February 26, 2015 — As up in the air as the small cell market is, there is movement and maybe the big guns are getting a bit more serious – and creative. T-Mobile wants to deploy LTE technology in the unlicensed spectrum. Interesting, since there are no standards for that. T-Mobile calls it “pre-standard LTE-U” (also known as LAA – licensed assisted access). Interesting…this is targeted at the 5 GHz frequency band, the band showing the most activity for Wi-Fi as well. This move is to add capacity and coverage to T-Mobile’s licensed spectrum.
The reason this is noteworthy is because there we are seeing traction in the LTE-U arena (Ericsson has such a solution), which focuses directly on the small cell market. T-Mobile, which has the most to gain (in terms of coverage) from small cell deployments seems to be a bit more aggressive in their movement in this arena.
On that same note, Verizon is getting into that game too – bolstering network capacity. They have allocated $500 million to their small cell program. Their interest is more in the cell edge where most of the signal degradation happens. Interestingly, Verizon said that small cells were at the top of their priority list due to “changing market condition.”
Tony Melone, executive VP of networks at Verizon, noted that “small cell deployments will be an increasingly cost-effective way to add capacity, while at the same time improving cell edge performance and thus further increasing the value of the spectrum we currently hold.” Wonder what that really means?
There seems to be a fair amount of stirring as the year starts out. There is a consensus that 2015 will be the year that goes down in history as when small cells got on the radar screen. But it will be a while before the small cell industry gets all the kinks worked out. But it is nice to see creativity on the part of the big players, which can only help to accelerate the pace of development.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cell magazine.
February 11, 2015 — One of the biggest marketing worries, for any company or any product is, is the fear that the excitement will wear off before the product becomes available. It seems that such may be the case for 5G. It has had a flurry of hype for the last couple of years, yet reality says it “may” be here by 2020. The balloon is starting to deflate. Much of the 5G noise is starting to see a “ho-hum” response. So, what do shrewd marketers do? They create a perception that things are progressing. Offer something new or different to rekindle interest.
That is exactly what Huawei did. To keep the momentum towards 5G going, they came out with an interim solution they call “4.5G.” Cool…at least they are trying to offer something in the next-generation wheelhouse that will keep confidence in 5G going.
Their 4.5G is impressive, IMHO, ~10 milliseconds latency (as compared to ~75 milliseconds for LTE), 6 gigabits per second (Gbps) downlink data rates (vs. 300 megabits per second (Mbps) for LTE), and the capability to support 100,000 connections within a single square kilometer. And, it is practical. It is further up the food chain than LTE or LTE-A, but isn’t held captive to the lofty 5G promises, (and 5G is almost guaranteed to have its home in the millimeter-wave spectrum, which will require a paradigm shift in technology).
There are some issues, however. First of all, what technology will be used? Will it be backwards compatible with existing LTE? Will Huawei get any support from vendors or cooperation from standards bodies? It is unclear at this time. Other players are worried that this may push 5G deployment out even farther than 2020, especially if it works well.
There is a lot at stake here. 5G has been a difficult sell so far. There is little hard data on what exactly it will be. It really hasn’t even been defined well, yet. Michael Peeters, wireless CTO at Alcatel-Lucent made an interesting statement about 5G recently. He cautioned that “5G should not become a technology dumping ground for the industry.” And noted that wireless companies are throwing pretty much everything that was not included in earlier technology evolutions into 5G. That is not a good thing.
Not alone in this approach, a company called ZTE has come up with “pre5G.” In their case, a Massive MIMO base station has been “setting new records in single-carrier transmission capacity and spectral efficiency,” according to ZTE.
5G will come. However, we need innovation in the mean time. According to the company, it has achieved peak data throughput more than three times that of traditional base stations. The average data throughput exceeds conventional systems by at least five times. And this using existing 4G standards with no modifications to existing air interfaces.
“Being a pre5G technology, ZTE’s Massive MIMO solution is delivering exponential advances to 4G networks without modifying existing air interfaces, making it possible for carriers to provide a 5G-like user experience on existing 4G handsets in an accelerated timeframe,” said Xiang Jiying, chief scientist at ZTE, in a prepared statement.
Well, it works. And noise in the industry is saying that is will be comparable to the Huawei offering.
But the point here is that there is real fear that 4G and the flavors of LTE just won’t have the capacity to keep up with what is coming down the pike. Well, I tend to agree. Streaming media is catching fire. The fear is that it will bog down spectrum like nothing we have seen so far. And the existing networks will rapidly become overloaded – long before realistic 5G is even a blip on the radar screen.
My hat’s off to you Huawei and ZTE. At least you are trying to be practical and deliver something that is next generation and addresses the impending data tsunami, rather than pinning all hopes on a yet-to-be-defined platform.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of AGL Small Cell magazine.
February 5, 2015 — In the next year or two, the wireless industry will see antenna mounts that will be stronger and lighter, helping alleviate wind-loading issues caused by the additional equipment being put up on towers, according to Damon Carotenuto, product business unit leader, TESSCO Technologies.
Carotenuto spoke before an audience during the “Next Generation Towers and Mounting” session during the TESSCO ONE Innovation Showcase and Conference, Feb. 4, in Dallas.
“The next wave of mounts will revolutionize antenna site development. The new mounts will be smarter, lighter, easier to install with multiple configurations. It’s about either making something that exists better or take a totally different approach and making it smarter and more universal,” Carotenuto said.
