Thursday 21 December 2017

CW Seminar on DAS vs Small Cells

I mentioned about the CW seminar in my earlier post here. The event is over so here are a few takeaways from the seminar.

The good news about CW Small Cells events is that David Chambers (ThinkSmallCell) does a very comprehensive summary. For this one, its available here.

For a limited time (for non-members), the presentations from the speakers is available on CW website here.

I wanted to highlight few takeaways and stats that were quoted during the seminar as follows:

  • The 5 challenges of deploying small cells: compelling event, capacity, complexity, coverage, cost
  • 90 operators now offer unlimited service with voice, SMS & Data
  • Due to European roaming charges having been scrapped, there is 300% growth in European roaming traffic since last year.
  • Average consumption is 1.9Gbytes/month forecast to be 15.8Gbytes by 2022. Finish operator Elisa is already running at an average of 18GB/month
  • Modern inbuilding systems are 2T2R with many older installation still using SISO.
  • 40% of the workforce will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs by 2020 (Not sure if this is UK or worldwide figure)
  • 39% of millenials say they interact more with their smartphones than they do with theur significant others, parents, friends, children or co-workers
  • By the end of 2017, around 14000 co-working spaces will be in operation worldwide
  • 67% of people around the world use a personal device at work to some degree

I have highlighted Opencell's view on DAS vs Small Cells in the earlier post here. This Tweet below also shows the comparison points

Bob Slorach, from Wireless Infrastructure Group (WIG), drew some clear guidelines about building size, pointing to the needs of buildings between about 50000 to 300000 sq. ft. This represents a huge unmet demand of around 2 Billion sq. ft. in the UK alone.

As can be seen in the picture above, picocells can serve smaller venues while a 5 watt small cell (microcell) with distributed RF can satisfy the 100 - 300K sq. ft. venues. For bigger venues, a higher power unit would be required. It would also justify to have a neutral host solution so the costs could be distributed and coverage is available for everyone.

Adis Omeragic, Special Projects Manager at EE, shared his side of the story. While his slides are still not on the site (they are expected to be available), I have emnedded a tweet below.

Some of the points he made were, while passive DAS may no longer be used, active DAS will be around. Only about 5% of DAS deployments in the UK have all four operators connected as of today.

According to Adis, DAS displacement is slow because of lack of roadmap alignment between macros and small cells. Small cells upgrade path is very limited. DAS allows Carrier Aggregation, Multi-technology and multi-band capability, SON features which are more common in macros, etc.

Due to the new features like 4x4 MIMO and even Massive MIMO, things may start going in favour of small cells.

One final point that was discussed in the panel was whether VoWiFi is good enough so there is no longer a need for residential or enterprise femtocells.

While the panelists agreed that VoWifi is good enough for residential, it may not be good enough for enterprises. I disagree. If the enterprise has designed their WiFi networks properly, this may not be much of an issue.

There is other issue of the lack of devices and operators support for VoWiFi. As EE pointed out, they only support it for post-paid customers, on direct contract with them. So pre-paid, MVNO and partner customers wont benefit. Also, its supported in limited number of devices.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Small Cells Densification for 4G & 5G

The recent Small Cell Forum (SCF) press release mentions that: SCF forecasts that between 2015 and 2025, new non-residential small cell deployments will grow at a compound annual rate of 36%, to reach almost 8.5 million, and by 2025 deployments will be 22 times higher than in 2015.

The research also provides an insight into operator’s densification plans, with 40% of operators expecting to deploy between 100 and 350 small cells per square kilometer (indoors and outdoors) in the areas they densify by 2020. Additionally, in the first 2-3 years of deploying 5G New Radio, 58% expect to focus primarily on small cells. The research also shows that the industry is already seeing acceleration of deployments in the Enterprise, where small cell deployments rose by 98% between 2015 and 2017, and are set to grow by up to 1600% from 2015 to 2025.

In addition, SCF also published Release 10 (not a permanent link though), a collection of documents, presentations and videos that present the organization’s vision for the 5G era. This collection is a response to the requirements the Forum spent the summer collating resulting from regional and partner events in India, North America and Latin America. SCF listened to input from operators, across the various geographies, on their key challenges and created a work program designed specifically to resolve the key issues raised.

I will link some SCF documents at the bottom of this post.

Stephane Daeuble, Nokia also published a blog post on this topic not long back. In that he points out:

Nokia looked at the growth in demand facing one operator in a very busy US city. In 2014, traffic density was around 1 Gbps/km2 and was served by an average 20 macrocell sites per km2.

By 2017, traffic density hit 4 Gbps/km2. The operator simply adds 40 outdoor small cells and 50 indoor small cells per km2 to the network. Deploying relatively few small cells allows the operator to meet quadrupled capacity and coverage demand, both indoors and outdoors.

Let’s project these figures forward. By 2025, the operator will need a very dense network to support a ten-fold increase in traffic density. With no scope for deploying more macrocell sites and upgrades to macrocell base stations unlikely to meet the demand, even this extreme density can be supported with the help of small cells. Now we are looking at 150 outdoor and 500 indoor small cells deployed per km2, keeping to the intial 20 macrocell sites. Over the period covered by the study, the average inter-site distance plunges from 240m to 82m – a figure impossible to achieve without small cells.

