Saturday 22 December 2018

ETRI working on Small Cell Base Station in a Backpack and 5G Indoor Femtocells

Came across this slightly old news in March issue of ETRI Webzine:

Following the development of the LTE small-cell base station SW in 2016, ETRI announced on February 7 that it successfully developed a SW supporting LTE-TDD dual connectivity.

These technologies are evaluated as core technologies for future 5G communication through upgrading of conventional SW technologies, since they may be applied to buildings, stadiums, and homes.

The technologies are suitable for the locations where the traffic is rapidly increased, such as stadiums, department stores, disaster-stricken areas, and military camps. The small cells may be attached, like a wireless LAN AP, to walls inside and outside buildings, utility poles, and communication antennas, or may be carried in the form of a backpack. The research team explained that the size of the small-cell was minimized as the size of a wireless LAN AP for indoor purposes and as the size of a shoe box for outdoor purposes. The small-cell backpack weighs about 10 kg.

These accomplishments will remove the communication shadows and blind spots between cells, and will help to develop independent technologies by replacing the conventional products from other countries.

In a more recent news on this topic (September 2018):

Following the successful localization of software for LTE Small Cell, which is used in the same manner as wireless access points operating within tens of meters to 1 km, while serving as a small base station, ETRI researchers began research to localize small cell equipment essential to establishing 5G infrastructure going forward. The focus of the research is on the development of technology capable of increasing the maximum transmission speed (eMBB), which is one of the most critical criteria for 5G technology, and especially the perceived transmission speed on the user side.

According to Yonhap News (translated by Google translate):

SK Telecom will be participating in 'Intelligent 5G Small Cell Technology Development Task' together with Korea Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), domestic wireless communication equipment company Teltel and U Cast. The project is sponsored by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Information and is organized by ETRI.

In this project, SK Telecom sets up requirements for small cell system development. In addition, ETRI and equipment companies provide a test environment for small cell equipment verification. ETRI develops software, and Contela and Yu Cast develop hardware.

SK Telecom and other collaborative research groups plan to open API (application programming interface) to small cell. This reduces the burden of SMEs and start-ups to develop their own interfaces.

SK Telecom and ETRI are planning to develop international standard technology and secure original patents in the small cell field based on research results.

SK Telecom announced on February 23 that it will participate in 'Intelligent 5G Small Cell Technology Development Task' together with Korea Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), Kontela and U Cast of domestic wireless communication equipment. A joint research team is taking a commemorative photo in front of the first workshop at Daejeon ETRI fusion technology research and production center. 2018.8.23

SK Telecom Park Jong-kwan, director of Network Technology, said, "In the 5G era, 80% of total traffic will occur indoors." "We will take the lead in 5G technology development so that customers can fully enjoy virtual reality and hologram services."

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Small Cells in BT Phone Boxes

Picture Source: Andy Sutton

In a news announcement yesterday, Vodafone said that they are planning to install 4G and 5G equipment to the underside of thousands of manhole covers across Britain to boost connection speeds in the busiest urban areas and meet the public’s insatiable demand for mobile data.

According to the report, Vodafone, which has hundreds of thousands of Cable & Wireless-branded manholes as part of its network, has developed the subterranean plan alongside Swedish telecoms equipment group Ericsson. The system is known internally as The Vault.

Attaching antenna equipment to the base of a manhole cover can boost the signal across a 200-metre radius, according to Vodafone, and could be critical in supporting future “smart city” technologies such as connected traffic lights. Installation does not require planning permission, which speeds up network build.

Vodafone and Ericsson have developed two types of system. One attaches equipment to the base of existing Victorian-era cast iron manhole covers. Another is a bespoke reinforced unit the size of a water butt that is sunk into the ground underneath a purpose-built cover.

We have blogged about Small cells infrastructure underground and in manhole covers. The following posts are related to that:
Phone boxes, which are connected to the power supply, are a useful tool to boost demand on high streets and in rural areas. Vodafone has signed a deal with BT’s wholesale division to install 4G antennas in phone boxes, and has kitted out one on Edinburgh’s Princes Street to improve coverage in time for the Hogmanay celebrations on New Year’s Eve.

The picture on the top from Andy Sutton is from Small Cells World Summit back in may. He says, "New life for old kiosks, KX100+ accommodating a 4G LTE small cell for enhancing mobile area capacity density"

ThinkSmallCell has a nice picture of the top of the KX100+ phone booth. In it's report on the Small Cells World Summit 2018, David Chambers says the following:

BT had the largest demo with a full size telephone box equipped with a small cell hidden in the roof space. Although only one Nokia small cell was fitted, the unit could accommodate several from different network operators. Each site is backhaul with either 100Mbps or 1Gbps managed Ethernet and transmits above head height using an omnidirectional antenna. It would seem we will shortly be making phone calls from telephone boxes again, just without realising it.

