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Next-level small cells sorely needed

Posted: 05 Oct 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:small cells? macro base stations? radio access network?

Small Cell Forum chairman Gordon Mansfield believes that mobile network operators are very much aware that there is an urgent need for a higher breed of cell base stations to address the complex demands of users. How to go about addressing those needs, however, is yet to be determined.

"We have to get consensus in the operator community about what we need [in small cells], and we are very close - then we need to get the full [vendor] ecosystem behind it," Mansfield, who leads AT&T Mobility's small cell solutions and radio access network delivery unit, told EE Times.

Small cells consist of at least three classes of new systems emerging beneath the traditional boxes now dubbed macro base stations. Mansfield splits small cells into three buckets:

  • Femto cells consume roughly 250 milliwatts and serve about four residential users.
  • Pico cells consume 1W, serve 16-64 users and are typically placed indoors.
  • Micro cells consume about 5W, serve hundreds of users and are generally placed outdoors.
  • Carriers have conducted separate trials of 3G and LTE small cells with generally favourable results. Next year they start hybrid trials that mix 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi systems.

    "That's when we will start to assess if its manageable to put these systems together given we have largely solved the LTE and 3G issues separately. I personally think the answer to that question is yes," he said.

    The trials seek optimal ways to reduce interference and link the small cells to the macro base station networks.

    The Forum also aims to help provide clarity about how the small cells will link to core networks. A wide variety of so-called backhaul options are currently in use including fibre optic links, dedicated and best-efforts Ethernet, multiple classes of microwave connections and even Wi-Fi.

    Carriers also face regulatory issues as they seek approvals to place them from everyone from corner caf owners to federal governments. Issues are sometimes as basic "as powering boxes in locations where you want them," Mansfield said.

    The creation of the Small Cell Forum mirrors the growing awareness of the need for expanded cellular networks. The group was established in 2007 as the Femto Forum, but changed its name in February, indicating its expanded mission.

    Mansfield joined as chairman in mid September, when the group also named a full time executive director and a new board with members from companies including Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks, Qualcomm, Softbank and Vodafone. The Forum has more than 140 members, including 67 operators representing more than 2.92 billion mobile subscribers, nearly half the global total.

    - Rick Merritt
    ??EE Times

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