March 24, 2015 — Today, there exists a relatively rich wheelhouse of area-specific networks to serve underserved areas, but the rural setting, with sparse populations has had its challenges. There is little ROI on such deployments, so mobile network operators have been slow to deploy. But that may soon change with a project in the works from a company called OneWeb (used to be WorldVu). OneWeb wants to put up a satellite network, and it is backed by big boys like Qualcomm and venture capitalists like the Virgin Group.
In a nutshell, the project wants to deploy as many as 650 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites that will be a space alternative to terrestrial networks, and provide broadband service to a variety of situations (rural schools, for example).
This could work. The model looks good. The terminals are small enough that they can be mounted just about anywhere – aircraft, cars, boats, rural homes, schools, and businesses – the potential seems unlimited. The cost of the terminal is targeted at $250.00, cheap enough that even low-income customers could afford it. The terminals are designed to be self-installed, and even have a solar power option. They will operate in the Ku band, which is fairly robust to environmental conditions such as rain and snow, and being LEO, propagation delay is within tolerances.
The devices will include LTE, 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi capabilities – essentially, a “super” small cell “Think of our terminals as small cells with integrated backhaul,” Greg Wyler, OneWeb’s founder states, that will offer a full menu of voice, data and Internet access.
Small Cell Backhaul Heats Up
Back on Earth, the small cell backhaul space is heating up. In fact, according to Dragonwave, small cell backhaul is garnering more interest that Cloud RAN. That is news.
One good thing about small cell backhaul is the bandwidth – 100 to 300 Mb/s – where a single CPRI link needs about 2.5 Gp/s. And many small cell solutions are mobile, or ad hoc where fiber isn’t an option so wireless gets the nod.
The issue is that urban small cells have a variety of use cases. Factors such as regulations, spectrum availability, power availability, zoning and planning restrictions, etc., vary significantly between countries, states and even municipalities, so a “one size fits all” approach isn’t possible.
One good thing about this is that backhaul solutions won’t become a commodity and there will be a menu of options, much different than the macrocell environment.
This makes a lot of sense because the use cases for urban small cells vary so widely. And the majority of these cases will be to address capacity – either permanent or ad hoc. Therefore, the demand of backhaul will be dynamic, as well.
Wireless backhaul is the easiest to deploy, but it has to be LOS. That can be a challenge in some cases. Fiber is great but connecting to it can be just as much of a challenge. Then there is copper, and, in other cases small cells will need to be daisy-chained to get to the backhaul.
Another consideration is coding. TDD is preferred due to lower bandwidth requirements, but has a propagation delay of ten times that of FDD. So FDD is preferred for LTE deployments.
Finally, other considerations are speed and ease of deployments, especially with ad hoc. Microwave links need setup. There are environmental considerations, as well – permits, traffic, property constraints, But if fiber isn’t available, Microwave it is. If the deployment is permanent and no fiber is available initially, laying it can be an option for the long run.
Takeaway is that it is a good time to be in the small cell backhaul business.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cell Magazine.