January 14, 2016 — This will be a watershed year for a number of vectors. It will, finally, see some actual physical deployments, or technological integration of new or emerging platforms. It will be a critical year in setting both the stage, and the pace to achieving those lofty goals of 2020.
Here is what this editor thinks will be happening in 2016:
LTE will one of those platforms that will see an uptick in deployment in 2016. Carriers will accelerate the pace of LTE and LTE-A on 4G networks.
There are improvements coming on LTE as well, like T-Mobile’s wideband LTE/extended range LTE, and Verizon’s XLTE. Also, the unlicensed version of this technology, LTE-U and LAA will see traction this coming year. The issues between these technologies and Wi-Fi will also see progress.
Other emerging technologies such as network function virtualization (NFV) and software define networks (SDN) will see significant technological progress. Not much will happen in actual deployments for a couple of years, even if there are some service providers claiming fixed scheduled deployment. There are still a lot of issues with interworking among vendor solutions, security and throughput.
To be workable, virtualized networks require network management and security solutions. And 100 gig pipes. Today, virtual appliances are facing performance challenges at such high data rates.; It isn’t a problem in the physical realm, but to make NFV operational, even at 100 gig speeds, means transferring physical solutions to virtualized environments. There is reason to be optimistic in 2016/2017 but realistically, 2018 is a better bet for deployments.
SDN is solid but integrating these networks is going to be a bigger issue than many think, especially with older analog equipment still out there. This cumbersome stitching together of various parts of the equation has delayed real deployments as has the lack of controllers and real SDN hardware.
But the challenges are being overcome and they are staging for deploying functioning networks in 2017/8. That will be the mission in 2016 – to make them all play nice and figure out how to deploy and integrate them.
June 18, 2015 — Verizon told the FCC it plans to deploy unlicensed LTE (LTE-U) where bandwidth demand outstrips licensed spectrum capacity, namely in the 5-GHz band, according to comments filed at the agency last week. And it will look at other bands in the future, such as 3.5 GHz.
“In these areas, Verizon will deploy LTE-U on low-power small cells. Customers served by LTE-U will enjoy all the advantages of ‘standard’ LTE, including fast download speeds and seamless coverage when moving between cells,” Verizon wrote.
While wireless carriers remain loyal to Wi-Fi technology, the consensus of them went on the record supporting LTE-U and License Assisted Access (LAA), or at least opposing FCC regulation of the technologies.
T-Mobile, which was the first carrier to promote Wi-Fi calling, wrote, “Consistent with the FCC’s own philosophy, carriers should be allowed to use an ‘all of the above’ approach for such network capacity expansion and management.”
Carriers assured the FCC that wireless industry standards being developed for LTE-U and LAA would suffice for interference abatement. Because of the success of Wi-Fi and the carriers’ dependence on it, the wireless industry would have no impetus to deploy unlicensed LTE that would harm existing unlicensed technology.
“Verizon also has a particular interest in ensuring that new uses of unlicensed spectrum do not degrade existing unlicensed operations, because it has put Wi-Fi into hundreds of millions of its smartphones, tablets, mobile hotspots, and FiOS routers,” Verizon wrote. “Unlicensed spectrum has been such a tremendous success because operators have voluntarily developed sharing mechanisms that respect one another’s legitimate uses of spectrum.”
Because Verizon will deploy LTE-U in the 5-GHz band, where Wi-Fi and other important unlicensed technologies are present, the carrier will design the network to avoid harming other unlicensed operations.
“Verizon’s equipment will comply with all Commission rules for operations in the 5-GHz band, including technical specifications that limit the size of LTE-U cells in the same way they limit the sizes of Wi-Fi hotspots” Verizon wrote.
Unlicensed technology that uses LTE protocols will provide additional capacity in areas where carriers have licensed LTE spectrum, according to AT&T, providing a cost-effective and spectrally efficient way to help address wireless data demand.
May 28, 2015 — As much activity as I see in the 5G space, I think the industry is getting around to figuring out exactly what 5G is and what it isn’t. A good sign is the level of activity that has started to pop up. For example, Nokia has a new white paper that presents some interesting data on 5G. The paper highlights what Nokia calls “10 rules for 5G deployment” based on extensive studies of high-density deployments of wireless networks in Tokyo and Madrid.
The research indicates that “an LTE-based HetNet can cope with the capacity demands up to a thousand times greater than was common in 2010. However, to meet capacity needs beyond that, small cells using 5G frequency bands will need to be deployed with an LTE macro/HetNet overlay.”
That makes a lot of sense to me. But more than that, it is a technologically feasible. So this is one sign that the industry is starting to look at 5G more realistically.
Another vector that points in the same direction is the white paper released by GSMA, a global wireless association, which is pretty grounded in the reality of wireless.
The paper, “Understanding 5G: Perspectives on Future Technological Advancements in Mobile,” is a look at what applications cannot be realized with present generation technologies, such as LTE flavors and 4G generational enhancements. And it makes sense. Some applications, such as augmented reality, virtual reality, tactile Internet, and autonomous driving, for example, will need much better “margins” than 4G. Such metrics include end-to-end round-trip latency in the sub-1 ms, area, and greater than 1 Gbps of downlink bandwidth. That reads applications like 3D, gaming, telemedicine, and intelligent transportation systems. Another notch in 5G reality check belt.
