Thursday, 26 November 2020

NTT Docomo's 5G RAN Infrastructure

We looked at NTT Docomo's 5G Journey and 5G Network Deployment details recently here. In this post we will look at the 5G Infrastructure that Docomo is using in their network. It is detailed in their latest Technical Journal here. In this post we will look at the infrastructure part only.


The 5G network configuration is shown in Figure 4. With a view to 5G service development, NTT DOCOMO developed a Central Unit (CU) that consolidates the Base Band (BB) signal processing section supporting 5G, extended existing BB processing equipment known as high-density Base station Digital processing Equipment (BDE), and developed a 5G Radio Unit (RU) having signal transmit / receive functions. Furthermore, to have a single CU accommodate many RUs, NTT DOCOMO developed a 5G version of the FrontHaul Multiplexer (FHM) deployed in LTE. Each of these three types of equipment is described below.

1) CU
(a) Development concept: With the aim of achieving a smooth rollout of 5G services, NTT DOCOMO developed a CU that enables area construction without having to replace existing equipment while minimizing the construction period and facility investment. This was accomplished by making maximum use of the existing high-density BDE that performs BB signal processing, replacing some of the cards of the high-density BDE, and upgrading the software to support 5G.

(b) CU basic specifications: An external view of this CU is shown in Photo 1. This equipment has the features described below (Table 3). As described above, this equipment enables 5G-supporting functions by replacing some of the cards of the existing high-density BDE. In addition, future software upgrades will load both software supporting conventional 3G/LTE/LTE-Advanced and software supporting 5G. This will enable the construction of a network supporting three generations of mobile communications from 3G to 5G with a single CU.

The existing LTE-Advanced system employs advanced Centralized RAN (C-RAN) architecture proposed by NTT DOCOMO. This architecture is also supported in 5G with the connection between CU and RUs made via the fronthaul. Standardization of this fronthaul was promoted at the Open RAN (O-RAN) Alliance jointly established in February 2018 by five operators including NTT DOCOMO.  Since the launch of 5G services, the fronthaul in the NTT DOCOMO network was made to conform to these O-RAN fronthaul specifications that enable interoperability between different vendors, and any CU and RU that conform to these specifications can be interconnected regardless of vendor. The specifications for inter-connecting base-station equipment also con-form to these O-RAN specifications, which means that a multi-vendor connection can be made between a CU supporting 5G and a high-density BDE supporting LTE-Advanced. This enables NTT DOCOMO to deploy a CU regardless of the vendor of the existing high-density BDE and to quickly and flexibly roll out service areas where needed while making best use of existing assets. In addition, six or more fronthaul connections can be made per CU and the destination RU of each fronthaul connection can be se-lected. Since 5G supports wideband trans-mission beyond that of LTE-Advanced, the fronthaul transmission rate has been extend-ed from the existing peak rate of 9.8 Gbps to a peak rate of 25 Gbps while achieving a CU/RU optical distance equivalent to that of the existing high-density BDE.

2) RU
(a) Development concept: To facilitate flexible area construction right from the launch of 5G services, NTT DOCOMO developed the low-power Small Radio Unit (SRU) as the RU for small cells and developed, in particular, separate SRUs for each of the 3.7 GHz, 4.5 GHz, and 28 GHz frequency bands provided at the launch of the 5G pre-commercial service in September 2019. Furthermore, with an eye to early expansion of the 5G service area, NTT DOCOMO developed the Regular power Radio Unit (RRU) as the RU for macrocells to enable the efficient creation of service areas in suburbs and elsewhere.

A key 5G function is beamforming that aims to reduce interference with other cells and thereby improve the user’s quality of experience. To support this function, NTT DOCOMO developed a unit that integrates the antenna and 5G radio section (antenna-integrated RU). It also developed a unit that separates the antenna and 5G radio section (antenna-separated RU) to enable an RU to be placed alongside existing 3G/LTE/LTE-Advanced Radio Equipment (RE) and facilitate flexible installation even for locations with limited space or other constraints.

(b) SRU basic specifications: As described above, NTT DOCOMO developed the SRU to enable flexible construction of 5G service areas. It developed, in particular, antenna-integrated SRUs to support each of the 3.7 GHz, 4.5 GHz, and 28 GHz frequency bands provided at the launch of the 5G pre-commercial service and antenna-separated SRUs to support each of the 3.7 GHz and 4.5 GHz frequency bands (Photo 2). These two types of SRUs have the following features (Table 4).