It would be interesting to see some more of these old phone boxes converted into small cell towers.

See also:
Here is a tweet containing picture of Ericsson's vault radio system for anyone interested:

Monday 3 December 2018

Turin will be the first European city with a 'drone ready' 5G network

Last year I blogged about how TIM wants Turin to be the first 5G city in Italy. Since then I have also blogged about how TIM has rolled out "commercial" 5G across the whole of San Marino.

Turin (Torino) will be the first European city with a 'drone ready' network, thanks to the use of TIM's 5G technology. Last month measurement activities of the aerial coverage at high altitude was done in Piazza Vittorio Veneto and at the Parco del Valentino and Parco Dora. "The municipality of Turin will use the drones for security and we will experiment with the municipal police remotely piloted aircraft to control some areas most at risk of safety", explains Paola Pisano, councilor for innovation of the municipality of Turin. "Do not call it Big Brother, the goal is to support men in uniform operating on the territory" he continued. via La Repubblica (translated from Italian via Google translate)

The photos above are available on TIM Newsroom Flickr channel here.

According to Mobile World Live:

Telecom Italia and its partners flew remotely piloted aircrafts using 5G to measure mobile coverage in Turin in Italy, which the operator claimed will make the city the first in Europe with a drone-ready network.

The trial was coordinated with the support of the Turin Polytechnic University and enterprise drones solution provider Seikey.

Public safety, critical infrastructure monitoring and land protection are some examples TIM gave of drone applications that will benefit from a high quality connection to send data and videos in real time.

As can be seen in one of the pictures, the equipment used for measurements is PCTEL’s flagship IBflex® scanning receiver for sub-6 GHz bands that was announced at MWC Americas 2018. Here is a tweet from them with embedded video.

If for some reason you can't see the video, the direct link to YouTube video is here.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

MTN sees future in 3G

I blogged about MTN last year after their presentation at Facebook's TIP Summit. This year again, another MTN Group executive, Babak Fouladi, Technology and Information System (Group CTIO) at MTN delivered an insightful talk. I have my summary below with video embedded at the end.

MTN has 223 million subscribers. Out of that only 72 million are data users, the rest are primarily voice users. The problem with that is their monthly spend is very low.

The typical entry and emerging segment customers in rural areas spend 30% of their incomes on food and often have limited access to reliable basic services. Its very tricky to convert these users to use high amount of data or any data at all in many cases.

5 Challenges known as CHASE need to be overcome to reach the volume segment. These are:

  • Coverage: Data Coverage is insufficient in rural or low income areas and costly
  • Handsets: Limited affordability and access to data enabled devices
  • Affordability: Data services are unaffordable in some markets
  • Service Bundling: Bundling and selling of data are unnecessarily complex and not regionally relevant
  • Education: Lack of digital literacy & awareness of the potential of broadband content

To overcome these challenges, a dual data strategy is needed. Newer technologies, ultra high speed & superior customer experience for high value segment. Ubiquitous low cost data coverage for volume segment.
There are many rural coverage barriers. These practical challenges hinder the rollout. The main being that there is no infrastructure in place, the roads are inaccessible, there is no power, the security is poor, etc.
To solve the challenges due to rural coverage barriers, MTN has defined three solution categories for rural:

  1. Rural Site - 50 to 100 km from urban
  2. Ultra Rural Site - Very low population densities locations
  3. Ultra-ultra Rural Site - Very small remote villages

MTN are already doing field trials with AMN and Huawei. With Huawei, they are using the RuralStar (see earlier post here). Other vendors listed above are working with them in the labs and will be trialed for Ultra and Ultra-ultra rural sites.

Their main motivation for working with Facebook and TIP is to find affordable solutions for Ultra and Ultra-ultra rural locations. There is a large scale trial happening soon in 2 countries, 120 sites in total.
One of the challenges in African market is that the average lifespan of handset is 7 years. What this means is that many people still on 2G today will be migrating to 3G in near future. As a result, 3G will be the most dominant technology in Africa in 2025.

While most operators and vendors are focusing on 4G and 5G, there is still going to be a big market for 2G and 3G in 2025. These users cannot be ignored and the operator that serves them well will eventually be the winner.

Further Reading:

Wednesday 31 October 2018

BSNL bringing 'Smart Telecom Poles' to India with help of Nokia

BSNL is committed towards driving the connectivity agenda. This is why its selected Nokia for smart pole deployment across India.

