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Small Cell, Big Future: Keeping pace with the gigabyte revolution

June 13, 2014
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According to estimates, global mobile data demand will increase to 1 GB per user per day by 2020. Industry analysts expect this demand to be driven by greater adoption of cloud services, the increasing popularity of social gaming and networking, video calling, the growing adoption of 3G services and the emergence of Internet of Things. Telecom operators across the globe are investing in new technologies that are capable of meeting this surge in demand.

Traditionally, operators have considered network coverage and voice quality as important differentiators while delivering quality service to users. However, customers have now also started recognising the quality aspect of mobile internet while making a choice between operators.

In order to keep pace with the gigabyte revolution, service providers need to upgrade their networks to achieve 10x performance. This, in turn, implies ensuring 1,000x more capacity on existing or new telecom networks. With limited spectrum availability, operators in India cannot achieve such capacities by merely adding more base stations. Instead, they will have to explore the option of augmenting network capacity by deploying new technologies including small cells, pico cells and Wi-Fi. The key advantages offered by small cells include greater regulatory compliances (electromagnetic field radiation), higher speed, precise tracking of customer usage patterns, larger coverage, efficient spectrum reuse, high spectral efficiency and lower cost of deployment.

Operators worldwide will require ten times more base stations in order to meet the exponential growth in data. As per industry estimates, the number of global base stations will reach more than 50 million by 2020 and 80 per cent of the total base stations will be micro cell based. Going forward, more than 500 million Wi-Fi-enabled applications will be supported by networks comprising femto or pico cells. Service providers across various countries are recognising the potential of small cells to create more capacity and increase network speed. The deployment of small cells will help operators to bridge the spectrum gap to deliver improved user experience. Industry reports on the current and future market for small cells indicate that 98 per cent of operators worldwide believe that small cells are essential for making their networks future ready, about 55 per cent are considering integrating Wi-Fi with their existing networks, and 49 per cent and 35 per cent of players have concerns regarding network planning and backhaul upgrades respectively.

With rapid advancements in technology, the telecom industry can choose from a large number of small cell types to address issues regarding capacity, coverage and speed. Depending on their indoor and outdoor coverage needs, operators can opt for various solutions such as femto cells, pico cells, micro cells, macro cells and

Wi-Fi or distributed antenna systems (DAS). Going forward, operators are likely to opt for a combination of the following technologies at various sites – homes (femto, Wi-Fi); offices (femto, Wi-Fi, DAS, pico); airports (Wi-Fi, DAS, pico); shopping centres (Wi-Fi, DAS); city walk (Wi-Fi, pico, micro); stadiums (Wi-Fi, DAS, pico, micro); suburban areas (femto, Wi-Fi); and rural areas (Wi-Fi, micro).

Small cells offer operators various tools to manage network evolution at lower total cost of ownership. Players can maximise macro cell usage through 6-

sector, active antennas, baseband pooling, and deployment of radio technologies such as long term evolution (LTE) and high speed packet access (HSPA+). They can utilise traffic management solutions such as caching, content optimisation, quality of service and deep packet inspection, network management automation, and self-organising networks. In addition, operators can deploy small cells to complement macro, micro, pico (cluster), femto, Wi-Fi and offloading.

The future belongs to small cells and heterogeneous networks. These networks will be capable of supporting technologies such as Wi-Fi, LTE, HSPA and GSM and will help operators deliver an enhanced user experience, achieve seamless interworking between different cell sizes, frequency layers and radio technologies, improve interference management, layer optimisation, and traffic steering.

Based on a presentation by Amit Marwah, Chief Technology Officer, India Region, Nokia Solutions and Networks at tele.net’s Eighth Annual Conference on Telecom Infrastructure in India on April 29-30, 2014 at The Leela Ambience, Gurgaon

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