The most obvious advantage of small cells is their compact physical size. They can be deployed unobtrusively to meet city regulations, giving the network a rapid, yet low cost boost in performance. Not only do they provide much-needed extra capacity and improve indoor coverage, but small cells can aid network balancing by off-loading traffic from the surrounding macrocells. Deployments have shown that, after deploying small cells, some macrocells stay above 60% average RF usage, indicating there was substantial unserved traffic with the macros alone.

If you prefer in-depth technical papers, this IEEE paper on small cell Ultra Dense Networks (UDN) is an interesting read.

Check out my introduction to macrocells & small cells and HetNets if you are looking for a quick refresher on these topics.

Here is a list of new SCF documents on densification

SCF Release 10 Vision for Densification into 5G Era

Overall Vision and Requirements gathering
[SCF110] Vision for densification into the 5G Era: Release overview
[SCF200] Ten trends SCF has driven and vision for 2027
[SCF201] Partners’ Day: Industry alignment on densification roadmap
[SCF202] Mumbai Densification Summit: Asia Market Requirements

Technologies for Densification
[SCF014] Edge Computing made simple
[SCF197] mmWave-based 5G eMBB 5G

Standards and Interoperability
[SCF085] SCF Plugfests and long term vision
[SCF208] Private ePC PlugFest report
[SCF209] Test cases for the Private ePC PlugFest
[SCF196] TR196 Small cell updates to 3GPP SA5

[SCF203] Operational aspects of densification into the 5G Era
[SCF079] Enterprise deployment process (2017 revision)

Business Models
[SCF204] 5G Era business models and stakeholder engagement
[SCF206] Business case for small cells in healthcare

Market Status and Engagement
[SCF050] Small cells market status report December 2017
[SCF194] SCF operator survey: Deployment plans and business drivers for a dense HetNet
[SCF205] Connectivity in healthcare - an essential service

References of the form [SCFXXX] are linked to their landing page on, where they can be downloaded free of charge.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Connecting the remote Alaskan Villages

A very nice article from the recent IEEE Spectrum Magazine here.

The $300 million telecom project will boost speeds or provide service to many areas of Alaska for the first time. TERRA was completed in October after six years of construction when engineers installed its final microwave repeater. The network uses a combination of repeater data links and fiber optics to form a giant, 5,000 kilometer ring around southwest Alaska — a sparsely populated region with few paved roads and wilderness areas larger than West Virginia.

Quoting from the magazine:

With TERRA, Kotzebue residents now pay $59.99 per month for an Internet plan with download speeds of 3 Mb/s, which is not even fast enough to stream a high-definition movie. To be able to do that, they would need to pay at least $149.99 per month for 6 Mb/s. Compare that with New York City, where residents pay an average of $55 per month for 25 Mb/s.

So was it worth $300 million to bring slightly better Internet to approximately 45,000 people in 84 rural villages spread out over an area roughly the size of Germany? For GCI, it was a strategic move. The project was completed as more customers began to watch more content online. Large clients such as hospitals and schools in rural communities also needed better access to the outside world. Partly thanks to TERRA, the company welcomed $12 million in new revenue for Internet service in the first three quarters of 2017, while losing $8 million from its cable-TV division.

Here is a video on how its done and the challenges:

Complete article here.

If you like to learn more about different backhaul types, see our short video tutorial here.

Monday 4 December 2017

MTN: Connecting Rural & Remote Africa

The annual Telco Infra Project (TIP) Summit took place recently in California. As always, there are some great presentations that have all be shared online here.

The video of the presentation is embedded below but the two images above are the main points of discussion from this presentation. The first image shows the challenges and possible approaches to solve them. The second one highlights the important point that the traditional infrastructure costs are just too high to provide connectivity in rural and remote locations.

A slightly surprising point that the speaker, Navindran Naidoo, Executive, Network Planning & Design, MTN Group brought up was that they are still looking to rollout 3G networks. In an earlier post on 3G4G blog, I talked about how the developing nations will ditch 3G in favour of 2G & 4G so this is a bit of a surprise. Even the OpenCellular project is focusing on 2G & 4G as can be seen below.

Steve Song in his blog post here highlights some good points. He points out that not enough 4G devices have reached African markets, VoLTE has still not matured and also operators have 3G spectrum available today or they can re-farm 900MHz.

Anyway, here is the video from Navindran Naidoo, Executive, Network Planning & Design, MTN Group in TIP Summit 2017.

Thursday 30 November 2017

Virtua Small Cell Lamppost for IoT & Telematics

Virtua are showing off their rural solar small cell that fits nicely on the lamppost. The lamppost can be taken down to deploy the small cell and can be hoisted back up. Their website says:

The objective was to engineer a more cost effective rural small cell solution that would support applications such as Telematics & IOT.
The solution benefits from a hinged levered pole solution for ease of installation and maintenance. One of the applications uses GSM/Mesh repeater with a bespoke antenna and bracket design keeping the installation simple. This GSM/Mesh repeater radio technology negates the need for immediate backhaul and accelerates the solution into live operation.
A solar powered solution means that the active radio equipment is contained in the bespoke solar housing that sits at the top of the pole. The housing benefits from a lower wind resistant design and slides centrally down the levered pole for ease of install, no external power is required thus no electrical certification is necessary.  Installation is quick and simple with no external cables other than the antenna RF cables at the top of the pole making the speed to deploy cost effective keeping the customer ahead of the competition.
I can see some power issues with 3G/4G small cells, as they are more power hungry. Also, there may be issue in countries that has small winter days and very little sunshine. Nevertheless, its interesting concept.