According to Nokia press release:

Nokia has been selected by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) to support the transformation of India's cities through intelligent infrastructure. Nokia will supply, install, commission and maintain the Smart Telecom Poles across India in all of BSNL's telecom circles. Under the contract, Nokia will also integrate the poles with smart LED lighting systems, CCTV cameras, digital billboards and environmental sensors that provide strong revenue generation potential for the operator. The smart pole has been designed for emerging markets and built in India based on Nokia's global services expertise.

The Indian urban landscape is evolving, with government and city administrations gearing up to ensure the safety and security of citizens and provide them a better quality of life. BSNL, in line with the Indian government's Smart Cities Mission, is exploring and taking the lead to digitalize cities.

With its Smart Telecom Pole and services expertise, Nokia will help BSNL provide access to mobile connectivity and smart solutions for citizens while ensuring the poles meet the aesthetic and spatial needs in modern cities. Nokia will optimize the telecom infrastructure to provide a shared, secure and scalable platform that ensures the best use of urban resources and prepares BSNL for the needs of new technologies such as IoT and 5G.

The pole can be adapted to diverse geographical environments and climate conditions. It also houses a custom-designed power backup solution to provide continuity of services during power outages.

Back in June, BSNL issued a tender for supply, implementation and maintenance of smart pole with smart light, environmental sensor, advertisement panel, and surveillance camera for smart city. There is no direct link but can easily be found via search. Here were some of the requirements they were looking for.

Finally, I noticed the following picture being used by some websites (example) along with the announcement.

I am not sure if this is Nokia pole. This looks like the 'Multi Utility Pole' from Vizag (Visakhapatnam) smart city project.
Will share more info when available.

Related posts:

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Optus 'Satellite Small Cell in a Container' wins another award

Optus has won the Satellite Provider of the Year award at Communications Alliance’s 2018 ACOMM Awards dinner.

Optus received the distinguished award for its Satellite Small Cell in a Container. Optus designed the standalone, autonomously-powered solution to extend the Optus mobile network, using Optus' satellite backhaul service, into remote regional and rural sites where other telecommunications facilities, infrastructure and power are unavailable.

Nick Leake, Acting Head of Satellite Networks, said Optus is committed to decreasing the digital divide in geographically challenging locations.

“We are investing significantly in regional and remote areas across Australia. Our Satellite Small Cell in a Container is a fantastic example of how Optus continues to innovate our satellite solutions to provide resilient mobile connectivity to communities in geographically challenging locations.”

Optus was the first in Australia to deliver satellite small cells, enabling 3G mobile coverage and extending the Optus mobile network into remote, rural and regional locations using Optus’ satellite backhaul service.

Mataranka National Park in the Northern Territory was the first site to benefit from the Satellite Small Cell in a Container, with ten additional sites in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia currently being built, tested and rolled out.

I blogged about the Australian mobile notspots program earlier here and Parallel Wireless CWS Radios helping Optus connect Australian outback via satellite here. This Optus deployment won Small Cell Forum award in 'Excellence in Commercial Deployment of Rural/Remote Small Cells' category in 2017 along with Parallel Wireless for their CWS & Gilat for satellite backhaul.

Further Reading:

Saturday 29 September 2018

Vodafone Australia trialing regional coverage hub (small cell) with Nokia

Vodafone Australia has unveiled its new technology for helping improve mobile signal for voice, data, and Internet of Things (IoT) in regional areas, with its Vodafone Regional Coverage Hub. The Hub is a simple, self-install, small cells solution. It relies on ethernet backhaul for connectivity with the operator network.

ZDNet reports that this has been developed in partnership with Nokia. Nokia has a similar solution called Kuha that they have trialed in UK.

Vodafone press release mentions that this hub was able to provide coverage for 8 sq. km., which is roughly 1.5 km radius. Its a low power solution so coverage area would be restricted. The small cell is providing 4G and NB-IoT coverage.

Its interesting to note that as this is 4G only, older 4G devices and devices that do not support VoLTE will not work on this small cell. 

Saturday 22 September 2018

AT&T's Small Base Stations on Wooden Poles

We blogged about Sprint's outdoor small cells in pictures last month, not we just heard about AT&T's small cells on wooden poles.

Here are some of the pictures courtesy of Michael Marcus:

Related posts:

Sunday 16 September 2018

Patients to get free Wi-Fi as UK National Health Service (NHS) turns 70

The UK National Health Service (NHS) turned 70 on 5 July 2018. To celebrate this they have also created a dedicated website here.

Back in June, Dean Bubley tweeted about NHS's WiFi Journey from Small Cells World Summit 2018. By December 2018, Full Wi-Fi rollout in secondary care will be completed.