The antenna-integrated RU is equipped with an antenna panel to implement the beamforming function. In the 3.7 GHz and 4.5 GHz bands, specifications call for a maximum of 8 beams, and in the 28 GHz band, for a maximum of 64 beams. An area may be formed with the number of transmit/receive beams tailored to the TDD Config used by NTT DOCOMO. In addition, the number of transmit/receive branches is 4 for the 3.7 GHz and 4.5 GHz bands and 2 for the 28 GHz band, and MIMO transmission/reception can be performed with a maximum of 4 layers for the former bands and a maximum of 2 layers for the latter band.

The antenna-separated SRU is configured with only the radio as in conventional RE to save space and facilitate installation. With this type of SRU, the antenna may be installed at a different location. Moreover, compared to the antenna-integrated SRU operating in the same frequency band, the antenna-separated SRU reduces equipment volume to 6.5ℓ or less. The antenna-separated SRU does not support the beamforming function, but features four transmit/receive branches the same as the antenna-integrated SRU for the same frequency band.

(c) RRU basic specifications: The RRU was developed in conjunction with the 5G service rollout as high-power equipment compared with the SRU with a view to early expansion of the 5G service area (Photo 3). This type of equipment has the following features (Table 5).


Compared with existing Remote Radio Equipment (RRE) for macrocells, the volume of RRU equipment tends to be larger to support 5G broadband, but in view of the latest electronic device trends, NTT DOCOMO took the lead in developing and deploying an antenna-separated RRU that could save space and reduce weight. Maximum transmission power is 36.3 W/100 MHz/branch taking the radius of a macrocell area into account. The RRU features four transmit/receive branches and achieves the same number of MIMO transmission/reception layers as the antenna-separated SRU.
NTT DOCOMO also plans to deploy an antenna-integrated RRU at a later date. The plan here is to construct 5G service areas in a flexible manner making best use of each of these models while taking installation location and other factors into account.

3) 5G FHM
The 5G FHM is equipment having a multiplexing function for splitting and combining a maximum of 12 radio signals on the fronthaul. It was developed in conjunction with the 5G service rollout the same as RRU (Photo 4).
If no 5G FHM is being used, each RU is accommodated as one cell, but when using a 5G FHM, a maximum of 12 RUs can be accommodated as one cell in a CU. At the launch of 5G services, this meant that more RUs could be accommodated in a single CU when forming a service area in a location having low required radio capacity (Figure 5). Additionally, since all RUs transmit and receive radio signals of the same cell, the 5G FHM can inhibit inter-RU interference and the occurrence of Hand-Over (HO) control between RUs as in the conventional FHM. Furthermore, the 5G FHM supports all of the 5G frequency bands, that is, the 3.7 GHz, 4.5 GHz, and 28 GHz bands, which means that service areas can be constructed in a flexible manner applying each of these frequency bands as needed.

All the fronthaul and other interfaces that Docomo used in their network was based on O-RAN alliance specifications. In a future post, we will look at some of the details.

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Thursday, 19 November 2020

Telia Norway Launches 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA)

Telia Norge (Norway) claims to have become the first of the country’s CSP to introduce a Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) 5G service. Announcing the product development in a press release, the operator said:

Telia Norway is challenging the broadband market again and is the first in the country to offer wireless broadband (FWA) with 5G. New and existing customers now have access to very high and stable internet speeds in the home delivered over Telia's super-fast 5G network. 

- We are very proud to be the first in Norway with wireless broadband with 5G. We are experiencing great demand for wireless broadband across the country, and are confident that the 5G product will be very attractive to many, especially copper customers who now need new internet, says Pål Rune Kaalen, head of the private market in Telia Norway. - We are starting the rollout in Trondheim, and will gradually open for ordering based on where in the country we have 5G coverage, and where we experience great interest from customers. In areas of great interest, we will actively prioritize the development of 5G.

5G fiber speeds

With 5G wireless broadband, you as a customer get very high and stable internet speeds at home delivered over Telia's super-fast 5G network. Initially, download speeds of 100, 200 and 300 Mbps are offered, which are the fastest speeds on the market today. In the long run, Telia will deliver even higher speeds on the product. All you need to use wireless broadband is a small outdoor antenna receiver and an indoor router, which is delivered when the product is installed in your home. The internet signals come from the nearest base station.

- We are committed to ensuring the best possible customer experience, and therefore the product comes with a dedicated outdoor antenna receiver and a market-leading Wi-Fi 6 router, which provides maximum speeds and optimal stability when surfing, streaming and playing, says Kaalen. - Furthermore, we always ensure a professional installation in your home, and since the internet signals come from a base station, you avoid extensive digging as with fiber, which provides a cheap, fast and not least flexible installation.