Interesting video of their installation:

Rural Coverage Small Cells Solution - Installation from Virtua on Vimeo.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Defining HetNets (Heterogeneous Networks)

Recently added a video/presentation looking at 2 different definitions of Heterogeneous Networks (HetNets). Presentation with video embedded below. If you like to jump to video directly, here is the link.

Related post:

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Connecting a rural Welsh village using 'Mesh Potato'

Came across this BBC program from 2016, 'The Big Fix by Simon Reeve'. There is interesting bit in it about connecting a rural village in Wales by mesh (mash) potato. You can find more about the device here and here.

The program is embedded below. If you are in a hurry, skip to 10 minutes and then skip to 34:50 min mark.

A write-up of this project is also available here.

Monday 20 November 2017

DAS vs Small Cells for In-building coverage

Small cells vs DAS has been a topic of discussion for a long time. ThinkSmallCell covered this topic back in 2014. I don't think things have changed much.

Recently I came across ClearSky and Opencell. They both have a slightly different approach to providing in-building coverage solutions. Instead of focusing on having neutral host small cells with MOCN or other network sharing approach, they act as neutral host providers responsible for integrating small cells from multiple operators within the building.

ThinkSmallCell has a detailed write-up of Opencell and Clearsky Technologies. What impressed me is the Opencell article saying (emphasis mine):
This isn’t a true neutral host where a single set of small cells is shared by all operators and routed through a central gateway. Each small cell is connected directly to its host operator – there is no shared gateway switch  through which all traffic is concentrated.
Instead they use Enterprise Small Cells to provide in-building cellular service from all four UK networks at a 75% lower price than DAS including basestations. Parallel sets of small cells are installed, one set for each operator. Typically a single dedicated LAN is used with a single separate fibre backhaul through the Internet. Each installation is designed, commissioned and maintained directly by the OpenCell team.
A 24/7 Data Centre with fault and performance monitoring service constantly tracks operation and identifies problems. We can remotely diagnose and fix issues, and will attend next day to fix or replace faulty hardware. We charge an initial setup fee and an ongoing operational support rate. There would also be a callout fee and additional cost for major changes, such as when the building is redeveloped, layout changed or new tenants are introduced.
It can be 75% cheaper to install enterprise small cells from multiple operators rather than install DAS. Again, I am sure there is a point till which it would make sense to do this. After that, it would be cheaper to have a DAS solution.

In couple of weeks, Cambridge Wireless is hosting a seminar on this topic, 'DAS and Enterprise Small Cells - Competition or Collaboration?'. I am hoping to hear more details about this.

In the meantime, if you would like to explore more about this topic, see the links below.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Vodafone Portugal's “streetlamp”

Vodafone Portugal, in partnership with Drivetel, Omniflow and Amop is deploying its own “streetlamp” to improve coverage and capacity in certain areas while at the same time making sure the antennas blend in with the surroundings.

From Linkedin (via Cliff Velosa):

In Portugal Vodafone is committed on reducing visual impact on outdoor (rural and urban) coverage and made sure that the energy resource consumption is engage to a better and efficient way.

Comba Telecom has played an important role together with Drivetel S.A to the construction of a clean and unique system with a camouflaged Tri-Sector antenna that supports LTE1800 and WCDMA coverage and fits just perfectly to the rest of the environment.

A smart street light 100% self-powered by Wind and Solar energy and supported by a local Portuguese Company called OmniFlow.

It’s a completely integrated solution that blends into the most modern urban Smart Cities and to the wildest landscape. The generated energy with natural resources can contribuite to Vodafone's Pico/Micro/Small cell NB/eNB Base stations energy supply that is environmental friendly and contributes to the local population not only on mobile coverage and services but also served as public lights during the night.

The infrastructure is all underground with only the antennas on the top.

In another Linkedin post (via Cliff Velosa):

One of Portugal’s sea viewpoint – Santa Cruz beach, the local municipality together with Vodafone agreed on a efficient way to supply mobile radio coverage and capacity on Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G with an independent lighting system which produces enough electricity for the lighting system throughout the night by using natural resources (wind and sun), saving extra costs on the municipality, the tax payers will thank them in the long term.

A local Portuguese company did the design of the base bench foundation in concrete that meets the concerns of vandal resistance, life cycle and with reserved space to add all the RF RRU's/BBU's inside a the cabinet and with a spot around the tower to sit and navigate on Vodafone’s high speed broadband. No more ugly towers with massive antennas, Comba's Camouflaged 3 Cluster antenna did just the trick to reduce that impact.

This new “streetlamp” reduces the time to setup the tower and offering radio service to Vodafone's customers in matter of hours knowing that everything is setup by Drivetel in advance before transporting the system to the field.

All picture sources: Cliff Velosa

Further Reading:

Thursday 2 November 2017

Tutorial: An Introduction to Macrocells & Small Cells

I have been meaning to create a video tutorial on Small Cells for a long time. The problem is that its not as easy as most people may think. To explain small cells concepts, its necessary to explain macrocell, C-RAN & DAS. This is what I have attempted to do in this presentation.

The slides are embedded below and can be downloaded from Slideshare. The video is embedded on slideshare presentation but if you prefer, the direct Youtube link is here.

Please note that this video is for guidance only. Many vendors & operators use their own definition which may not agree to mine. In the end, we are all correct 馃槈

Saturday 28 October 2017

Covering Australian Mobile Not-spots

Came across this Quora question recently, "Is Australia much bigger than it appears on the map?". The answer surprised me because Australia is as big as USA or China and is 3.5 times bigger that Greenland but in the map that certainly does not show up. With a population of just 23.2 million, it's definitely bound to have loads of not-spots.