NHS Digital explains the following:

NHS Digital is working to make sure that everyone can access free WiFi in NHS sites in England. NHS WiFi will provide a secure, stable, and reliable WiFi capability, consistent across all NHS settings. It will allow patients and the public to download health apps, browse the internet and access health and care information.

Local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and NHS trusts are responsible for choosing a supplier that can provide an NHS WiFi compliant system which suits their needs, and working with them to implement it across their local NHS sites. The chosen system must be based on a set of policies and guidance defined by NHS Digital.

This is the latest update from David Corbett, NHS WiFi Programme Head

Make sure to follow David to keep up to date on this subject.

Sunday 9 September 2018

Hong Kong gets LAA via SmarTone Small Cells

According to Mobile World Live:

SmarTone, the smallest mobile operator in Hong Kong, said it installed small cells using licensed assisted access (LAA) technology in a number of congested areas in the territory and plans to extend the rollout to additional locations.

The operator, with a 17 per cent market share by subscribers, said its LTE network now makes use of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum as well as five-carrier aggregation to reach theoretical peak download speeds of 1Gb/s.

The LAA small cells were deployed in Central, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Shatin districts. By installing LAA small cells in strategic locations, the operator said its network can absorb traffic surges during festive and special events.

In June Hong Kong’s regulator allocated additional spectrum for the provision of public mobile services, a move it said would put the market at the forefront of adoption of advanced technologies including LAA. The Communications Authority officially allocated 580MHz of spectrum in the 5GHz band.

I have written about LAA on the 3G4G blog here. I have also expressed doubts here with increasing densification where Wi-Fi and Mobile signals will have to compete to deliver best end-user experience.

Disruptive Asia mentions that Ericsson is the vendor. Ericsson conducted trials with SmarTone last year, more details available on Ericsson's website here. As per Disruptive Asia:

The Ericsson LAA technology deployed by SmarTone combines licensed and unlicensed LTE carriers with 5CC carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO and 256 QAM to enable gigabit level speeds (at least theoretically – real-world speeds are likely to be around half of that, although that’s still way faster than current LTE speeds).

One catch with LAA is that it requires customers to use an LAA-compatible smartphone to take advantage of the faster throughput speeds – and there aren’t very many of those at the moment. According to the latest report from the GSA (July 2018), commercially available handsets supporting LAA include the Samsung Galaxy S8, Note 8 and S9, Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium and Xperia XZ1, HTC’s U11, LG’s V30 and V30+, and ZTE’s Nubia Z17.

One reason there aren’t many handsets is that the LAA ecosystem is still in its infancy, and few operators have commercially launched LAA – in fact, SmarTone is only the fifth cellco in the world to do so. Meanwhile, the GSA counts just 22 LAA trials and deployments in progress.

Test report on Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) using the unlicensed 5 GHz band by SmarTone Mobile Communications Limited is available on Hong Kong's Office of the Communications Authority website. See September 2018 report here and January 2018 report here.

HTCL (Hutchison Telephone Company Limited) also known as Three Hong Kong is also looking at LAA and is doing its own testing. Test report from The Communications Authority website is available here.

Related Posts:

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Sprint's Outdoor Small Cells - In Pictures

Sprint has been deploying outdoor small cell with more than 15,000 already deployed. This is not as aggressive as T-Mobile that plans to deploy 25,000 just this year but Sprint is also deploying MagicBox, its indoor small cells. According to Sprint newsroom, more than 260,000 magic boxes have been distributed to date. In fact they are so popular that the hospitality edition was released last month.

In this post, I am going to post some tweets with pictures of Sprint's outdoor small cells:

It should be pointed out that in USA, the definition of Small Cells is often fuzzy. While we refer to small cells as complete base stations, out there small cells can also mean small form factor RRH/RRU. Some of these small cells will have BBU hidden away. For more details see our tutorial on small cells and macrocells here.

Saturday 4 August 2018

'SCF Awards' 2018 Winners

I realised that even though I wrote a post on SCF winners, I never published it. Better late than never.

Small Cell Forum Awards have been around for 10 years and are highly respected for their impartiality and independence. I was at the awards back in May, representing Parallel Wireless (as I am the marketing representative based in Europe). It was fun catching up with colleagues and old contacts and also good to see first hand all the companies competing for these prestigious awards.

Small Cell Forum has a dedicated page that has all the award winners and the picture gallery (scroll down on the linked page)

Below are the names of all the winners. Some of them are linked if I wrote a post about them.