Existing customers who currently have 4G wireless broadband will easily be able to upgrade to 5G by replacing the antenna receiver outdoors. The wireless Wi-Fi 6 router is already ready for the new solution.

Half the population of 5G next year

Telia has high speed in the development of its national 5G network, and has so far opened the network in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Lillestrøm. Wireless broadband with 5G will be offered continuously in areas that have and receive 5G coverage. Telia's 5G development is taking place area by area throughout the country, and during the next year, half the population will have access to 5G where they live. Telia will be the first with a nationwide 5G network by the end of 2023.

- More and more people will have the opportunity to order wireless broadband with 5G in the time ahead, and as a customer it pays to choose Telia, as we are at the forefront of 5G development in this country while delivering the fastest internet speeds, says Kaalen. - At the same time, we are working hard to be able to deliver a leading TV offer through wireless broadband, so we will come up with more exciting news soon.

Telia wireless broadband with 5G is offered with download speeds of 100, 200 and 300 Mbps, with 50 Mbps in common upload speeds. The fixed monthly price is NOK 699, 799 and 999, respectively, and the installation cost is NOK 3,499 for new and existing customers. The product comes with a dedicated outdoor antenna receiver and market-leading Wi-Fi 6 routers - both from the renowned network manufacturer Zyxel. 

Their Wireless Broadband page provides more information on the different types of broadband and the price plans. 

We have explained FWA in our tutorial here. The tutorial video is embedded below.

Worth noting that the 5G network by Telia Norway is from Ericsson.

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Thursday, 12 November 2020

TIM and INWIT to deploy small cells in Italy


INWIT (Italian Wireless Infrastructures) is currently Italy’s major Tower Operator providing widespread coverage throughout the country, hosting the transmission equipment for all main national operators. Back in March, INWIT became the largest tower company in Italy after purchase, by INWIT, of a minority stake of 43.4% of the share capital of Vodafone Towers and for the subsequent merger of the latter into INWIT. 

In a press release last week, TIM and INWIT announced:

TIM and INWIT started a collaboration to deploy small cells in Italy’s major cities in order to make the mobile phone signal more performing and support the development of 5G.

The collaboration will begin in Milan and Genoa where it is expected to install about 100 small cells and will continue in other cities and places with high traffic density, as the support of micro-antennas will be needed to achieve an optimal 5G network.

Small cells are small antennas built and used to integrate the signal that is guaranteed by the systems placed on traditional towers. Despite the spread throughout the territory of traditional macro towers (INWIT has over 22,000 sites) and despite the fact that their number is growing to meet the ever-increasing demand for mobile connections by customers, more and more small cells systems capable of increasing the quality of the signal will be developed in large urban centers.

Small cells play a fundamental role, especially for the development and perfect functioning of 5G and its services. Indeed, this new technology features low latency (a minimum delay between the request and the reception of information) and a data transmission speed ten times faster than previous systems. In order to maintain these characteristics and to allow all connected devices to operate at their best, the quality of the 5G radio signal must always be optimal.

TIM and INWIT have already experimented underground solutions in several municipalities, such as small cells that are inserted in manholes under the road surface that, especially in venues with a remarkable artistic value or in ancient towns, by no means alter the artistic integrity.

It is interesting to see that there there has already been some experimentation with small cells in manhole covers. We have written extensively about it and you can find some of the posts in the references below.

It is also important to point out that in the announcement above, it says: "Small cells are small antennas built and used to integrate the signal that is guaranteed by the systems placed on traditional towers. "

Small Cells definition can be quite loose, so not sure what they mean by this. In the USA, outdoor Small cells is generally used to refer to Remote Radio Heads (RRHs) rather than an all in one unit. It can mean that.

Small cell forum also clarified the definition of 5G small cell that is available here.

TelecomTV in their newsletter on Monday said: "The team at TIM (Telecom Italia) tells us that the small 5G RAN nodes being deployed in partnership with towers firm INWIT will be for TIM’s use only, and that technology from multiple vendors will be used, though the initial rollouts in Milan and Genoa will use small cells supplied by Ericsson. "

Hopefully we will find out more details in the near future.

