By Ernest Worthman —
ThinkSmallCell, on the eve of London’s hosting of Small Cell World Summit, has put out an opinion piece about small cell definitions in which David Chambers questions the scope and complexity of a small cell. Following is an excerpt from his recent opinion, as published in their newsletter.
“As the Small Cell industry prepares for the industry’s annual get together in London at Small Cell World Summit, it seems that the scope and complexity of what the term ‘Small Cell’ means is being wrenched and stretched almost beyond recognition.
We consider if this is a good or a bad thing, and what the industry could do about it?
Small Cells have evolved from the early residential femtocell products, when the Femto Forum came up with the following definition:
• Low power wireless access point
• Operating in licensed spectrum
• Using mobile technology
• Generating coverage and capacity
• Over Internet-grade backhaul
• At low prices
• Fully managed by licensed operators
• Self-organizing and self-managing
The scope has gradually evolved to include a variety of different technologies:
• Wireless access point: Rather than just a small version of a traditional cellular basestation, the scope now includes repeaters, which improve coverage inside buildings, especially in more remote areas where wireline broadband is unavailable. Products such as Nextivity’sCel-Fi are included in a Small Cell Forum document entitled “Alternative Enterprise Small Cell Solutions”
• Higher RF power. Designing products with more than 1W RF power is a different and difficult task. Some vendors specify their Small Cells with up to 5W and I’ve even seen as much as 20W (the largest that meets macrocell regulatory constraints).
• Unlicensed spectrum using Wi-Fi. I don’t see Standalone Wi-Fi access points being included within the scope of Small Cells, but Carrier grade Wi-Fi is often specified as an integral feature of 3G and LTE Small Cells. Various industry proposals for tighter integration include LTE-U (using LTE in Unlicensed spectrum) and seamless roaming to/from Wi-Fi using HotSpot 2.0
• Distributed Antenna Systems and Cloud RAN, where the heavy-duty broadband processing is done elsewhere, either at a common central controller within the same large building or remotely at a nearby macrocell or centralized location. Today’s products require dedicated cabling for backhaul, anything from dark fiber to dedicated CAT6 cabling, rather than “Internet Grade Backhaul.”
• Low prices: Arguably achieved for product cost by huge investments in silicon (Systems on a Chip) and software. The TCO (total cost of ownership) looks good for many indoor use cases, with urban small cell deployment needing to encompass a wider set of costs (site rental, backhaul and deployment).”
This is an interesting conundrum. Since I have started covering this industry and its technology, I have come to the conclusion that a small cell is really anything other than a carriers’ macrocell. Oh well, it will be interesting to revisit this topic in a few years.
Ernest Worthman is editor of AGL Small Cell magazine