Telstra's 4G small cells are connect Queensland's mobile blackspots, but lack of coverage is still common. The problem with low power small cells sometimes is that the coverage area can be very small. In this particular case its less than 300 metres.

Optus is another operator committed to spend AU$1 billion to in regional and rural Australia to eradicate mobile blackspots, improve overall mobile coverage outside the big cities and help future proof the networks for data-hungry applications like video streaming.

It's the biggest network investment in the company's 25-year history and will fund:

  • 500 new mobile sites across regional and remote Australia (including 114 sites built through the government's Mobile Blackspots Program)
  • Upgrades for more than 1,800 sites to go from 3G to 4G
  • The addition of 4G to more than 200 sites (to increase capacity for peak periods)
  • The continued rollout of satellite small-cell technology (bringing voice and data to the remote outback)

I talked earlier about their 3G Small Cells using Parallel Wireless CWS here. The solution also won Small Cell Forum award in 'Excellence in Commercial Deployment of Rural/Remote Small Cells' category along with Gilat for satellite backhaul.

Here is a video showing how users reacted to one of the sites having just been turned on.

*Full Disclosure: I work for Parallel Wireless as a Senior Director, Strategic Marketing. 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.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Ericsson's Invisible Sites: Urban Case Studies

Small Cell Forum recently hosted Densification Summit in Mumbai. There were lots of interesting talks which can be seen along with the post-event report on SCF page here.

Anyway, the presentation by Ericsson is embedded below.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Telef贸nica's LTE Nano Takes to the Skies

From Telefonica's Press release today (translated from Spanish to English via Google translate):
Telef贸nica has today presented in a real environment the applications in rescue and supervision of the miniaturization of a 4G mobile network with a portable backpack of less than 3kg. which provides voice and data coverage to a group of people in a specific area. 
This innovation project, called LTE Nano and announced at the 2017 Mobile World Congress , is one of the world's smallest deployments of a 4G standalone network as it runs on hardware weighing just 40 grams. It is also a significant step in the advances that the market is making in the development of portable network products very useful in rescue, emergency, retail, logistics, hospitals or offices, among many others. 
Specifically, Telef贸nica has carried out demonstrations in Real of the application of portable networks 4G in rescue and supervision of critical infrastructures in Buitrago de Lozoya. In both, a LTE Nano backpack has been used that has allowed to deploy in a matter of minutes a network of 4G communications to which a dron has been connected with capacity to transmit video through LTE and several smartphones and tablets with transmission of voice and data. 
In the case of rescue work, the 4G portable backpack has provided coverage of voice and data communications to a rescue group. A dron with an HD camcorder has streamed what was seen during the flight and has transmitted it to the devices of the operations in real time by the 4G provided by the backpack. In this way, for example, the location of a missing person is facilitated and accelerated in places that are not accessible. 
The same service can be provided in the supervision of infrastructures that are difficult to access, both in communications and in any other industrial field, involving tasks of a certain complexity and risk and time consuming. In this case, the use of a 4G dron has been shown for the monitoring of the old satellite communications monitoring antennas of Telef贸nica in Buitrago de Lozoya which, with its 30 meters in diameter and placed more than 40 meters high on a infrastructure of several hundred tons, pose a challenge of supervision because of its complexity and risk when an operator has to perform this task manually. 
The LTE Nano solution has been developed in collaboration with the British company Quortus, which is the technology provider that provides the 4G virtual network software solution capable of operating in such small scale equipment. 
On the other hand, the scenarios of using a dron transmitting video through 4G have been developed in collaboration with Accenture Digital , one of the first companies to collaborate with Telef贸nica in the development of innovative services that operate on 4G portable networks.
Here is a video released alongside with the text above. I wish it had a bit more detail.

See Also:

Thursday 28 September 2017

Drones, More Drones & Droneway

I have written about Drones and Balloons in the past, mainly to BT/EE. Take for instance this presentation by Mansoor Hanif at TIP Summit and this one on Flying Small Cells. In addition I have also talked about Telefonica's Nano cell, which is a small cell on a drone; Verizon's 'flying cell-site' and AT&T's flying COW.

This week the US operator Sprint announced that they are trialing their Magic boxes on drones. Here is a video on that:

Back in August, IEEE Spectrum ran an article on how Flying Cell Towers Could Aid Search and Rescue. Base stations carried by drones would form an ad hoc network and connect first responders.

Picture Source: IEEE Spectrum

From the IEEE Spectrum article:

An aerial communications system supported by drones could be deployed much faster and operate with minimal interference. In 2013, we started to think about what such a drone-based communications system for public safety agencies might look like. We knew it would need a shared radio-frequency channel for first responders, drone-portable base stations, a power supply, and a digital database for exchanging information. We would also need controllers that would be easy enough for a licensed drone pilot to operate in a crisis.

Our first major challenge was to find a base station small enough for a drone to support. Drones under 25 kilograms—the limit now imposed by U.S. air-safety regulators—can carry a maximum payload of about 2 kg, so we would need a base station that weighed less, even with its battery.

Finally, my search led me to a startup named Virtual Network Communications. This company, based in Chantilly, Va., sells a product called a GreenCell that seemed suitable. It’s a scalable LTE base station, known as a picocell, which is typically used to extend the reach of an existing network but can also generate its own network. The base station contains an E-UTRAN Node B radio with two antennas and a credit-card-size component called a Micro Evolved Packet Core, which uses LTE technology to form an ad hoc network with nearby radios. Then, that local network connects to a nationwide cellular network.