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Thursday, 5 November 2020

OpenSoftHaul - Disaggregated White Box Solution from TIP

Telecom Infra Project (TIP) is on a mission to disaggregate all network components so backhaul is no exception. OpenSoftHaul (OSH) is a wireless backhaul transport solution, adopting the principles of an open and disaggregated architecture as can be seen in the picture above. A detailed specification is available here

Axiata, Deutsche Telekom, MTN, Telefónica, and TIM Brasil have been coordinating a joint RFI to assess the global technology landscape for building the first-in-the-world service providers-driven Open and Disaggregated wireless backhaul solutions as a part of the Telecom Infra Project’s Wireless Backhaul Project Group (WBH PG). A press release on their website said:

The industry’s leading hardware and software technology providers have been asked to participate in the RFI, share information on their current technical capabilities, and supported features to measure the level of compliance and their plans to build solutions that fulfill the OpenSoftHaul (OSH) technical requirements developed in TIP.

“The Wireless Backhaul Project Group is a multi-operator led program. By having worked together since the ideation phase, we decided to execute a joint RFI to maximize the demand signal to the industry and the technology makers to accelerate innovation with solutions that will promote deployment flexibility and will lead the way in automation and operational efficiency,” said Dimitris Siomos, Principal Network Expert at Deutsche Telekom Group.

Multiple technology providers have answered the RFI, focusing on one or multiple components of the wireless backhaul system and have gone through a detailed technical evaluation with the operators of all RFI answers based on the following criteria: solution architecture, openness, functionality, scalability, availability & solution roadmap.

Following the technical evaluation, the operators have identified the following best positioned suppliers (in no particular order) :

  • For HW ODU : Aviat Networks, Ceragon, Intracom Telecom & SIAE Microelectronica
  • For HW IDU : Alpha Networks, Ceragon, Delta, Edgecore Networks & UfiSpace
  • For NOS SW : Aviat Networks, Ceragon, Adva Optical Networking, IP Infusion, Altran, Exaware & Infinera

The technical specifications document, represents the alignment of the operators on the transformation needed in the wireless backhaul technology. Together, they have defined the key aspects of an OpenSoftHaul product, including performance, openness, standardized interfaces, scalability, flexibility of deployment, operation, automation, and total cost of ownership.Earlier this year, the WBH PG published the technical specifications document of the OpenSoftHaul (OSH) solution.

The technical specifications document, represents the alignment of the operators on the transformation needed in the wireless backhaul technology. Together, they have defined the key aspects of an OpenSoftHaul product, including performance, openness, standardized interfaces, scalability, flexibility of deployment, operation, automation, and total cost of ownership.

The OpenSoftHaul RFI announcement webinar also provides a lot more details on OSH. It is embedded below.

OpenSoftHaul RFI Announcement from Telecom Infra Project on Vimeo.

Disaggregation is expected to play a huge role in future networks where operators are looking for plug and play components from multiple vendors to reduce dependency on any single vendor as well as reduce the TCO. We will start seeing some major rollouts of this in the next couple of years.

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Thursday, 29 October 2020

Nokia's 5G Small Cells in Limelight

We looked at Nokia's Airscale Indoor Radio Small Cells only recently. In addition their small cells keep popping up in the news on a regular basis; see related posts below. There has been quite a few announcements by Nokia on 5G small cells recently, so here is a summary: 


Nokia announced that its market-leading Smart Node portfolio of All-in-One base stations for 5G indoor use will be powered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.’s unique chipsets. The press release says:

The product, which leverages the industry-leading Qualcomm 5G RAN platform for small cells, is designed to deliver ubiquitous indoor 5G coverage for residential and enterprise networks. The new 5G Smart Node complements Nokia’s portfolio of 5G Small Cells such as the AirScale Micro Remote Radio Head and AirScale Indoor Radio, which are commercially deployed by many operator networks globally to boost 5G capacity and coverage. It is expected to be available from Q1 2021.

Nokia is working with Qualcomm Technologies to bring its 5G RAN technology into Nokia’s Smart Node portfolio, delivering 5G in a compact, cost-effective plug-and-play package for smaller indoor network use-cases. Nokia’s use of Qualcomm Technologies’ innovations will enable 5G deployment at a significantly lower price point and smaller form factor, lowering the barriers to entry into the 5G-powered world. The working relationship underscores Nokia’s commitment to selecting best-in-class partners for the delivery of unmatched solutions within the industry’s only end-to-end 5G portfolio.

Nokia 5G Smart Node, based on the Qualcomm 5G RAN platform, is a low-power, flexible mount product that enables operators to address 5G network densification and indoor coverage requirements. Easy and quick to install, 5G Smart Nodes are a cost-effective way to extend the availability of 5G across multiple locations and provide a compelling option for in-home, small office and enterprise coverage.

