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LTE-Advanced deployments: End of unreliable mobile networks

Posted: 10 Sep 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:LTE-Advanced? carrier aggregation? base station? picocell?

Nokia Networks, Ericsson, and Alcatel-Lucent have all made the necessary upgrades to their respective picocells, migrating to LTE-Advanced with features including carrier aggregation and easier connections to heterogeneous networks.

Intended for indoor use, the small base stations cover between 32 and 100 users, though one analyst says the market for such devices is still small.

Ericsson expects mobile traffic to grow by a factor of 10 by 2019, creating a host of issues.

Petter Blomberg, strategic product manager for small cells at Ericsson, told EE Times:

We have 10 million small commercial buildings that are facing issues with reliable mobile coverage. At the same time, spectrum constraints are the next sustainability challenge that is facing the IT industry. Smaller buildings have same capacity requirements as larger counterparts as well as outdoor networks. Users are getting used to upgrading their mobile devices fairly often, so you get more and more demanding applications.

The companies are attempting to expand their base stations through easily configurable small cells, offering a variety of software programs to get the pico base stations online easily and align with outdoor devices.

For example, Nokia's Flexi Zone G2 Pico platform can work as a stand-alone deployment or as a cluster that operates as a large cell in the network. Ericsson officials estimate that one of its RBS 6402 units can cover approximately 10,000 square feet and 128 LTE users. Alcatel-Lucent's 9962 Multi-Standard Enterprise Cell was developed with Qualcomm as a plug-and-play device.

Still, Linley Group analyst Jag Bolaria said small cells haven't yet come online with market-driving force. Small cell shipment forecasts haven't yielded high volumes nor have OEMs made much money off existing residential small cell models. Users aren't willing to pay for coverage holes an operator may have, while the costs for neighbourhood or enterprise cells is higher.

Small cells will take off about a year after major LTE deployments, and a decline in macro cell shipments will follow as those larger outdoor cells will already be in place. Bolaria expects the volume of small cells to far exceed that of macro cells due to the smaller user/area ratio of pico cells.

Carrier aggregation will be table stakes in this arena, Bolaria told EE Times, with design wins featuring "what you'd expect in a macro base station plus more." The complete SoC should have MIMO support, CPUs to do LTE processing, and a digital front end, among other things, he added.

Nokia, Ericsson, and Alcatel-Lucent's offerings show that the three companies are all up for the game.

Stephane Daeuble, Nokia Small Cells/HetNet marketing manager, said the company used a lower grade chip set equivalent of its macro base station offerings to create its Flexi Zone G2 Pico platform with integrated WiMax and 4x4 MIMO in an 8l, 8kg unit.

Ericsson's RBS 6402 is designed to cover approximately 54,000 square feet with four 250mW radios in a 2.8l form factor, delivering peak data rates of 300Mbit/s over LTE.

Alcatel-Lucent used Qualcomm's FSM9955 chip set, which uses the same microprocessor core found in Snapdragon chips.

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