thus requiring coordination between the macro- and small-cell layers to mitigate  the impact of interference.

Because they are a new solution that requires new RAN and backhaul equipment,  new deployment and business models, and advanced traffic and intererference  managment tools, the adoption of small cells is still in a very early phase.  Most operators are still evaluating small cells in trials. Existing small-cell  deployments are still limited in size as operators try to first address areas  where they face the most severe congestion levers and, at the same time, develop  their strategy for larger deployments.

Also the immediate need for small cells is limited if an operator is only  planning for LTE networks. LTE networks still have a lower network utilization  than 3G networks because they have been launched recently and still have fewer  subscribers. In this context, small cells are not needed. Increasingly, however,  operators are reconsidering 3G small cells, because they can address the  immediate capacity need–which is nearly all stemming from 3G traffic. This is  an approach that not only relieves network congestion in the short term, but it  also gives operators an installed small-cell network to which LTE can be added  when needed as an additional module–and hence at an affordable cost.

No need to choose?

A clear pattern is emerging in which Wi-Fi dominates today, with small cells  bringing a larger contribution with time, and with Wi-Fi remaining the dominant  offload technology in the home, and small cells and Wi-Fi used in dense  metropolitan areas, with Wi-Fi more frequently deployed indoors and small cells  outdoors.

Yet, operators do not need to choose between Wi-Fi offload and small cells in  public areas. The marginal cost of adding Wi-Fi to a small cell, or a small cell  to a Wi-Fi access point is very low. Most of the cost of deploying either a  Wi-Fi access point or a small cell is not the equipment, but the installation  (RF planning, site selection, permitting, installation). So the costs of adding  a new wireless interface is very low as a percentage of the overall deployment  costs, if the new interface is housed together with the one initially used. So a  Wi-Fi access point may accomodate a 3G module today and eventually an LTE module  as well. And a small cell can include Wi-Fi support – and most eqiupments  vendors now offer Wi-Fi built-in modules.

Source: http://www.fiercewireless.com/story/paolini-small-cells-or-wi-fi-offload/2012-09-18?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

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