Announcing its $8 billion in wireless initiatives in the next three years on Nov. 7, AT&T noted that “network densification” would be a large component of Project Velocity IP (VIP). Large, in this case, is bringing 40,000 small cells and 1,000 more DAS networks online.
“We are `densifying’ our wireless grid,” John Donovan, senior executive VP, AT&T Technology & Network Operations, said. “High traffic metro areas require denser, cell-site grids to help capacity and improve quality.” Densification will result in more network usage, better revenue opportunities, improved in-building coverage and support for launching voice over LTE, he added.
The initial field deployment of small cells will begin in the fourth quarter 2012 with general deployment. AT&T is planning to include all of its technologies, UMTS, HSPA+ and Wi‐Fi, in the small cell rollout . In fact, the implementation will begin with 3G UMTS and 4G HSPA+ in 2013 and expand to include LTE and Wi-Fi in 2014.
“During the next three years, you are going to see a shift in our investment to use more small cell technology,” Donovan said. “By 2015, we expect more than 50 percent of the planned densification will use small cells.”
Donovan told the audience that increasing the density of its wireless network is expected to improve network quality and increase spectrum efficiency. The deployment of small cells will be handled within AT&T’s network operations group.
Jeff Thompson, president and CEO, TowerStream, addressed what he called the “fundamental shift” in cellular network architecture to small cells through “hyper-densification,” saying it will require 10 to 30 small cells to provide the same coverage and capacity of one macrocell tower, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the company’s third quarter earnings call,
Three out of the four largest U.S. carriers have announced of small cell build-outs, including Wi-Fi, metro cell and DAS, according to Thompson.
Collocation will be the key to site acquisition in the deployment of small cells, according to Thompson, and he feels his company is well positioned to provide carriers with the space.
“AT&T is going to have to find locations to put those 40,000 small cells,” he said. “Step one is to have beach front property in the best urban markets, which we do; step two is to have a relationship with the carriers, which we do; step four is to get a master lease agreement, which we are going to work hard to get through that phase; and step five is deployment.”
TowerStream views small cell deployment as a traditional rooftop collocation, where the carrier pays for the equipment and the installation. Another critical component of small cell deployment is backhaul, according to Thompson.
“We can also supply the backhaul, if needed, but not required. We believe in the first half in 2013, there will be 3G UMTS and HSPA-plus small cell deployments, which will require approximately 20 megabits of backhaul,” Thompson said. “In 2014, we see the migration to 4G small cell, which will require 40 megabits to 50 megabits for backhaul.”