With these components, our GreenCell can support communications for up to 128 users at a time from a distance of up to about 2 kilometers on any LTE frequency. Better yet, it measures just 12.5 by 12.5 centimeters and weighs only 2 kg with its battery, just light enough to be lifted by a drone.

Once we had found a suitable base station, we still needed to find a suitable drone. Ideally, it would be affordable and be capable of flying for 10 to 12 hours before needing a recharge. Unfortunately, no such drone exists today. Most commercial drones can stay aloft for fewer than 45 minutes.

After some research, I found a company named CyPhy Works, which has developed a drone powered through a 150-meter cord that extends up from a grid or generator. Technically, this drone could stay in the air for as long as it had access to a power supply on the ground. But in a disaster scenario, it would have to be tethered to a van loaded with a generator and fuel. That would limit it to serving the same road-accessible places to which mobile units already travel. Another drawback: The drone’s tether restricts its mobility once it’s in the air. We wanted to be able to reconfigure our network in an instant.

We briefly considered using balloons instead of drones, but we discovered through trial and error that balloons are difficult to reposition and hold in place, especially during high winds.

We decided instead to use the AR200 drone from AirRobot, a company based in Arnsberg, Germany. The AR200 has six rotors that allow it to hover more steadily than the usual four. And because the AirRobot drone is battery powered, it can zoom off to any location.

In summer, Qualcomm unveiled [PDF report] the results of a months-long drone trial program, which found LTE networks today already provide the aerial connectivity necessary to support commercial unmanned aerial vehicle deployments. But the tech giant noted some network optimizations will be necessary to take drone deployments to new heights. As per their blog post:

During the field trial, approximately 1,000 flights were performed to collect datasets that were post processed and analyzed. We also performed simulations to complement field trial results by allowing study of performance tradeoffs when the network is serving many mobile devices and LTE-connected drones simultaneously over a wide area. Simulations also enabled rapid testing of parameter and feature changes that are more difficult to study in a commercial network.

The field trial demonstrated that LTE networks can support safe drone operation in real-world environments. Our findings showed that existing commercial cellular networks can provide coverage to drones at low altitudes up to 400 feet AGL. Our test drones also showed seamless handovers between different base stations during flights. Below is a glimpse of these findings.

According to Mobile World Live,

The head of AT&T’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) business development team said the operator is working with regulatory authorities and standards organisations to “unlock” the potential of drones.

Speaking with Mobile World Live, Greg Belaus said many tests of drones on cellular networks so far have been conducted at a height of 400 feet. In the US, Belaus explained that airspace is governed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Part 107 rules. Belaus said “a lot of work” on drones right now is focused on what needs to be done to open that area for drone services.

There is an interesting AT&T Flying COW presentation on Youtube for anyone interested, here.

Finally, looks like "Droneway" may be becoming a reality soon. As one of the partners involved in the project, I may not be at a liberty to say much but this photo of the article below (click to expand) provides an idea 馃槉

*Full Disclosure: I work for Parallel Wireless as a Senior Director, Strategic Marketing. 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.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Connecting Cambridge University using Wi-Fi

Came across this post from Airheads about the challenges of connecting the 800-year-old Cambridge University with Wi-Fi. I have spent a lot of time in Cambridge working with Cambridge Wireless and attending fantastic events organised by them so I have seen some of these challenges first hand. To quote from the post:
Providing services to such a prestigious institution is a real privilege but can also be daunting.  At Cambridge, the whole City is the campus as University Departments and Colleges span the City. Networking on such a distributed scale is a challenge; we have to take both the narrow and wider view at the same time. 25 years ago, the University had the foresight to begin deploying a pan-city fibre optic network, the Granta Backbone Network, to connect the hundreds of University buildings together. Today this encompasses 60 km of multicore fibre over which we run a core and distribution router network. Therefore, as all our buildings are networked together, you would think that deploying Wi-Fi on the back of that must be easy. That could not be further from the truth, as hinted at already, Cambridge is far from simple.

The most basic thing you do for a wireless deployment is a Wi-Fi survey. Here at Cambridge, we have a myriad of buildings of all shapes, sizes and types. For example, we have buildings that are eight hundred years old right through to modern structures. The construction of these buildings is amazingly diverse, from metre thick stone walls to concrete monoliths right through to simple buildings made up of modern partition walls. The latter sounds simple until you come across that surprise hefty wall with four layers of unexpected insulation or a signal killing chimney hidden in the wall. We also have constructions as varied as residential buildings, (that can also act as hotels out of term), office blocks, state of the art laboratories, lecture theatres and seminar rooms, libraries and warehouses. This means that the University Wireless Team have their work cut out surveying each of these unique environments while trying to get ubiquitous Wi-Fi into all areas. We estimate that if we surveyed each building end to end, it would take more than five years.
You can read the complete post here. Below is a video that shows some of these challenges.

Friday 22 September 2017

Is small-cell thinking changing the face of remote and rural coverage?

Its been a few months since this Cambridge Wireless (CW) seminar on 'Is small-cell thinking changing the face of remote and rural coverage?'. David Chambers (ThinkSmallCell) has written a post summarising the event here but I thought it would be worth bringing this event to people's attention.

The presentations from this event are available here. There was a talk on how Nokia Kuha are being installed on Isle of Lewis in Scotland. I have written about them earlier here.

