April 29, 2015 — Chris Stark, chief business development officer North America, Nokia Networks, waxed poetic about the profound potential impact of future wireless technology on the lives of people in his keynote on the first day of the Wireless Infrastructure Show, held yesterday in Hollywood, Florida, but he also detailed some of the barriers blocking the network densification needed to make that dream a reality.
In the next decade, wireless technology will change our lives, helping people to be more productive and healthy, and reducing highway deaths, water use, pollution, and traffic jams. To achieve these benefits, networks are going to have to become a lot denser, Stark said.
“A number of technologies will have to come together to give you what would seem like infinite bandwidth, seamlessly connected across all these applications. You already see carriers connecting Wi-Fi and LTE; you can make calls over Wi-Fi and you can roam straight onto the LTE network,” he said. “In the future the layers will become even more seamless.
In the future, cars will be like theaters with different entertainment options and will drive themselves, Stark said. He noted that earlier this year, an autonomous car drove across the United States, 3,400 miles, in nine days. Studies show that there will be 10 times more connected devices than people in the future, increasing the complexity of the network and possibly the carriers’ costs, he added.
“The complexity of the network is going to increase even more with densification; it will be a complexity in the number of sites, the type of sites and where we are going to put the sites,” Stark said. “The cloud is going change how networks are built and it will impact the physical sided of the infrastructure.”
The hype surrounding small cells has been around several years now, and Stark noted that deployment forecasts, which projected three quarters of a million small cells by 2017, are falling short. The slow roll out is not because the technology has been a disappointment, but because site acquisition and development issues, he added.
Stark found the answers in a Infonetics global small cell study of 21 carriers, which said the biggest challenge was site acquisition, followed by jurisdiction approval, working with building owner and backhaul availability.
Site development costs and inconsistency are also issues, according to a Nokia study. The OEM analyzed 1,000 potential sites for small cells in a certain city and how much it would cost to develop each of those sites. The costs range from $20,000-$30,000 up to more than $100,000.
“We need to remove the uncertainty surrounding what it is going to cost to build a particular site. Uncertainty leads to a pullback in terms of the launch of a massive small cell deployment,” he said. “A lot of the problems have to do with jurisdictions providing permits. We are not doing a good enough job of describing the benefits of how the cities will benefit from dense networks from an economic development perspective.”
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Stark noted that broadband wireless is known for its entertainment and infotainment value, and he suggested that the wireless infrastructure industry develop an educational program for municipalities to describe the benefits of dense, broadband networks from a business standpoint.
“What needs to change to bring about certainty in small cell deployment? If we could come up with the value to the city of a single small cell location from an economic impact of that location standpoint. A site value index could tell the city the economic impact of that location if it had a small cell location,” Stark said.
Better informing municipalities is one of the keys to lowering the barriers to small cell site development and an industrialized solution to deliver the high value builds, according to Stark.