With 80 percent of mobile sessions initiated indoors, home and small businesses remain a hub of mobile device use, making high-quality indoor 5G coverage a necessity. Many 5G frequency bands, especially those with wider bandwidths, cannot penetrate buildings due to propagation losses; this makes 5G Smart Nodes a great option for home and small office coverage. Where total cost of ownership (TCO) is a key factor, 5G Smart Nodes deliver reliable voice, data and services over 5G with minimal overheads and do not require any specialist in-house expertise for installation.

The modular design of the Smart Node solution offers ultimate flexibility and is easy to upgrade from 4G to 5G, touch-safe, and deployable on tabletops, ceilings or walls. Now with the inclusion of the Qualcomm FSM100xx software-defined small cell modem, software upgrades allow for simplified advancement to future mobile network standards and releases. Features such as Narrowband IoT support for low-power, wide-area coverage, emergency helpline services, local break out and telecom grade security help operators address indoor network needs without the complexity and cost of a macro deployment.

Nokia’s portfolio of residential and small-medium enterprise small cells caters to the full range of consumer and enterprise requirements. Working together with Qualcomm Technologies brings 5G to more locations and environments than ever before. The unmatched price point of the 5G Smart Node offering has been achieved through unique optimizations to the all-in-one architecture, pushing the boundaries of the intended use-cases.

Our understanding is that Nokia (and former Alcatel-Lucent, which is part of Nokia now) already uses Qualcomm chipset for it's small cells and femtocells.

In other news, Nokia announced that they have won 5G small cells deal in Taiwan with Chunghwa Telecom (CHT). The press release says:

Nokia today announced that it will provide Taiwanese mobile operator, Chunghwa Telecom (CHT) with a range of products from its innovative small cells portfolio to support CHT’s initiative to deliver comprehensive 5G coverage. CHT is the first operator in Taiwan to deploy a 5G non-standalone (NSA) small cells solution enabling instant 5G coverage in specific areas such as business as well as tourist districts. Nokia has already commenced deployment and has installed 140 5G small cells to date.

Nokia has been a long-term partner of CHT, since the 2G era. The deal will see Nokia supply CHT with its flexible AirScale indoor Radio (ASiR) solution for better indoor coverage and capacity, as well as its AirScale micro RRH for outdoor and urban hot spots. These will be deployed to complement the existing base of over 2,500 sets of 4G small cells. Nokia’s 5G small cells portfolio is quick to install and enables operators to address 5G network densification and indoor coverage requirements. With enterprise being a key 5G market CHT is working closely with local small to medium-size enterprises to provide secure 5G coverage to enable industry 4.0 automation. Approximately 80 percent of mobile sessions are initiated indoors from homes and businesses and high-quality indoor 5G coverage is pivotal to ensuring a good end-user experience.

Nokia has been working with CHT for a long time and have numerous press release and announcements with them. The following video from 2016 shows Small cells & Mobile Edge Computing being deployed in a stadium to cover all the bases for Taiwan baseball fans.

As this Light Reading article points out:

The small-cell contract award comes hard on the heels of 5G wins with Taiwan Mobile and Asia-Pacific Telecom (APT), as well as a 5G RAN contract from CHT earlier in the year.

CHT is also buying RAN equipment from Ericsson, and using the Swedish supplier as its sole provider of 5G core equipment (Ericsson is mopping up a fair bit of 5G business in Taiwan, too). But the operator opted for Nokia when it came to a 5G non-standalone (NSA) small cells solution: the AirScale indoor Radio (ASiR), for better indoor coverage and capacity, and the AirScale micro RRH, for outdoor and urban hot spots. Coverage is aimed at specific areas, such as business and tourist districts.

More details of Nokia's Small cells and Smart Node femtocells here. Femtocell products here.

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Monday, 19 October 2020

5G Infrastructure in South Korea

The three South Korean operators made a history when they all launched 5G network simultaneously, thereby making South Korea the first country with all operators having launched 5G.


Samsung's big break in 5G came with them being selected by all the three operators for their 5G networks. Now they have written a three part blog and a whitepaper to highlight the progress of 5G in Korea. Links as follows:
  • Key Drivers for Korea's 5G Success (Part One)
  • Key Drivers for Korea's 5G Success (Part Two)
  • Key Drivers for Korea's 5G Success (Part Three)
  • White Paper: Optimized 5G Solutions that deliver on the Promise of 5G
Even with all the progress, it is not a smooth sailing for 5G in S. Korea. A recent report in the newspaper Korea Herald said that More than half a million 5G network users returned to 4G. The article explained:

The figure -- 562,656 users who downgraded from their 5G subscriptions -- accounts for 6.5 percent of the total 5G network subscribers in South Korea, according to the report by Rep. Hong Jung-min, who belongs to the Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee at the National Assembly.

