Wednesday 30 September 2020

Small Cells Have a Bright Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday 23 September 2020

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

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

In a press release earlier this month, Ericsson announced:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday 15 September 2020

BrightSites Smart poles for Smart Cities

There is no shortage of posts on this blog looking at small cells and other infrastructure on lamp posts and smart poles. Here is another one from Signify, the new company name of Philips Lighting.

The BrightSites website boldly proclaims:

BrightSites smart poles by Signify turbocharge cities’ infrastructure

The digital transformation of public spaces is accelerating rapidly. Yet most components of a city’s digital backbone are insufficient to meet the modern connectivity needs of today and tomorrow. The BrightSites smart poles from Signify, offer an all-in-one solution – providing a broadband connectivity, 4G/5G and WiFi infrastructure, as well as platform for number of IoT applications. And all this, while maintaining the aesthetics of the urban environment.

Elegant and multi-functional design: BrightSites offer an elegant and aesthetically pleasing multi-functional smart poles, making it a matching addition to your cityscape. BrightSites poles are available in various heights, colors, styles, enabling integration into any streetscape with optimal visual impact. 

Easy deployment and scalability: Mobile operators can deploy dozens or hundreds of cell sites quickly and easily, making it possible to densify network capacity and coverage with a minimal disruption.

Digital pathway: Signify BrightSites is the digital pathway of the modern city. Using the ubiquity of a city's existing street lighting infrastructure, BrightSites poles deliver 4G/5G, Wi-Fi, LoRa, Sigfox, fiber hubs, and a possibility to accommodate wide range of IoT applications.

Energy Efficiency: Philips LED lighting provides a cost-effective, low-maintenance alternative to traditional street lighting – an important consideration for cities.

Our smart poles are highly suitable for dense urban areas, historic or transit centers, corporate and college campuses and any other areas with coverage- or capacity-challenged environments.

The Signify website has variety of solutions showing different models. We already looked at a very early evolution of this in the post here as we looked at the H-series Slim pole here.

BrightSites H-Series Slim Pole
  • integrated broadband connectivity, up to 4 radio units and 2 basebands from various vendors
  • a wide variety of digital technologies and IoT capabilities (Wi-Fi, cameras, and sensors)
  • Suitable for urban areas in historic or contemporary styles
  • wide range of customization for lighting requirements
  • transforms  streetlight into assets

Back in 2019, Signify had already announced that BrightSites smart poles have already been installed in San Jose, US and Hospitalet, Spain. Surely they have been installed in a lot more places by now. 

Finally, here is a video explaining the need for smart poles.

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Tuesday 8 September 2020

Loon Overview and Advancements

We have written about Alphabet's Loon many times on our blogs. While we agree that the business case for the technology is poor, it has nevertheless the potential to bring connectivity quickly to areas of need. Links to the different blog posts are at the bottom of this post.

The video below was posted by Loon on their YouTube channel

While there is no shortage on tutorials explaining how Loon works, here is an older video looking at the Loon infrastructure

The only real challenge left is how to control the trajectory when there is a hurricane or very windy situation as can be seen in this Tweet below

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Tuesday 1 September 2020

5G Small Cells Definition

In our basic introduction on Small Cells and Macrocells, we discussed that the small cells definition can sometimes be fuzzy. Having said that, it was still easy to define the small cell based on the topology. With 5G, as there are quite a few different splits, you can have Integrated as well as disaggregated small cell. To simplify the confusion around this, Small Cell Forum (SCF) unveiled 5G Small Cell Architecture and Product Definitions.

Document 238.10.01 available here provides the necessary details. The contents of the report include:

  • Definition of 5G Small Cells and Small Cell Networks
  • 5G Small Cell Deployment Scenarios
  • Small Cell Network Architecture and Product Types
  • Small Cell Power Considerations
  • 5G-Small Cell Product Definitions
    • Integrated Small Cell Configurations (Survey Results)
    • Radio Unit (RU) for Disaggregated Networks (Survey Results)
    • Distributed Unit (DU) for Disaggregated Networks (Survey Results)
    • Analysis and Discussion of Configuration Results
  • Conclusions 

The article here states:

Why do we need definitions to inform the design of 5G small cells?  Well, in the 5G era, small cells will be deployed in a far wider range of scenarios than in the past, and the form factors and architectures will be extremely varied.

The introduction of virtualized, disaggregated networks means that some small cells will consist of two or three elements, while others will still be all-in-one. Some form factors will be classed as ‘mini-macros’, which can be deployed unobtrusively on street furniture but have performance and power levels close to those of larger base stations. Others will be so tiny they can be embedded into pavements or consumer electronics.

And we shouldn’t be focused on form before function. Are we talking about outdoor or indoor small cells? Are they to service airports or factories?

