Feature Article

February 28, 2014

Indoor Small Cells Generate Heat, But Infonetics Lowers Overall Small Cell Forecast

Discussions of small cells dominated Mobile World Congress in 2011 and 2012 as carriers and vendors talked about the need to fill in coverage gaps and increase capacity – both within buildings and in the great outdoors, particularly in urban areas. The excitement around small cells diminished significantly in the last year or two, however, as the hype around this topic died down and folks started to question the efficacy of using such solutions on a widespread basis. Nonetheless, there were a bevy of small cell announcements at and around this year’s Barcelona event, which concluded yesterday.

As reported by MobilityTechzone earlier this week, Infonetics Research says the small cell market in 2013 fell short of expectations and the firm has lowered its previous forecasts for this space. Part of the problem with small cell installations is the expense, according to Infonetics, which did a survey indicating the total cost of small cell deployments is two and a half times of what was expected it would be in 2012.  Backhaul issues, a lack of power and cabling, and regulations are also blamed for the slower-than-expected uptake of small cells.

Infonetics now expects operators to spend $3.6 billion on small cell equipment through 2017.

That may be a lowered forecast, but it’s still enough to keep the fires burning at small cell suppliers.

Many analysts and vendors believe that indoor small cells offer the biggest potential. That’s because an estimated 70 to 85 percent of mobile data is generated indoors. ABI Research says the indoor small cell opportunity will be worth $4 billion in 2018.

Ericsson, a giant in cellular networking, last year introduced the Radio Dot System, a small and low-cost LTE antenna/amp that interfaces with Category 5/6/7 cables. It followed that up this month with the announcement of its Small Cell as a Service, which it was discussing this week at Mobile World Congress. Arun Bhikshesvaran, the company’s CMO, told MobilityTechzone that these solutions make sense because modern buildings tend to have glass coatings and heat and light protection that inhibit good coverage from macro cellular networks, so this solution addresses all that.

Several companies, including TE Connectivity, consider distributed antennae systems (or DAS) as an ideal technology for in-building wireless. Some believe DAS is too expensive to be used for many deployments, but TE Connectivity has told MobilityTechzone that DAS is a good choice if you need to address high-density applications. (Indeed, DAS is the indoor wireless technology of choice at AT&T Stadium where the Dodgers play in San Francisco.) DAS also can enable service providers to leverage all of their frequency assets.  

However, Axell Wireless at Mobile World Congress launched an in-building solution allowing mobile operators to allocate capacity to locations only where and when it is needed. The company is promoting the system as a more cost-effective way for mobile operators to handle the challenges of large-scale in-building coverage.

Axell says because they are “hard wired,” traditional DAS solutions tend to be more expensive, but that its new solution, called idDAS (intelligent digital DAS), allows mobile operators to dynamically allocate capacity around a facility and, in effect, provide a DAS system that can react to user demands.

Meanwhile, Taqua, earlier this month revealed that it has come out with an in-building wireless coverage solution focused specifically on addressing voice over Wi-Fi. It makes perfect sense to leverage Wi-Fi not only for data but also for voice, John Hoadley, CTO of wireless, and Frederick Reynolds, vice president of marketing, at Taqua said.

While major cellular carriers are involved in moving this model forward, it also makes sense with any company with a large network, like a cable TV company or even an outfit like Boingo Wireless, Reynolds said.

Based on the Taqua Virtual Mobile Core, this VoWiFi solution leverages the small cell technology Taqua got via its 2011 acquisition of Tatara Systems. The new solution includes two components, some software in the network that can run on an industry-standard server, and a client on the user’s smartphone. The in-network piece does SIP translations and essentially acts as a switch. The client piece, available initially only for Android devices, checks for Wi-Fi access points on which the user is registered and if it sees one it turns off the device’s cellular connection and instead sends all communications through the Wi-Fi. One of Taqua’s service provider partners worked with suppliers of Android devices to put the client on their phones so it’s available out of the box when consumers purchase the devices. Hoadley declined to provide an indication as to when Android devices with the VoWiFi client would begin shipping or to disclose the identity of the service provider partner involved.

There also were a variety of new small cell partnerships announced this week. For example, Aricent and Octasic revealed they have joined forces to deliver small cell solutions targeted at the defense and public safety markets.

Also in Barcelona, PureWave and Texas Instruments said they are working together to develop small cell 4G base stations, based on the TI-powered Hercules platform, for the OEM market.

Speaking of TI, the company yesterday announced that Airspan Networks Inc. will be using its KeyStone-based wireless system on a chip solution in the Airspan AirSynergy LTE small cell solution.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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