The number of 5G network users as of end-August was 8.65 million in South Korea.

The lawmaker pointed out in the report released in time for the Assembly audit that many 5G users have gone back to the lower-speed network service as the high-priced new network system failed to offer quality connection and coverage.

Here is a video from Samsung showing the Snapshot of Korea 5G

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Monday, 12 October 2020

Different Types of Ethernet Cables in a Mobile Network

Ethernet cables play a big part in a networks. The servers, routers, switches and other physical nodes are still connected with the humble ethernet cables. They have undergone some changes as well. 

From Cat-3/Cat-5, we are now starting to use Cat-7/Cat-8 cables because of the amount of data that needs to move between different nodes, especially with 5G. 

Here is a short and simple video explaining everything you need to know about Ethernet cables.

You can also find some more detail in this Electronics notes article here.

Monday, 5 October 2020

Softbank Demoed Drone Wireless Relay System

Back in 2016, I was involved with doing testing using drones and Helikite with the UK operator EE. You can read more about that here. Since then, many different operators have tested the use of drones mainly for disaster recovery kinds of scenarios. The Japanese operator Softbank recently tried the same.


The press release from them provided the following details:

When typhoons, earthquakes, landslides and other types of natural disasters strike, mobile phones serve as an important lifeline for people to get information and to stay in touch with their family, friends and colleagues. SoftBank Corp. recognizes the importance of restoring communications lifelines quickly, and is engaged in developing and building systems for disaster preparedness.

One such service restoration initiative SoftBank has been working on is the “Drone Wireless Relay System.” On August 31, 2020, SoftBank demonstrated the solution for the press at Katsuma Radio Control Airstrip in Ichihara City, Chiba Prefecture, just east of Tokyo.

Thanks to their portability and ease-of-use, drone-based wireless relay base stations are showing promise as a means of providing connectivity when outages occur in the wake of natural disasters. SoftBank has been working with theTokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech)’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering since 2019 to conduct research on drone-based wireless relay systems that use a wired power feed.

SoftBank’s drone-based relay base station rises to an altitude of 100 meters, covering a 10km radius. The drone can be transported in a small vehicle and is easy to set up. Compared to another SoftBank network recovery solution, the moored-balloon relay system, the time to deployment is much shorter. In addition, the wired power supply allows the drone to fly continuously for three days or longer, making it suitable for operations over the short- to medium-term.

The moored-balloon wireless relay system is capable of lifting wireless relay equipment to an altitude of 100 meters, covering a five-kilometer radius in open terrain. SoftBank 3G (mobile phone) (2.1 GHz band) voice communications and packet transmissions (email, Internet, etc.) can be used within the coverage area. We are also conducting trial tests of a new moored-balloon wireless relay system for SoftBank 4G LTE that can be deployable from ships, as part of our efforts to continuously improve this system.

A video from the recent drone event is as follows:

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Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Small Cells Have a Bright Future

We have been hearing about the promise of small cells for a very long time but looks like it may be about to become true. Quite a few analysts have mentioned about how small cells have an important role to play in both 5G and Private Networks. 


A new report from Dell'Oro Group, announced last week, said:

Preliminary estimates suggest the small cell radio access network (RAN) market (excluding residential small cells) approached 1 to 1.5 M units in the first half of 2020, comprising a double-digit share of the overall RAN market. Aggregate small cell growth is tracking slightly below expectations, partly due to logistical challenges associated with the pandemic. At the same time, small cell RAN revenues improved more than 20% Q/Q in the second quarter, adding confidence the bulk of these transitory challenges are now in the past and are unlikely to impact the long-term demand for small cells.

The global growth outlook for small cells remains favorable, underpinning projections the technology will play an increasingly important role supporting the overall RAN network as operators and enterprises navigate new technologies, spectrum bands, and use cases. Cumulative global small cell RAN investments remain on track to approach $25 B over the next five years, advancing at a substantially faster pace than the macro RAN market. Helping to explain this output acceleration is broad-based acceleration across both the indoor and outdoor domains.

It should be mentioned that Small Cell definitions vary significantly from country to country and analyst to analyst. 

Back in May, a report by Rethink Research had suggested that privately rolled-out enterprise networks will drive the small cell market to 26 million units by 2026. 