It is clear, then, that old definitions are now inadequate, and there are real and present dangers of the industry fragmenting between hundreds of different designs that had insufficient common features to achieve any scale.

This is a major piece of work to provide a consensus view and concise definition of the types of 5G small cells and the key characteristics of the different types of commercially viable 5G small cell RAN products over the next five years. It is supported by a major survey of operators, other small cell deployers, and supply chain members.

The official press release says:

As small cell use cases diversify, 5G Small cell architecture and product definitions highlights the need for clear understanding of the requirements for each of the range of options that will be needed. The risk of diversity is fragmentation, so deployers and vendors will benefit from having clear baseline definitions of the technical specifications, power and spectrum choices, and key interfaces, for any given architecture in any given environment. That will enable the industry to innovate within common, agreed design frameworks, supporting diversity while also maintaining scalability and interoperability.

The first such study of its kind, the report provides an informed view of the most important configurations and specifications for companies deploying small cells between now and 2025. It aims to provide a consensus view and concise definition of the types of 5G small cells being rolled out now and in the near future. It also includes definitions of the key characteristics of the different types of commercially viable 5G small cell RAN products that will be available over the next five years, including 3GPP and O-RAN Alliance 5G disaggregated open RAN specifications – work that covers macrocells, but also includes microcells and picocells.

This study also provides a uniquely detailed analysis of the capabilities that small cells will need to support in any combination of architecture and deployment environment. It makes it clear that in the 5G era, no single design or specification can meet every requirement across all the scenarios. Instead, it will be important to optimize small cell designs and specifications for each environment, to encourage adoption and drive new usage, especially in the enterprise, industrial and campus settings where many new use cases for dense cellular connectivity are emerging.

Some key conclusions are:

  • Split 6 and 7.x are the most popular among those currently planning disaggregated small cell deployments, as well as dual-split architectures including Split 2. Split 8 is also known to be popular in China for indoor enterprise deployments.
  • Split 7.2 O-RU based solutions are predominantly planned for outdoor campus, urban and private networks, whereas split 6 S-RU based solutions are for indoor enterprise.
  • Remote integrated and RU small cell products are limited by power consumption, environmental conditions, maximum output power and volume. gNodeB and RUs generally are passive-cooled, and powered by Ethernet (PoE), fiber (PoF) or powerline.
  • 2 and 4-layer MIMO is most popular in smaller deployments although 8-layer MIMO may be required in some larger enterprise campus, urban and private deployments, and potentially longer term.

“In the early days, small cells looked fairly similar, regardless of the environment in which they would be deployed, and were easily distinguishable in size, weight and power output from other mobile equipment. In the 5G era, small cells will be deployed in a far wider range of scenarios, and form factors and architectures will be extremely varied,” said Prabhakar Chitrapu, Chair of Small Cell Forum. “The form factor, power, size, interfaces and specification will vary according to the use case and deployment scenario, and with the introduction of virtualized, disaggregated networks, some small cells will consist of two or three elements, while others will still be all-in-one. It is clear that old definitions are now inadequate, and there are clear and present dangers of the industry fragmenting between hundreds of different designs with insufficient common features to achieve any scale.”

Many of the challenges in the deployment of small cell networks to date have been rooted in regulators and legislators having to certify individual items in an increasingly fragmented market. This report will be valuable for the whole ecosystem: for vendors and components makers looking to prioritize their development efforts on areas of highest demand; for operators and neutral hosts, to help as they make their architecture choices; and for external stakeholders such as regulators and legislators, to expedite site selection, certification and deployment.

"Small cells, or femtocells as they were previously known, have played an increasingly important role in wireless networks since their introduction more than a decade ago. One would have thought that a small cell is well defined; however, it has taken significant effort to work out what a 5G small cell is,” remarked Vicky Messer, Director, Product Management at Picocom. “It has been a great pleasure working with industry colleagues over the past few months on this SCF 5G small cell architecture and product definitions paper. As a result, we now feel we have a definitive answer.”

The baseline small cell product configurations detailed in the report are essential to inform hardware component design and reference architectures, and crucially, are based on an SCF consensus which, in turn, represents inputs from a wide range of operators, vendors, component makers and other stakeholders.

This set of configurations is not prescriptive, and it takes account of work done by other organizations. In this way, the report will help drive the increased ecosystem diversity and lower-cost small cell solutions demanded by the industry and, most importantly, its customers.

Small Cell Forum’s work on common interfaces, at system-on-chip level (FAPI and 5G FAPI) and system level (nFAPI) is the best-established effort to define a common framework within which many designs and many suppliers can innovate and interwork. The survey of operators and other stakeholders, conducted for this report to understand key design requirements, highlighted strong support for these interfaces and SCF’s Split 6 architecture.

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