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Small Cells Increasingly Integrate with Wi-Fi

By Ernest Worthman…

As the small cell segment of the market continues to gain traction for real deployments in 2015, the industry is seeing an increased number of players getting in the game, as well as watching the expected players ramp up.

Ernest Worthman


Latest offerings from the technology plate are what is being referred to as “multi-standard” cells. This is the next step in taking the present cache of Wi-Fi technology-only small cells and integrating them into cellular radio platforms. So what this new evolution of small cells looks like is that now the carrier is developing and deploying small cells with integrated Wi-Fi.

AT&T recently came out with a statement that the small cell component of their Project VelocityIP initiative will all be Wi-Fi enabled. Alcatel-Lucent, who is another frontrunner in the small cell/Wi-Fi integration game with its lightRadio, said it will integrate Wi-Fi solutions from Qualcomm and Motorola into its multi-standard metrocells.

Freescale has a small cell solution called QorIQ Qonverge that supports Wi-Fi integration but the present position of the company is not to integrate a Wi-Fi radio but to give OEMs more flexibility in deployments. Stephen Turnbull, director of marketing at Freescale’s digital networking division, says that customers regularly deploy Wi-Fi in implementations based on Qonverge in their networks. He further goes on to say that the reason Freescale doesn’t incorporate the RF integrated circuit (RFIC) is because not all applications demand it and the radio’s RFIC capacity does not always match the baseband’s capacity. Their approach allows for better customer flexibility cost options.

Their position is that within this rapidly changing small cell world, chip designers have to look at a number of options to meet customers’ needs. Having a menu of chip designs optimizes flexibility and time-to-market as mobile operators look for increased integration of small cells and Wi-Fi.

Another player, Qualcomm, recently launched its FSM99xx small cell chipset, which can host Wi-Fi at Layer 3. “We have two PCIE ports which can support Wi-Fi radios, and then we can aggregate and integrate the traffic at Layer 3,” said Nick Karter, vice president of business development and product management at Qualcomm Atheros. “The important thing about the fact that we are hosting at Layer 3 is that you can integrate the traffic and do connection management.”

There are a number of other players, such as Texas Instruments, who are staging for Wi-Fi integration into their chipset, using various options but are taking more of a conservative approach to keep their options open and not create hard devices that could lock them out of potential designs. For them, Wi-Fi integration is a bit further down the road.

However, to keep their toes dipped in the small cell arena, TI has upped the 3G/4G ante with its TCI6630K2L system-on-chip, which is a 28-nanometer chip that can support dozens of 3G and/or 4G connections and is targeted at the small cell market.


Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cells magazine. He can be reached at AGL Media Group

AT&T’s Investment Provides Validation for Small Cells

Announcing its $8 billion in wireless initiatives in the next three years on Nov. 7, AT&T noted that “network densification” would be a large component of Project Velocity IP (VIP). Large, in this case, is bringing 40,000 small cells and 1,000 more DAS networks online.

“We are `densifying’ our wireless grid,” John Donovan, senior executive VP, AT&T Technology & Network Operations, said. “High traffic metro areas require denser, cell-site grids to help capacity and improve quality.” Densification will result in more network usage, better revenue opportunities, improved in-building coverage and support for launching voice over LTE, he added.

The initial field deployment of small cells will begin in the fourth quarter 2012 with general deployment. AT&T is planning to include all of its technologies, UMTS, HSPA+ and Wi‐Fi, in the small cell rollout . In fact, the implementation will begin with 3G UMTS and 4G HSPA+ in 2013 and expand to include LTE and Wi-Fi in 2014.

“During the next three years, you are going to see a shift in our investment to use more small cell technology,” Donovan said. “By 2015, we expect more than 50 percent of the planned densification will use small cells.”

Donovan told the audience that increasing the density of its wireless network is expected to improve network quality and increase spectrum efficiency. The deployment of small cells will be handled within AT&T’s network operations group.

Jeff Thompson, president and CEO, TowerStream, addressed what he called the “fundamental shift” in cellular network architecture to small cells through “hyper-densification,” saying it will require 10 to 30 small cells to provide the same coverage and capacity of one macrocell tower,  according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the company’s third quarter earnings call,

Three out of the four largest U.S. carriers have announced of small cell build-outs, including Wi-Fi, metro cell and DAS, according to Thompson.

Collocation will be the key to site acquisition in the deployment of small cells, according to Thompson, and he feels his company is well positioned to provide carriers with the space.

“AT&T is going to have to find locations to put those 40,000 small cells,” he said.  “Step one is to have beach front property in the best urban markets, which we do; step two is to have a relationship with the carriers, which we do; step four is to get a master lease agreement, which we are going to work hard to get through that phase; and step five is deployment.”

TowerStream views small cell deployment as a traditional rooftop collocation, where the carrier pays for the equipment and the installation. Another critical component of small cell deployment is backhaul, according to Thompson.

“We can also supply the backhaul, if needed, but not required. We believe in the first half in 2013, there will be 3G UMTS and HSPA-plus small cell deployments, which will require approximately 20 megabits of backhaul,” Thompson said. “In 2014, we see the migration to 4G small cell, which will require 40 megabits to 50 megabits for backhaul.”