IP.Access talked about their rural deployment in Peru. To quote thinksmallcell article:
For the most remote areas, ip.access gave an extreme example from Peru where it took two days just to reach the site. Again the financial figures look small but can still be profitable. Where a macrocell might serve 1000-2000 users, a remote small cell might serve 100. In this example, a village with 300 people attracted 91 users with an ARPU of $11 generating $12,000 per annum. 
This was an EU funded research project called TUCAN3G. There are more details about it on the project website.
Real Wireless talked about the whitepaper they did for Small Cell Forum. It makes an interesting reading.

Finally, Ayan Ghosh from BT talked about Airmasts. I have covered this in detail here.

With regards to the IP.Access Peru story where remote users did generate a lot of revenue for the operator, I know the same applies to UK. From my travels looking at rural coverage I have seen that the users in rural community make full use of whatever capacity is made available to them. I posted an interview that I am posting again below.

Related links:

Friday 15 September 2017

Small Cell Infrastructure in Denver

The City and County of Denver (Colorado, USA) is receiving growing numbers of requests from wireless providers and wireless infrastructure companies to construct small cell facilities in the public right of way. As a result Denver Public Works has created a small publication about how they are working with companies to bring small cell infrastructure to the city. Its available here.

Here is one of the points from that publication:

9. Can the City limit or standardize Small Cell infrastructure?
As mentioned above, the City is currently exploring its policies and ordinances for Small Cell infrastructure within the parameters of Federal and State law. Under current law, it is not clear how the City can restrict height, design, or location (unless conflicting) of Small Cell infrastructure. However, as the City as a whole considers new polices and rulemaking, the City Public Works Department is having success in coordinating expectations and recommendations through enhanced communication efforts at the outset of each company’s program. So far each applicant has been receptive to:
  • Considering standardizing pole design elements, color, location, etc. to meet intent and character of existing infrastructure in the public right of way.
  • Limiting pole heights to match existing street lighting and other poles in the public right of way.
  • Generally avoiding placing poles adjacent to parks and historical places.
  • Encouraging pole and equipment designs that enclose as much equipment as possible to minimize visual impact.
  • Co-locating equipment onto existing infrastructure wherever feasible.
  • Installing consistent infrastructure that does not discriminate based on neighborhood type, demographic, or character.
  • Exploring new concepts in combining equipment from multiple companies into specially designed poles.
Public Works has placed top priortiy in coodinating design elements for proposed Small Cell infrastructure, and how companies should maximize aesthetics while minimizing congestion of the public right of way. Below are several examples of Small Cell equipment recently constructed in Denver.

You can download the document from here

Saturday 9 September 2017

Small Cells World Summit 2017 Summary

I realised that I never got round to writing a summary post for Small Cells World Summit 2017. In fact I was waiting for summaries for various publications before writing a post but there was much less coverage this year.

Having said that, there were reasonable number of operators and most major vendors present. Small cells have sort of gone mainstream from their niche as many operators are now talking of small cells for 5G (mainly higher frequencies).

Anyway, here are some links with what I found interesting that you can explore further.

Here are some things ThinkSmallCell reported. Full report here:

SCWS, now in its 9th year, remains a regular feature of the small cell calendar. Now a two day conference, attendance was lower than some years ago but stable with noticeably more system integrators/installers actively participating. There was a little more focus on business enablers rather than technology this year, addressing deployment issues and neutral host opportunities for enterprise, urban and rural sectors.
The scope of SCWS is intended to embrace all of Small Cells, DAS and (Public Access) Wi-Fi. We saw one or two more DAS vendors participate but there was relatively little public Wi-Fi content. Perhaps that reflects the limited interest for that in Europe, as we saw at the recent Wireless Broadband Congress. The program included a few keynote speakers from operators (EE, O2, ATT, KDDI, Softbank) and some industry verticals (AEG, which operates the O2 dome and other stadiums; Grange Hotels etc.)       

Many mature small cell products are available today for both 3G and LTE. Form factors continue to shrink, software is becoming further automated and refined. The backhaul conference stream has been dropped with CCS now the most prominent independent small cell backhaul vendor.
The event provides an excellent opportunity to meet and reconnect with industry players, both old and new. The emphasis and participation has evolved over the years, but it remains a key focal point to assess the current state of play for the industry.

Here are some things The Mobile Network reported. Full report here:

The day before the Summit started Nokia assembled a few journalists in a meeting room and gave them a portfolio update. Of note in this was the revelation that the company will be shipping tens of thousands, in fact more than 50 thousand, of its Mini Macro cell sites to Sprint. This is on top of another wide scale roll out of the boxes – which are 2x20W sites in a 5 litre box – in China and Japan where the vendor expects to ship another 40,000. There are 3,000 headed to Brazil, as well, to be deployed as an underlay under Ericsson macro cells.
One notable aspect of the event was the amount of talk about using small cells in rural, in dense indoor and in other hard to reach areas. Mansoor Hanif spoke of some of the work BT is looking at to enable it to spread coverage to hard to reach areas. There is a real range of work, best summed up in this picture.