  • Excellence in Commercial Deployment (Residential): Sprint/Airspan for Magic Box LTE Relay
  • Excellence in Commercial Deployment (Urban): CCS for City of London small cell backhaul network
  • Excellence in Commercial Deployment (Enterprise): Nokia for Flexi-Zone shopping mall and public building deployment
  • Excellent in commercial Deployment (Rural, Remote, Temporary): Parallel Wireless for Ice Wireless in Northern Canada
  • HetNet Software and Services – Management and Automatio: AirHop for HetNet Performance Insight with eSON
  • Deployment of New Architectures Enabling the Dense HetNet: Huawei for Small BTS solution with LTE backhaul
  • Commercial Small Cell Design and Technology (Network and XHaul): HPE/Softbank for Dedicated PCRF for Small Cells
  • Outstanding Innovation in Small Cell Technology or Architecture: Accelleran for Architecture-agnostic small cell RAN-vRAN solutions
  • Outstanding Innovation in Small Cell Business Case: OpenCell for Multi-operator in-building coverage using Small Cells
  • Social Impact: Parallel Wireless/Telefonica for Connecting LATAM’s unconnected
  • Judges Choice: ITRI for deep innovation helping to advance small cells as a platform
  • Chairman’s Award: Mirela Doicu, Nokia
  • Individual Contribution: Ravi Sinha, Reliance Jio

Related Posts:

Wednesday 18 July 2018

T-Mobile USA is deploying 25K small cells with LAA

Source: PCmag

T-Mobile keeps talking up its small cells and 5G deployments. ICYMI, I recently wrote about the 5G rollout in 600MHz on 3G4G blog here. In a recent interview in Fierce Wireless, T-Mobile’s SVP of radio network engineering and development, Mark McDiarmid reminded everyone that the company plans to deploy up to 25,000 small cells this year, some just a few hundred yards away from one another.

This is all following on from the announcement last year that T-Mobile has contracted to deploy 28,000 small cells. Since then T-Mo has quietly changed its strategy from LTE-U to 3GPP standards based LAA. This was on back of a successful trial with Ericsson where they achieved speeds of 1.1 Gbps using 12-layer Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) technology – the first in the world to hit speeds beyond the 1 Gbps threshold on unlicensed spectrum.
For the PCMag article, Milan Milanovic, Technical Evangelist for Ookla did some tests and the article had the following to say:

At a cell site at 45th St. and Third Avenue in Manhattan, T-Mobile is combining 20MHz of its Band 4 spectrum with 60MHz of LAA spectrum. Phones connect to the cell site and send data up using the 1700MHz/2100Mhz Band 4 spectrum, and then get downloaded data via a combination of Band 4 and LAA.

Those speeds are insane. In 13 tests, we got an average of 503Mbps down and 42.7Mbps up. Just to compare, in Ookla's Speedtest Intelligence database, the top 10 percent of T-Mobile download speeds in that ZIP code are only around 70Mbps down.

LAA-capable phones can get up to ten 100Mbps download streams on this cell site, with four on the licensed spectrum (4x4 MIMO) and two on each of three channels of LAA spectrum, Milanovic said.

Other users on this cell site will do well, but not as well as LAA users, Milanovic notes. The site is also equipped with T-Mobile's workhorse Band 2 and the low-frequency Band 12, which penetrates inside buildings.

LAA is only a solution for dense urban areas, though. This cell site has a coverage diameter of about four blocks (a bit over 1,000 feet), which is considered pretty good for LAA. That's a little better than what the coverage probably would be if the site was sending down 5GHz Wi-Fi, and it's a little better than New York's LinkNYC public Wi-Fi posts.

A nearby LinkNYC post doesn't appear to be interfering with the T-Mobile signal, Milanovic said. That's good news, because one of the concerns about LAA is whether or not it will coexist well with powerful public Wi-Fi.

You'll need the right phone to hit these speeds, and that's not an iPhone. Currently, LAA is supported by T-Mobile's Samsung Galaxy S8, Note 8, Galaxy S8 Active, Galaxy S9/S9+, LG V30, and the unlocked Huawei Mate 10 Pro £399.00 at Amazon. We'll make sure to test LAA when we go on the road with our Fastest Mobile Networks drive tests this spring.

Here is latest on the LAA speed front from Milan Milanović:
Not everyone agrees that LAA has a long term potential or performs well where 5GHz Wi-Fi channels are very busy. Others (mainly vendors) disagree.

You may also enjoy reading Juny Song's article on LinkedIn!

Note: I should point out here that what T-Mobile refers to as Small cells are actually RRU's and not complete base stations. You may want to refer to my tutorial here to understand this better. The bottom picture on this post will help too.

Tuesday 26 June 2018

Drones, UAVs, LTE & 5G

Its been nearly couple of years since I was involved with EE/BT for their Airmasts project. Details here with some good links in that post too. Since then many other operators have been involved with something or other to do with drones, blimps, balloons, etc.