Finally, we are seeing movement in the standards vector of 5G. It is no secret that the wireless landscape of tomorrow will require higher data rates, massive device connectivity, more system capacities, reduced latency, energy savings, and high security. There are other requirements, but one gets the picture.
What will loom large for small cells is that the more data capacity you take off your network, the better it performs. That is a script written for small cells. So that being said, the implication is that 5G will a have to have a set of co-dependent standards that work together, seamlessly, and across all spectrum and technologies. Large order, but considering what is at stake, and that it is virtually impossible to design a single technology standard that will perform reasonably well from sub GHz to 80 GHz, i.e. 3.5 GHz Wi-Fi vs. 60 GHz Wi-Fi (WiGig). Also, the design of future radio technology will have to undergo some serious changes. Radios will have to be a lot more frequency agile than they are now. They will have to be able to negotiate everything up to 80 GHz, maybe even higher.
Things in the research end are popping to address that. For example, the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey, which includes leaders in academia and industry, is hard at work in the 5G space. So is NYU Wireless, widely recognized as one of the wireless industries best brain trusts. Researchers there are gathering data from New York City using prototype base stations and mobile units that they hope will help in the development of 5G channel models. And, the EU and South Korea signed a deal to work on 5G deployment.
Overall, 5G is way ahead of where it was last year at this time. And most of it is in the reality wheelhouse, and much of the hype has calmed down. Time to get on with serious 5G business.
May 14, 2015 — Whichever side one sits on about the merits of LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), at least the FCC is thinks it has merit. They are going to open up a separate proceeding that looks specifically at LTE-U/LAA.
This technology is interesting. In the 3.5 GHz band, there is concern about coexistence with the Wi-Fi that is being deployed there. In fact, AT&T indicated its reluctance to deploy it until they are sure it won’t interfere with Wi-Fi. Not so for Verizon and T-Mobile, however. They seem to think that there won’t be a big an issue with it.
There are a couple of sides to this, though. One is that a number of organizations have approached the commission about the development of LTE-U and LAA with the concern that LTE-U and LAA operations may have a detrimental impact on existing and future use of unlicensed or shared spectrum.
On the other side, others have asserted that LTE-U and LAA are more efficient than other currently available unlicensed technologies, that LTE-U and LAA include features to share the spectrum fairly with no detrimental impact on existing users of the spectrum and that consumers ultimately will benefit from increase access to spectrum.
At the Wi-Fi Innovation Summit about two weeks ago, panelists on both sides of the issue debated the merits of the technology, with LTE-U, generally speaking, being seen as the one that is most troubling for the Wi-Fi community.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of AGL Small Cell magazine.
May 1, 2015 — For small cells to become a bona fide option in the coverage toolkit, the capacity of the individual small cells must be increased to rival their macrocells, Amit Mehrotra, sales engagement lead for UDN Services, Nokia, said during the Mobile Network Densification panel on April 29, the second day of sessions at the Wireless Infrastructure Show in Hollywood, Florida.
“DAS is a great densification strategy when you want a neutral-host facility, but there is a huge need for developing small, fully contained mini-macrocells,” Mehrotra said.
The small cell solutions so far have served a limited number of users so they offer less utility. The next generation of small cell technology will do everything that a macrocell does but in a much smaller form factor than even the current small cells, according to Mehrotra.
Nokia Networks recently showcased a high-capacity small cell solution to increase China Mobile’s macrocellular network capacity at a three-day international sports event in Shanghai. Using macro software parity and Nokia Smart Scheduler, each Flexi Zone TD-LTE small cell managed the wireless data for up to 600 simultaneous active TD-LTE users.
During the peak period of activity, the system handled wireless data traffic generated by 49,000 subscribers, with more than half of the traffic carried by small cells.
“We are talking about coming out with a small cell that will do exactly the same capacity as a macrocell,” Mehrotra said. “You want the small cell to do VoLTE, MIMO and carry the same amount of users that you are used to with macrocells. If you are going to deploy a small cell in Times Square, you want it that will cover more than half the people in a Starbuck’s. In that sense, we are beginning to see the technology catch up with macrocells very quickly.”
Small Cell Deployments Evolving
It will take time before this next generation of small cells, known as macro-parity, goes to market, according to Mehrotra, but it will change the way carriers look at the enterprise market.
“When you have an access point the size of a Wi-Fi node that takes care of your cellular needs for 600 people [inside a convention center], it is a completely different type of deployment,” he said. “Enterprises are a huge target segment in this area. Some of the operators are not quite there yet. They are not looking inside of the buildings yet in this type of coordinated, focused way.”
Verizon and AT&T are moving away the strategy that requires a massive coast-to-coast rollout of small cells, according to Mehrotra, in favor of an approach that uses targeted surgical deployments.
“That’s a 180-degree turnaround from, for example, trying to sign a lease with every Hilton property to deploy DAS,” he said. “Even if I have a master service agreement Hilton, every hotel is managed differently, so I still have the same hurdles and maybe I don’t want to use DAS everywhere, all the time.”