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Small cells advance towards public use

Posted: 19 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:deployment of small cells? base stations? AT&T? Vodafone? LTE?

Advances in backhaul and base band SoCs are contributing to small cell deployments by carriers like AT&T and Vodafone. As a new class of base stations, small cells help carriers handle mobile data flooding cost effectively.

"Carriers are moving beyond trials to deployments with public access use cases. We see examples from around the world," said Gordon Mansfield, chairman of the Small Cell Forum, citing work in Korea with LTE and in Europe with Vodafone and partnerships with retailers.

In the U.S., AT&T has moved beyond trials and early projects, the "crawl and walk the run phase where we are opening up to use cases and I expect a pretty significant growth in numbers month over month," said Mansfield who also serves as executive director of small cell solutions and radio access network delivery at AT&T Mobility.

Gordon Mansfield of AT&T

"I can't be specific yet about some of the types of areas for AT&T deployments of small cells, but hopefully we'll talk about that in the near future," he said. "Generally all of our use cases have been vetted in various trials and pilots, we have a couple outdoor [deployments] up and running and are evolving the use cases," he added.

Sprint and Verizon are "starting their early test activities based on public statements they have made," he said. The Forum is working to develop realistic worldwide shipment figures for small cells amid a wide variety of numbers from analyst reports.

SoCs and backhaul plough the way
Advances in base band SoCs and backhaul technologies have ploughed the way for small cell deployments.

"There are multiple silicon providers starting to produce second- and even third-gen silicon that gets the efficiencies necessary to get the performance we need in a small power envelop and form factor," said Mansfield.

"I see a lot of progress in multi-mode SoCs from several silicon providers who have really accelerated their development time frames to get the technologies on a single chip, leveraging power over Ethernet, especially for indoor cells," he said.

Vendors with small cell SoCs now include Broadcom, Cavium, Freescale, Mindspeed, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

Carriers also have come up to speed on the full portfolio of options for providing backhaul for small cells. The Forum helped with a set of white papers and other documents it calls its Release 1.

The Release 1, focused on home-based femtocells, lays out the various wireless line-of-sight, non-LOS, satellite, wired Ethernet, VDSL, Docsis and optical infrared options, each useful for different deployments. "It takes a tool box," Mansfield said.

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