Here are a few recent ones that I found interesting

KT has unveiled its 5G emergency network service called Skyship that uses airship drones to search for survivors in the aftermath of disasters.

KT collaborated with local drone maker Metismake to design the helium gas-based airship, which has an attached pod with propellant, network module, high-resolution camera, and a trunk that can deploy smaller drones to the ground.

It was designed in NACA airfoil and can maintain stable flight in 13 metre-per-second winds. It has a maximum speed of 80 kilometers per hour and can fly up to six hours.

More details on ZDNet here.

KDDI announced today that it has successfully completed a live 4K video transmission test using a drone that leverages 5G technology. The test was carried out in an effort to realize consumer services that can benefit hugely from drones, such as public safety and surveillance, agriculture monitoring and disaster response. The test, the first of its kind to have taken place in Japan, was carried out in cooperation with Nakao Research Laboratory of the University of Tokyo, TripodWorks and Prodrone. 

The test area was set up in the university's Kashiwa campus using Samsung Electronics' 5G end-to-end solutions including 5G AU, 5G core and 5G tablet, and for video streaming 28GHz frequency were used. Using a 5G supporting device, the video shot in the air using the 4K camera mounted on the drone was uploaded in real time.

More details on Netmanias here.

Looking at Drone communications over LTE / 5G, Sequans communications have recently published a white paper looking at how LTE would be a communication technology of choice for drone communications over long distances. There are some issues to resolve including how to get reliable signal in the drones as they fly above the typical coverage zone of an LTE antenna.

Details here:

Ericsson had done some similar study and published a whitepaper on this topic last year. Details available here but the video below is worth a watch too.

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Huawei's RuralStar: Taking the fight to low cost small cell vendors

Last year, Huawei announced their small cell / mini-macro product for rural and urban areas. The following is from their initial announcement:

Huawei’s RuralStar base station can reduce the time to recover the investment to less than five years, compared with more than ten years for traditional rural sites Zhang said. The new site cuts power consumption by 85 per cent and lowers total costs by 70 per cent, the company said.

The vendor is having discussions with a number of operators in Africa and Asia about deploying RuralStar sites. Zhang is optimistic there will be strong demand, but noted the new site won’t represent a large percentage of total base station production.

The Huawei executive said urban areas also face many challenges in deploying base stations including high rental fees, difficulty in finding appropriate sites and slow deployments, which can take at least one month.

To overcome these, Huawei developed PoleStar, which can be installed on lamp posts and a variety of other locations in a matter of hours. Zhang said operators can take advantage of more than 1 billion lamp posts, 10 million bus stops and 10 million phone booths around the world to deploy new base stations more cost effectively.

A PoleStar deployment in Thailand using existing traffic and light posts significantly reduced the site footprint, which led to a 66 per cent cut in rental costs. 

It soon became RuralStar 2.0:

Huawei released RuralStar2.0, an innovative site solution in terms of transmission, infrastructure, base station design, and energy. This solution addresses increasing demands for voice and data services from the unconnected and increases operator ROI for rural network deployment. This solution fulfills the following rural MBB requirements: 2G, 3G, or 4G rural MBB networks providing rates of over 10 Mbit/s at cell edges and cell coverage of 5 km; Extended 2G and 3G coverage at a maximum distance of 60 km from the nearest tower-mounted site, providing voice and data (over 1 Mbit/s at cell edges) services and cell coverage of 5 km.

In terms of transmission, RuralStar2.0 adopts non line of sight (NLOS) wireless backhaul, which eliminates rental costs of transmission equipment and significantly reduces OPEX compared with satellite or microwave transmission. NLOS wireless backhaul supports multi-hop backhaul, which allows for a maximum distance of over 60 km from the donor base station, extending network coverage. In terms of infrastructure, NLOS wireless backhaul switches high-rise towers used in traditional rural networks to low-rise poles, reducing site infrastructure costs by 70%. As for energy, low-power base stations and transmission equipment do not require diesel generators for power generation and require fewer solar panels and batteries, which slashes CAPEX by 70%. Using pure solar energy saves O&M costs, in turn greatly reducing OPEX.

Omnidirectional antennas are used to achieve targeted omnidirectional coverage in a single cell at low cost. For cells with insufficient coverage, innovative 90° high-gain antennas can be used to deploy the butterfly site solution. This solution reduces the number of sectors from three to two, the number of antennas and RRUs by 1/3, and total power consumption by 30% as well as the CAPEX and OPEX compared with traditional sites. For a given population in a target area, RuralStar2.0's innovations in these aspects reduce TCO by more than 50% compared with traditional site solutions.

RuralStar has been commercially deployed in many countries, including Ghana, Thailand, Algeria, and Nigeria. Mobile network coverage boosts local economic development and improves local people's lives.