Carotenuto began to see antenna technology evolve with the WiMAX deployments in 2011, and four years later the approach to deploying equipment on a tower has completely changed. “Today there is very little equipment at the base. It’s mostly on the tower,” he said.
In the last 18 months, Carotenuto has seen an increase in sales of antenna mount reinforcement products, which allow carriers to cope with the additional weight of LTE antennas with their
accompanying remote radio heads.
“The deployment of LTE equipment has increased the demand for reinforcement for existing mounts and for new, stronger replacement mounts,” he said.
If the increased weight on the tower is not accounted for, the tower may become a dangerous situation.
“Deploying antennas with accompanying remote radio heads that weigh a couple hundred pounds a couple of hundred feet up in the air on the existing mount can become a safety hazard,” Carotenuto said. “We want to make sure that everything is built to spec and can hold the load that is going up there. Mounts should not be an afterthought, he said, they should spec’d in at the same time the antenna is.”
Concern About Antenna Mount Safety Expressed at AGL Conference
Many 4G-enabled cell towers pose a safety threat today because of improperly mounted LTE antennas, Brandon Chapman, engineering and technical support manager, Valmont Site Pro 1, told an audience during AGL’s Wireless Infrastructure Conference in Irvine, California, back in 2013.
“I haven’t seen a lot of failures. I know the potential is there from an engineering point of view,” Chapman said after the session.
In the hypercompetitive market of the late 1990s and early 2000s, new, inexperienced vendors entered the market and helped to rapidly build out the infrastructure, but sometimes quality suffered, Chapman said. It is a scenario that he hopes to avoid repeating.
“Right now we are in another time period [similar to the 1990s], where speed of deployment is critical,” Chapman said. “But we cannot let it get the best of us. Instead of rushing to get the LTE infrastructure out there, we need to take a step back, do the right thing and analyze how to deploy these antennas properly.”
Chapman noted that, in the name of speed and cost-efficiency, some in the industry are re-using the 3G mounting materials for LTE upgrades.
“With the introduction of LTE and smartphones, many remote radio heads have been installed on towers using the same mounts that the 3G antennas used, which are insufficient because they are rated for much lighter and smaller antennas,” Chapman said.
January 22, 2015 — SouthernLINC Wireless, a commercial push-to-talk carrier with coverage in Alabama, Georgia, southeast Mississippi and northwest Florida, is designing an 800-MHz LTE network with construction beginning this year. The network should be fully operational by 2018 with deployment on as many as 500 LTE sites.
“There is an expanded need from our parent company and largest customer for higher bandwidth mobile applications to support its business. They need a higher data throughput, which iDEN as a 2G technology could not provide,” said Lynda Swaney, SouthernLINC spokesperson.
The announcement of the new network technology marks the beginning of the end of one of the last public iDEN networks. Sprint Nextel turned its iDEN system off in 2013. Airpeak provides iDEN service to a small swath of rural areas in California, east of Palm Springs, and there are private systems that are still operational domestically, including one that ARINC uses at airports, as well as internationally.
SouthernLINC officials said they are still committed to iDEN and they have a push-to-talk contract with Georgia Technology Authority that runs through 2017.
“Motorola is moving away from supporting the iDEN technology, but we have iDEN service agreements to get us through the build out of the LTE,” Swaney said.
The last year has been devoted to planning and site selection for the new network. In 2015, SouthernLINC plans to complete construction of the LTE systems in Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. Next year, all of Georgia and Alabama will be built out, with the rest of the footprint coming in 2017 and 2018.
“The iDEN and LTE systems will be run simultaneously until the voice component is deployed on the LTE network,” Swaney said. “Once we deploy VoLTE, we will retire iDEN.”
SouthernLINC Taps Ericsson for RAN
Ericsson will provide SouthernLINC with its Evolved Packet Core, which includes an Evolved Packet Gateway on the SSR 8000 family and mobility management entity. In addition, the radio access network will include the RBS 6000 multistandard base station portfolio. The agreement also includes services for network rollout, integration and support, deployment services and network management.
In the new LTE base stations SouthernLINC will use Plug Power’s hydrogen fuel cell-based backup power system, known as ReliOn, which supplements batteries and replaces backup diesel-fuel generators.
The ReliOn solution includes fuel cell systems and bulk refillable hydrogen storage, DC plant rectifiers and distribution, battery technology and an outdoor cabinet.
The integrated system provides a complete communications equipment shelter and a highly reliable, clean, cost-effective grid and backup power system for 24/7 operations. The system enables rapid deployment with a limited footprint.
“Our systems have to be reliable in storms and natural disasters,” Swaney said. “We will use hardened sites with the LTE network just as we did with iDEN. The new network will have extra battery backup in our service territory, because that is what a power company requires as the first responders in a storm or emergency.”
iDEN was developed in the early 1990s as a way to use noncontiguous spectrum in the 800-MHz band. It was primarily used by Nextel to provide push-to-talk and wireless voice telephone service to the public and businesses.
T-Mobile will dip its toes into unlicensed LTE in 2015, it has been widely reported. The move is not altogether surprising in that it was the first carrier to embrace making cell phone calls over public Wi-Fi networks and home networks with its Personal CellSpot.
“Unlicensed LTE is emerging as a promising technology, and it is complimentary to Wi-Fi and compatible with VoLTE. This new form of LTE, once matured, will enable utilization of the 5-GHz unlicensed bands. As CTO Neville Ray has said previously, we are always looking at different technologies to bring additional benefits to our customers and this is more of the same,” said Lindsay Morio, T-Mobile spokesperson.