Feature Article

December 18, 2012

ip.access and the Beauty of Multiple Small Cell Telecom

Recently we caught up with Dr. Nick Johnson, chief technical officer of ip.access. Dr. Johnson founded the company back in 1999, when cellular technology was still - believe it or not, in a state of relative infancy. Since those early small cell pioneering days, ip.access has gone on to develop an entire range of femtocell and picocell capabilities and products that seek to greatly expand the reach of cellular to as broad a population as possible and to urban environments where population density is a major issue.

Dr. Johnson and the ip.access team are passionate about small cell technology, and clearly believe that small cells are the answer to widespread cellular availability.

TMC: As we come to the end of 2012, what are some of the most important advancements or trends that emerged in the market you serve this past year? Were there any particularly important trends that had real impact on your business?

Dr. Johnson: There is a growing level of maturity in the small cells marketplace. Small cells are no longer seen as simply a means of boosting coverage in homes and small offices; they are now regarded as a vital component of the public network and essential to meet the challenge of delivering the required capacity. The operators motivation being to deliver just the right amount of capacity at the point of subscriber need, as quickly as possible for the minimal incremental spend.

Various models put expected wireless data growth between 100x and 1000x over the next four years– nobody predicts anything remotely like a fall-off. Whatever the scale of growth, it can’t be met purely through opening up spectrum and finding major jumps in spectrum efficiency, the very things that gave us advances in 3G and 4G. It can only be met by re-using the spectrum we already have more effectively. The market conclusion reached over the last year is that there will be a significant shift to public access small cells in order to complement macro networks. Their efficiency gains coming from reusing expensive licensed spectrum again and again within small radius cells and using Internet backhaul to take traffic to the core network at a far lower cost than traditional macro backhaul.

TMC: What do you believe were the biggest achievements and announcements that ip.access delivered over the year?

Dr. Johnson: First, we have shipped our first LTE small cells to a number of customers who are now running test trials with them and giving us insight into how small cell LTE will perform. Second, we've introduced our Network Orchestration System, which is a fully integrated management system. It allows operators to configure, fault manage and generate KPI reports via a single management platform for the small cell layer of their network, but also to manage the integration and interaction with the macro layer network and its own n management systems.

Finally, our 2G and 3G combined network gateway and management system, our nanoConverge solution, has now been deployed by both Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators. It allows them to install and manage 3G small cells from their existing 2G network gateways or to simultaneously add both 2G and 3G to a network with a future upgrade path to 4G small cells – this development can dramatically decrease the time and costs of rolling out a small cell layer onto an existing network infrastructure. We see this as a major step to allowing operators to small-cell enable their networks and deploy small cells quickly and efficiently to deliver cost effective capacity specifically at the point of need.

TMC: What are you planning for 2013? We hear there is something powerful in the works.

Dr. Johnson: Yes! You can say that. Multi-multi-multi-small cells. A new generation of small cells will emerge that can provide radio coverage for multiple operators, multiple radio bands and multiple standards within a single piece unit of hardware that is deployed once.  

Our first small cell in 2000 offered a single carrier of GPRS. In 2013, silicon technology has progressed so far that we can generate an LTE carrier, a 3G carrier, a WiFi 802.11n carrier and even an EDGE carrier - all within the same form factor and power consumption of the earlier products. Watch this space for those announcements.

TMC: We will certainly do that - we believe multismall cell capability will be a significant game changer. Do you have any predictions for the tech industry going into 2013? What do you think it is going to take to see significant market improvements?

Dr. Johnson: Network sharing will definitely increase in 2013. As the demand for data continues to rise exponentially, operators will look to more evenly balance network load, revenue generation and operational costs. Expect them to respond by sharing more of their network resources, and even merging operations, as has already happened with T-Mobile and Orange in the U.K. More network sharing deals will break in 2013.

For years we also assumed that there would be a straight-line progression for operators from analogue to 2G digital GSM, and then through 3G and on to LTE. Watch for that straight-line progression to take a bypass in some markets, where operators will co-deploy 2G with LTE in order to support large 2G user populations with voice and adding 4G for data without worrying about 3G at all.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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