At MWC, Huawei’s RuralStar solution has won GSMA’s "Best Mobile Innovation for Emerging Markets" award.

In Ghana, local villagers used to climb to rooftops and trees, or even ride a dozen kilometers to find telephone signals. RuralStar has addressed these issues. They can now use WhatsApp to communicate and share pictures at home. Transferring money and recharging call fees through Mobile Money have also become common in daily life.

RuralStar enables three transformations, transforming microwave or satellite transmission in traditional solutions to Relay, substituting simple poles for towers, and enabling a move from diesel generators for power supply to solar power. This shortens the return on investment (ROI) period for mobile communications in remote rural areas. Operators can then lower the threshold of profitability by 50%, which is a great help for emerging markets to bridge the digital divide.

There is also a user experience story from Ghana on a village that was transformed with the help of connectivity:

Over the past week, Afryea's friends were receiving more and more messages from her over WhatsApp - and all thanks to the installation of an amazing “wooden pole”.

Afryea is a teacher in a village located in a rural region of Ghana. Having had the privilege of studying in cities, Afryea is used to using WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram. However, she explains that it took her an inordinate amount of time to readjust to the life without these Apps after she returned to this village, as it rarely has any signal.

Afryea is now delighted to deliver the news to her friends that mobile services are becoming increasingly accessible for a surprisingly long list of devices in her village.

Nyakpoo, the village chief, explained to Afryea why people simply couldn't access the network: the nearest base station was more than 20 kilometers from here, so achieving signal reception was no easy task. Before the “wooden pole” base station was installed, the village chief himself often needed to ride his motorcycle a few miles to get closer to a base station in order to use Mobile Money.  "Since our village suffered from a lack of electricity and fibre optic cables, there was simply no other way to build a base station. I am amazed that all these issues can be solved with a simple piece of wood."

The RuralStar solution changes this. The solution uses a Relay based on 4G technology to realise data transmission, rather than expensive satellite or microwave. Relay transmission does not have the same line of sight (LOS) constraints, allowing a base station to be constructed on a simple wooden telegraph pole instead of a 30m dedicated tower. With low power consumption, RuralStar can be powered just by using six solar panels.

Afryea’s village was chosen as one of the first to implement RuralStar. The wooden pole to accommodate the base station is prepared locally in the village. The base station deployment was completed in just one week, with total costs reduced by around 70%, and the pole is now helping to deliver mobile services. Even with such a small population, the operator can expect to recoup the investment in just three years.

While I commend Huawei for developing a low cost solution for rural deployment, they are competing with several other small cell vendors competing for the same chunk of the market. It is also often of interest to the mobile operators to bring new vendors in rural areas where the requirement to meet KPIs is much lower. This way they can make sure that all the interfaces from their existing vendors are open and standards compliant too.

Finally, I have to mention that while the articles talks about power reduction, it is compared to the Huawei's macro products. Other small cell vendors may have even lower power and different innovations which may make them attractive for other scenarios.

Finally, Nokia has a similar solution for rural deployments. I blogged about the Nokia Kuha here.

Further Reading:

Sunday 10 June 2018

Small Cells growing fast, just not in Europe

Small Cell Forum held a workshop in Beijing, China last month to gain an understanding of China’s perspective on densification on the path to 5G. Complete report is available here. From the report:

APAC leads the world in network densification, as is clear from recent market data and forecasts out to 2025. New deployments in South East Asia alone are set to be greater than the sum total of those in the rest of the world until 2025. APAC can be characterized as experiencing two phases of growth, with a small plateau from 2019-2021 as 5GNR small cells are being commercialized. Our survey of MNOs reveals that densification in APAC is primarily capacity driven, to ensure data services maintain their quality of experience as mobile traffic volumes continue to grow. CMRI (China Mobile Research Institute) predicted its data traffic would grow 8x from 2016-2020 and 119x from 2016-2030. Ericsson predicted 8x global growth from 2016-2022, and others cited Cisco VNI’s 7x global growth 2016-2021, dominated by APAC.

A summary presentation from the event is embedded at the end.

As per Mobile World Live's report from Small Cells World Summit last month in London:

Kicking off the event, David Orloff, chair of the Small Cell Forum said: “Small cells are integral for 5G, and the reality is that there are capacity needs, there are latency needs, and both of these aspects can be driven through integration with small cells.”

He observed: “Europe is lagging. We need a new mindset, we need to look at different ways on this – in the 5G era we do have densification needs in the entire global industry, and we need to work [out] solutions to ensure the framework is there and the foundations are there. We need to think differently.”