Of note is its work with TIP, where it hopes to be able to plug in open base stations as part of its Kuha community-run small cells programme – as per its project on the island of Harris supported by Nokia at the moment. With Lime Microsystems it is delivering a software defined radio base to Open Source, and hopes to attract developers to build applications on top of the Lime SDR platform. Hanif wants to move the cycle for introducing a new feature into a network from months to weeks – but he added that he doesn’t think any operator has the skills to manage that internally – hence the move to Open Source.
KDDI’s Fumio Watanabe presented some findings from the operators trials of mobile mmWave systems. The operator’s field trial use 40GHz and 60GHz bands, with a user moving between different bands and being “handed over” between access points. This sort of mobility requires dual interband connectivity and multi-site CoMP to handle the mobility between different sites and bands as a user goes out of line of site of an access point.

It may also require some architecture shifts Watanabe said, including the likes of ICN and MEC.
Backhaul provider CCS has a couple of things going on. First, it is involved as the backhaul provider to Telefonica O2’s deployment of outdoor WiFi and cellular small cells in the City of London. Steve Greaves, CEO, said that the company will support 450 small cells and 150 WiFi access points by siting its backhaul nodes at 30 Virgin media fibre points – with each backhaul node supporting 3-5 WiFi access points. The backhaul nodes are providing 1.2Gbps capacities at 24/26/28 GHz bands.

Greaves is also enthused by an upcoming product launch from CCS, as the company enters the 60GHz band with a 10Gbps product. Greaves says that CCS will go beyond products from the likes of Siklu, by modifying the basic WiGig chip that providers currently use, to add tighter carrier grade SynchE 1588, and greater interference control. The product will not be available until early 2018, he added.

Another interesting aspect of the City of London deployment – the concession model between the City of London and Telefonica – means that Telefonica must host other operators’ small cells within the deployment if asked. But these may not be on the same pole as Telefonica’s small cells, given there is a limit of two boxes per pole. From a backhaul perspective – that obviously introduces more complexity – as Telefonica must introduce a V-LAN for each operator, with different QoS.

Virgin Media Business, by the way, has 100,000 cabinets in London alone, and wants to use them to act as potential hosts for small cells, by adding a small pole to the cabinet, said its adviser Paul Coffey. The company is also looking at enabling neutral host model using its street infrastructure. Its wholesale business supplying backhaul to the UK’s operators already runs to £150 million per year, Coffey said.

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Saturday 2 September 2017

Ericsson Radio Dot: Evolution and Technical information

Its been nearly 4 years since I blogged about Ericsson's Radio Dot. Ericsson announced Multi-operator Radio Dot Solution this week. As per the press release:

Ericsson has launched three new scalable small cell solutions designed to help expand the small cell market and meet the growing demand for better mobile coverage and capacity while preparing networks for 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) applications: the Multi-Operator Dot and the Multi-Dot Enclosure for indoor deployments; and the Strand-Mount Unit for outdoor micro radios.

The Multi-Operator Dot solution delivers a set of Radio Dots that can be shared between multiple operators, with one operator managing the system while others provide radio frequency signals – similar to an active distributed antenna system (DAS). This new architecture allows up to four operators to broadcast over a single Dot solution; combining the multi-operator benefits of an active DAS solution with the performance, agility and cost-effective design of the Radio Dot System.

As its name suggests, the Multi-Dot Enclosure combines multiple Dots in a single enclosure. The enclosure has a minimal impact on building aesthetics, is useful for multi-operator deployments, and presents a cost-savings option in buildings that charge per box deployed.

The Strand-Mount Unit for outdoor micro radios makes it easier to install the radios on the existing grid, hung on aerial coax, fiber, or electricity cables. Aerial-strand deployments are critical for scaling outdoor small cells and can be deployed for both single and multi-operator usage. Ericsson’s new Strand-Mount Unit can support up to four micro radios, enabling multiple operators to utilize the same mount for cost-efficient deployments. The Strand-Mount Unit delivers superior outdoor coverage with zero footprint.

Just in case you were wondering what exactly Ericsson Radio Dot is, the specs can be seen in the picture above.

According to Fierce Wireless:

The most significant element of the announcement is the multioperator version of the Radio Dot, according to Ed Gubbins, senior analyst on the Global Telecom Technology & Software team at GlobalData.

One of the bigger hurdles to penetrating enterprises (which is what the Radio Dot was designed for) has been that enterprises often have multioperator needs—because enterprise inhabitants typically bring their own personal devices to work and have their own operators. The creation of a multioperator Dot is overdue and gives Ericsson a leg up over rivals like SpiderCloud (now Corning), which have single-operator solutions, Gubbins told FierceWirelessTech.

That said, there will still be challenges in penetrating enterprises, even with multioperator solutions. “Getting operators and enterprises to agree on using the same vendor and the same solution on a case-by-case basis isn’t necessarily quick, easy or easily scalable,” he said.

The technologies Ericsson is using to help enable multioperator functionality (MORAN & MOCN) have been around for quite a while, as has the Radio Dot itself. “So the fact that it’s taken years to see a multioperator Radio Dot, despite how long one has been technologically possible to develop, gives some indication that this isn’t perceived as a silver bullet by any means,” he said.

However, the fact that Ericsson is presenting more than one model for multioperator deployment is a good thing; operator and enterprise sentiments will vary, so having some flexibility in this area should help, he added.

Just in case you were wondering, the different options for Mobile Network Sharing as as shown above.

A presentation from Ericsson detailing the new releease and their Small Cells portfolio in general is embedded below.

The Mobile Network magazine has some more info on this new products and comparison with other multi-operator deployments:

Unlike, say, the Nokia FlexiZone or SpiderCloud E-RAN  small cell designs, Radio Dots are not in themselves miniature base stations. Rather they are distributed radio heads attached to a centralised “feeder” baseband unit, mediated through an indoor remote unit (IRU). 