The cells, according to the organisation’s RAN Research service, will be “increasingly diverse in form, ranging from compact versions of macro base stations to almost invisible systems embedded in electronic equipment.”

Sixty-eight per cent of these will be deployed in the enterprise and industrial space, enabled by emerging shared spectrum in the mid- and millimetre wave bands. Government, transport, healthcare, and hospitality will “lead the way” in terms of early adoption.

Again, back in May, Mobile Experts provided a new detailed report where they predicted that Small Cell equipment market will reach $5.5 Billion in 2025. Their press release stated:

Mobile Experts published a report today that provides comprehensive analysis of trends in Small Cell development, including 3G, 4G, and 5G.

The report covers indoor and outdoor units in integrated, RRH, and distributed DRS. Residential, enterprise, and carrier segments are broken down in detail, and provide a forecast of 5G and Open RAN small cells deployed in sub-6GHz bands.

Mobile Experts reports that the enterprise segment will be a bright spot for Small Cells. Private LTE and Private 5G networks are on the rise, with new spectrum released recently in the USA, Germany, Japan, UK, and many other key countries considering a similar measure. While growth may be lackluster for a time due to COVID-19, growing interest in private LTE/5G wireless networking for industrial automation and other enterprise applications that require reliable, low-latency wireless links remains strong.

This report offers a comprehensive overall view of Small Cells, including information about technology and architectural evolution, spectrum trends, business model trends, and deployment by small cell customers. This report illustrates the market share positions for each type of small cell, highlighting the large tier-one vendors and also some surprising new emerging stars.


Going back to January, Kagan, a research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, predicted that Small cell technology will be fundamental in mobile network coverage expansion over the next five years, as both wireless operators and enterprises leverage a combination of indoor and outdoor solutions to deliver 5G services as broadly as possible. Their announcement said:

While dense urban/metro and adjacent suburbs will be the primary focus, operators such as T-Mobile US Inc. that are asserting "nationwide" 5G coverage are also targeting rural areas for small cell deployments. According to new research from Kagan, global small cell shipments are expected to grow from 2.9 million units in 2019 to 3.7 million units by 2021, and 4.2 million units by 2024.

Total combined indoor and outdoor small cell revenue is expected to grow from $1.9 billion in 2019 to more than $2.2 billion for both 2021 and 2022, then decline slightly to just above $2 billion for 2023 and 2024. Following an established progression, we expect small cell revenues to decline even as unit shipments increase, as operators in all regions continue to expand their 5G network and service footprints and ASPs decline. The Asia Pacific market, led by aggressive 5G buildouts in China, South Korea and Japan, is seeing the highest volumes of small cell deployment. North America, driven by U.S. operators Verizon Wireless (VAW) LLC, AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile (which is using 600 MHz low-band spectrum for broader coverage per cell), is also a hotbed of small cell investment and network expansion efforts. Meanwhile, operators in Western Europe and India are likewise increasing their attention and capital spending on small cell densification. Operators in other regions, in addition to highlighting their 5G plans, are also implementing 4G LTE network enhancements, especially in markets such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, or EMEA, and Latin America and Caribbean, or CALA, where current 4G coverage and capacity deficiencies must be remedied.

Despite the hype surrounding 5G, to be clear, 3G and 4G LTE deployments are expected to be strong through the next five years, and remain the dominant technology in terms of volume shipments until early 2022, when cumulative 5G small cell units will finally overtake 3G/4G LTE. Why? The fact remains that the ongoing small cell investment and deployment focus by operators worldwide, especially in the largest countries – China and India – is for 3G and 4G LTE network enhancement. And while outdoor coverage expansion is fundamental, indoor small cell network densification is also a top priority for all wireless operators, especially where outdoor coverage is already relatively saturated from a subscriber-per-cell standpoint.

Nevertheless, 5G technology is being deployed in earnest by operators in all global regions, although CALA — the smallest wireless and small cell market by far — will continue to lag significantly behind other regions. The initial 5G deployments, for example, in North America, have been with new radio, or NR frequencies, i.e., the 450 MHz to 6 GHz range, and the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum range, from 24 GHz to 52 GHz. The NR 5G small cells deployed by operators such as Verizon and AT&T in the U.S. include both standalone, or SA, and non-standalone, or NSA platforms, the latter leveraging existing 4G architectures and infrastructure to support both 5G services.