Speaking about the global rollout of small cell technology, he continued: “We see global synergies and global barriers, but we also see regional barriers that are delaying densification. A good example in the US is cell siting; in India there is a cost target that has to be met; in China there’s mindsets around operations; and in Europe there is a question around the business case and whether it is profitable to do densification.”

“Asia is cranking, North America is doing well, really preparing that framework and foundation and starting to deploy cells that are NR capable, so that we have a structure in place so that we can turn on 5G, working on mmWave. Europe is pretty far down.”

Notwithstanding this lag, Small Cell Forum forecasts an increase in the number of non-resident small cells deployed in Europe from 52,000 in 2017 to 310,000 in 2022. But mobile operator deployments are not the only game in town: enterprises are an important driving force due to quality of service and IoT requirements, and technologies including MulteFire and CBRS are easing the way for new players.

According to Crown Castle, in a report in Fierce Wireless:

The small cell market continues to expand, and Crown Castle’s Mike Kavanagh pointed to two big factors as evidence: Small cell buildouts are starting to happen in smaller, tier 2 markets, and some small cell locations are now serving more than one carrier.

Small cells are “a big part of every big carrier’s build,” he said. “It’s a good time to be in the space.”

In the early days of small cells half a dozen years ago, Kavanagh said that a major installation would cover 50 nodes in a city. Today that number is reaching 2,000—and in some dense markets it can grow to 7,000. “You’re utilizing small cells as a much bigger element of the network build,” he said. “You’ve got to have that tower layer. And you’ve got to have small cells.”

He said in some deployments Crown Castle is seeing 2 to 4 small cells per mile, and in some dense, urban areas that number grows to 7 to 12 per mile. Kavanagh, the company’s SVP of sales and its chief commercial officer, said that Verizon kicked off the push toward small cells, but today all of the nation’s largest wireless operators are embarking on major small cell deployments.

And a big driver of revenues for Crown Castle is the growing trend toward multitenant small cells, which Crown Castle calls “leasing up.” Essentially, Crown Castle typically builds a small cell for one carrier’s equipment, but increasingly the company is adding equipment for a second carrier to that location, thus deriving more revenues per small cell site. Such site sharing is typical in the macro tower business.

Finally, here is summary of presentation from SCF looking at APAC in detail with regards to drivers and barriers for densification.

Monday 4 June 2018

Internet para todos: Telefonica and Parallel Wireless on a mission to connect 100 Million Unconnected

According to GSMA Intelligence report, 'The Mobile Economy Latin America and the Caribbean 2017':

Latin America has seen rapid growth in the number of mobile internet subscribers over recent years, with a total of nearly 350 million, registering growth of almost 10% since the start of 2016. Of these subscribers, more than two thirds connect to the internet via mobile broadband (3G or 4G) networks. As the importance of digital access and engagement increases, so this figure will continue to grow strongly, to reach about 420 million by 2020.

Despite the growth to date, only slightly more than half of the population currently ha0ve a mobile internet subscription, well below the developed market average of two thirds – though some lowerincome groups may connect using Wi-Fi only.

As a result, around 300 million people are digitally excluded and unable to enjoy the socioeconomic benefits that mobile internet can bring. By 2020, nearly two thirds of the population will be connected, still well behind the developed market average but in line with the global average. However, nearly 250 million people across the region will still be digitally excluded. There remain significant barriers to adoption, particularly for underserved population groups (rural, women, low income and youth).

Mobile internet penetration also varies significantly across the region. Chile had the highest penetration as at the end of 2016, with Argentina only slightly behind. In contrast, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Haiti have mobile internet penetration rates of one third or less (Cuba has among the lowest levels of mobile internet penetration globally, at 3% of the population). 

At MWC 2018, Telefónica announced “Internet para todos”, a collaborative project to connect the unconnected in Latin America. The Initiative is aimed at connecting the more than 100 million people in Latin America with no internet access. Telefónica also expanded its collaboration with Facebook on key technological and commercial innovations and collaboration with multiple stakeholders: rural operators, technology firms and regulators.

For those who are wondering what “Internet para todos” means, it means “Internet for all. Here is a good video on the initiative.

You can read all about it here. One of the vendors mentioned in this press release is Parallel Wireless (*). Their announcement on this is available here.

Embedded below is an indepth presentation on this topic by Patrick Lopez, VP, networks innovation at Telefónica.

And here is the video of above for anyone interested:

In the recent Small Cell Forum awards, 'Internet Para Todos' won the Social Impact award – Promoting Small Cells for Social/Economic/Environmental Development.

Hopefully we will see many more similar initiatives from other operators and TIP to connect the unconnected.

*Full Disclosure: I work for Parallel Wireless as a Senior Director in 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.