What Ericsson has announced is the ability to support multi-operator service in three ways.

First – parallel deployments with each operator using its own dedicated baseband, IRU and Dots. These Dots can be housed in the same enclosures (the new enclosures known as the multi-dot bracket) to tidy things up a bit.

Secondly – a multi-operator deployment using a shared baseband and IRU, over the same network of distributed radio heads, using MORAN (Multi Operator Radio Access Network) or MOCN (Multi Operator Core Network) network sharing capabilities.

Thirdly, a multi-operator Dot solution where operators provide multiple RF sources to the same Dot system. They do this by feeding baseband capacity to a new access unit from Ericsson, the RF Access Unit (RAU). This new RAU can support three 2×2 MIMO RF inputs, and can be connected on the other side to four IRUs, which then feed the shared Dot remote radioheads.

In both the second and third options, one operator remains in overall control of the deployment.


Ericsson’s Dot was initially designed as a single operator system, as was SpiderCloud’s competitive E-RAN. Where once SpiderCloud once made a virtue of its single-operator necessity – stating that an operator would gain competitive advantage by being the “best” carrier within a given office block or campus, it has in the past couple of years taken steps to add multi-operator capability – by adding support for more carriers,  LAA and CBRS models.

Another small cell vendor, ip.access, has also gone down the multi-operator, or neutral host route. Ip.access’ Viper platform combines multi operator access points with a gateway node that can be deployed as a virtual instance that links to separate operator core networks.

Huawei recently expanded band support for its LampSite product – probably the most similar product in terms of architectural design to the Radio Dot – and its aim was specifically to increase support for multi-operator deployments.

Although Ericsson claimed at launch that its dual band Dot could enable a multi-operator deployment, it clearly needed to take additional steps to really enable multi-operator models. One approach, as we have seen, is simply to make it a bit easier to deploy two or more instances of everything in the architecture. That seems like a hard model to scale economically, apart from in the biggest sites, perhaps. The other approaches either a) require the implementation of a new element (the RAU) or b) limits the number of multiple operators to two. 

Finally, embedded below is a video describing the Radio Dot in more technical detail for anyone interested. In case it does not automatically skip to 26.11 mins, please do it yourself

Ericsson is running a webinar on this topic on 27th September. Details here.

Saturday 26 August 2017

ZTE's 4G / 5G Street Lights

While we are on the subject of street lights and lamp posts, I thought it may be worth mentioning about ZTE's BluePillar Streetlamp solution that it announced back in 2016:

An integrated streetlamp, charging pillar, base transceiver station (BTS) and smart city information solution, BluePillar enables a traditional streetlamp pillar to double as a 4G/5G BTS, or a charging point for electric vehicles. The solution can also collect local data on weather, environment, transportation and security while its large outdoor LED screen can be used to display information and advertising.

The BluePillar solution consists of ZTE’s BlueBox charging pillar, 4G iMacro base station, intelligent controller and intelligent streetlamp, all fully integrated into one product. It makes full use of a streetlamp pillar and integrates seamlessly into the surrounding environment, which could not only solve the difficulty in siting 4G networks, but also assure Wi-Fi construction, environment monitoring, security management and data collection in hotspots. It also offers direct outdoor advertising opportunities, as well as the display of municipal information and other value-added services at the same time. This solution could reduce the unit cost and promote the business density of each site, which could help operators acquire sites whilst saving land, electricity and other resources. Local governments, operators, everyday citizens and electric car owners all stand to benefit from this solution. For example operators could expand their business scope, and make the transition from traditional telecoms operation to the comprehensive operation of data services in cities.

The innovative integration of the solution, including the BTS, streetlamp and charging pillar, coupled with its ability to charge electric vehicles makes this a convenient solution for telecoms tower companies. ZTE's BluePillar solution could solve the challenges of Internet access on roads and in communities, as well as making streetlamps intelligently connected via information exchanged through its BTS.


Besides street lighting ZTE BluePillar is an integrated part of smart city. The system supports security surveillance, real-time information collection on the environment, real-time monitoring of the assets/special crowd with RFID .Through the LCD, important information and advertisement can be displayed which will bring benefit to the citizens as well as operators. RRU and WIFI equipment can be installed with BluePillar, citizen will be facilitated with WIFI services. Nowadays people have concern about air pollution and prefer clean transportation, such as Electrical Vehicles .However, due to limited space, lack of charging piles becomes an vital factor hinders the popularity of EV. Integrated with AC charging piles, BulePillar solution can save space and be an ideal method for municipal department to spread EV.

According to the ZTE magazine:

ZTE has deployed its IoT solutions in over 140 cities in 40 countries globally. She stated that a wide variety of solutions using smart meters have helped optimise city infrastructure with smart street lighting, parking as well as water and air monitoring Some examples include the deployment of 20 thousand smart street lamps in Paris’ smart city project: the City of Light. These smart street lamps are outfitted with sensors that help manage its energy consumption and maintenance optimisation.

To help alleviate traffic jams in congested cities, ZTE has smart parking solutions that notify users where they can park their vehicle without having to search for hours on end for parking spots. With its smart building and environmental monitoring, building managers would be able to better manage power distribution within the building.

I could not find any information about the 4G / 5G solution being trialed anywhere but I am sure it probably is.

Also, it seems that this Streetlight is developed by another Chinese company called Shanghai Sansi Technology Co.,Ltd. See here. More info also on their Youtube channel here.

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