As small cell densification by wireless operators moves forward, integrated small cell platforms supporting both 5G and 4G radios will overtake the combined 5G NR NSA/SA small cell shipments in 2021, after a projected dead heat in 2020. The cost of integrated 5G/4G platforms may remain an impediment to the speed of investment for operators, but as volumes ramp up, prices will be driven down accordingly. Nevertheless, operator imperatives for 5G densification will spur accelerated growth of the integrated 5G/4G radios, with an inflection point in 2021 which continues with robust growth of this technology through 2024, as illustrated in the graph below.


Each year, Small Cell Forum (SCF) publishes their own market status report, built around a detailed forecast of deployment of small cell networks in a range of scenarios. The core data source is a survey of about 100 operators & other service providers about their plans for the next six years. The report from this year states:

Our top-line global forecast for deployment and upgrade of small cells shows a healthy compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13% between 2019 and 2026, rising from a rate of 2.7 million in 2019 to 6.3 million by the end of the forecast period. That represents a cumulative total of 38.3 million small cells deployed (Figure 1).

While the highest CAGR (24%) will be seen in the urban environment, this is coming from a lower starting point – in 2019, over 80% of deployments were in indoor enterprise, industrial and campus settings. Enterprise small cells will account for the largest number of deployments throughout the period and by 2026 will account for 68% of the installed base, with a CAGR of 9%. Rural and remote small cells will be increasingly prominent as a result of the ubiquitous coverage requirements of some industrial and IoT applications, for instance in transportation or mining. The CAGR will be 19% in the period and by the end of 2026, 957 thousand rural and remote radio heads will have been installed.

There are still considerable uncertainties in the market, so there s significant variation between best case and worst-case forecasts. Factors which affect this variation include the immaturity of 5G platforms and business models; immaturity in industrial and IoT business models; potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and recession; uncertain timescales for operators to adopt key enablers such as AI-enabled automation or cloud-native networks.

All of these factors may have a greater effect (positive or negative) than currently anticipated, with a knock-on impact on the forecast.

Regardless of who we listen to, the future is looking bright for small cells.

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Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Award Winning Ericsson Radio Dot Provides 5G Coverage on China Subway

It's been over 2 years since we last talked about the Ericsson's 5G Radio Dot. Earlier this year, Radio Dot 4475 scooped a Red Dot Design Award for the product’s high design quality.


In a press release earlier this month, Ericsson announced:

Commuters and travelers on Shenyang’s subway Line 9 can access China Mobile 5G connectivity across all 22 stations on the line, powered by the Ericsson 5G Radio Dot. The 5G network has been operational for several months.

More than 900,000 passengers use the subway system in Shenyang, north east China, every day. The Ericsson 5G Radio Dot deployment on Line 9 is helping China Mobile to meet the increasing data needs from its customers - particularly in high-quality uninterrupted video and streaming traffic - in subway stations as passengers wait for, or change, traveling connections.

The Ericsson 5G Radio Dot System on Line 9 operates on various China Mobile frequencies. It provides a stable downlink of 1Gbps and a maximum transmission rate of up to 1.4Gbps. A 1GB high-definition movie could therefore be downloaded within 10 seconds.

The compact and easily deployable nature of the solution meant that Ericsson was able to install more than 500 5G Radio Dots across the 22 stations in just 20 days - 40 days ahead of schedule.

Ericsson and China Mobile continue to work in partnership on subway 5G connectivity in Shenyang as part of the city’s digitalization ambitions.

Back in July, Vodafone was showcasing Standalone 5G. One of the components if this network was the 5G Radio Dot.

To support the university’s 5G ambitions further, Vodafone has also installed Ericsson’s 5G Radio Dot System in the university’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab and National Transport Design Centre. The indoor technology will deliver fast, high-capacity 5G in key buildings to support its innovative teaching and learning.

Last year, Ericsson and Elisa piloted private networks in Finland at Elisa’s facilities in the first of half of 2019 using a prepackaged Ericsson Private Network solution that included Ericsson Enterprise Core, Router 6000 and Radio Dot System for indoor coverage. 

Again last year, Ericsson and Swisscom deployed the 5G Radio Dots in the Swiss service provider’s live 5G commercial network and simultaneously made the first 5G data call in Europe between two offices over the 5G Radio Dot System during a Joint Mobile Day event in Bern, Switzerland. The call, made on July 1 2019 between Ericsson’s office in central Bern and Swisscom’s office in the nearby town of Liebefeld, was a tech milestone for the Swiss service provider’s 5G network rollout since it became the first in Europe to switch on a commercial 5G network – fully powered by Ericsson – in April 2019.

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