May 1, 2015 — Another very interesting session at the Wireless Infrastructure Show, held April 29 in Hollywood, Florida, was “Mobile Network Densification.” This is becoming a top issue for small cell technology and deployments. Their low power and small propagation footprint means that, for ubiquitous coverage, they will have to be literally everywhere.
The model is a bit fuzzy. Unlike their macro brethren, small cells are mostly single operator, making the ROI much more difficult to materialize. Macro sites can generate revenue from many different tenants and lots of users. Not so with small cells and the discussion went pretty deep on how that can be addressed. Panelists touched on the products and applications that can be used to generate revenue. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of answers yet.
Other discussions revolved around the availability of infrastructure, such as street furniture, building and utility poles, as well as the different challenges each one of those can have. As well, the topics of getting cheap and available power and backhaul were discussed.
Another issue was the signal properties around the cell edge – latency and the various types of interference. With densification, these issues are at least an order of magnitude more omnipresent that with macro cells.
Perhaps the most interesting perspective came in the form of the discussion about how small cells technology is catching up to the macro cell and they are becoming “mini-macro cells” in functionality (see Nokia story). A rather bold and interesting statement. And a novel approach proposed was to start selling them in that vein – to make sharing a major goal and make them multi-application (both licensed and unlicensed technologies.)
Ultimately, the panel noted, small cells have second and third generation technology available, but there are not yet any large-scale deployments of even first generation devices. They felt that first generation deployments will be the test bed used to gain experience.
So the takeaway from this session was small cells are ready to go, but face some stiff challenges. Yet the optimism was still there, and the yottabytes of data will be the great equalizer.