Tuesday 2 August 2016

Small Cells: Best solution for rural coverage?

I drive around the UK a great deal. While I rely mostly on my phone to call and message/text, I also use it to check tweets, Facebook, emails and most important of all as a Satnav (I'm a big fan of Waze). I often end up in scenarios where I have no coverage so a wrong turn results in my Satnav route failure. This can mean I have to drive around for miles before I can get back on route.

In most countries (including UK) when an operator mentions its coverage, its means population based coverage. The problem is that one may have reasonable coverage in a big town/cities but not on small roads and villages but the operator would have still met their coverage obligation. However this will be changing, at least in UK, with the announcement by EE that they will do a 95% geographic coverage. Kudos to them!

Picture Source: Point-Topic

This map I came across recently shows the rural challenges in Europe for providing connectivity. Whilst not that detailed, I can definitely say from a UK point of view, there are many places outside big towns and cities that have coverage gaps.

As can be seen above, a similar problem is present in Africa and Carribean and Latin America (CALA). In these regions, in addition to the coverage gap, affordability and lack of relevant content are also major issues.

To put it simply in most countries, there is that last 10% of the population for whom coverage is not deemed feasible for the operator.  The problem is that the investment would generally outweigh the revenues. The installation (site, backhaul, etc.) and the maintenance cost would almost always outweigh the profits.

This is one of the challenges that Parallel Wireless* is trying to solve.

What if you can make the deployment very simple and reduce the installation cost and have minimal maintenance cost?

The operator would be far more willing to give it a try. There was an announcement between Parallel Wireless and Telefonica I+D for exactly this reason recently. The small communities wherein these small cells are deployed also have a vital role to play. Not only could they help by making sites available, they can have directly report any issues that would arise. An example of this can be seen in the picture above, demonstrating a small cell deployment in a community center.

An important thing to bear in mind is the support for different types of backhaul for small cells. While cellular/LTE backhaul can allow quick deployment, additional type of backhaul can become available much quicker than anticipated. The small cell deployment should be flexible enough to be able to handle this new change.

A real life example of the above statement can be seen in the picture from a recent site survey.

Finally, I would like to embed this video that explains the Parallel Wireless Rural Solution very well.

Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below.

*Full Disclosure: I work for Parallel Wireless as a Solutions Architect. This blog is maintained in my personal capacity and expresses my own views, not the views of my employer or anyone else. Anyone who knows me well would know this.