The small cells market is developing apace with new vendors entering the market and plenty of innovation across the board. But when it comes to major small cell rollouts it always seems to be jam tomorrow for the vendors if industry opinion from the recent Small Cells World Summit in London (10-12 June) is anything to go by.

Elias Aravantinos, lead analyst at ExelixisNet, which has recently published a report: Small Cell Ecosystem: Challenges and Opportunities, says: ‘The big problem is that two years ago the forecasts were over-estimating the small cell market, and it hasn’t happened. The big mobile operators still want to get the most out of their macro networks and are resisting the use of small radios outdoors.’

Professor Andy Sutton, principal network architect at the UK’s largest mobile operator EE, does not disagree. ‘EE’s focus is on rolling out our 4G macro network at the moment to extend coverage as much as possible. But we are also looking at what comes next; we are really talking about HetNets and how that is managed.’

EE, like many mobile operators is undertaking trials for both access and backhaul of small cells, but it is the indoor small cells sector that is gaining the most traction.
‘The bulk of growth globally in small cells is focusing on coverage and specifically indoor coverage. Typically, they are looking at distributed antenna systems (DAS), RF distributor systems and now enterprise picocells,’ observes Shayan Sanyal, chief marketing officer at small cell access and backhaul provider Bluwan.

Operators are attracted to indoor coverage solutions because there is an obvious business case in targeting the enterprise sector, if they can find the right revenue model and go-to-market approach. Indoor coverage solutions also appeal because they are easier to deploy than outdoor cells (fewer third parties to deal with) and they can sell additional value added services such as cloud and tele-presence services.

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The continued surge in mobile data demand, paired with the finite nature of spectrum resources, and the desire to provide customers with the highest quality service has put a lot of pressure on RAN spectrum resources over the past few years.

As operators begin their first deployments of small cells outdoors, a significant challenge they will face will be the provision of backhaul requirements and this has sparked a new wave of innovation in the area, for example in microwave backhaul, which require access to area-licensed spectrum.

The current research report is based on a recent regulators’ survey across Europe and covers the availability and licensing requirements for area-licensed spectrum mainly in the high-capacity Line-of-Sight (LOS) bands commonly located within the range 26-42GHz. As new high-capacity small cell-centric backhaul solutions come to market, several countries that have provided such area-based licenses at 26, 28, 32, 38 and/or 42GHz, are revisiting the use, licensing procedure and availability of these bands to meet future requirements.

This report is based on interviews with the regulators for each of the countries covered and includes the following information:

• Which frequencies within the range 26-42GHz are currently licensed on the basis of geographic areas in regulator’s jurisdiction

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Athens, Greece, New York City, NY and Singapore, June 5, 2014 – Market research firm ExelixisNet and advisory services firm Xona Partners have released their 2014 small cell market insight report: “Small Cell Ecosystem: Challenges and Opportunities.” The report examines mobile operators’ plans and deployment strategies of small cells and backhaul solutions along with vendor and technology preferences. The research is based on experience gathered by operators from market trials of small cells and wireless backhaul solutions conducted to evaluate the ecosystem deployment readiness and impact of small cell roll-out on operator financials and network performance.

Elias Aravantinos, Lead Analyst at ExelixisNet commented “In the past three years market forecasts of small cells have been high. Yet, to date, only a fraction of the forecasted numbers has materialized. One would ask: what is the hold up? Today, operators have a wide variety of small-cell solutions at their disposal. The result is a long evaluation cycle to converge on a best-fit solution. This has not dissuaded operators in the USA from testing multiple solutions in contrast to operators in other regions who are focused on a singular technology. While the end result has been the same, the first mover will establish a new manifesto around how networks will be built in the future. This is disruptive for small cell equipment vendors.”

Small Cell Ecosystem: Challenges and Opportunities – Highlights

  • Over 50% of the surveyed operators say they expressed the need to start deploying outdoor small cells in 2014 while our analysis of readiness points to longer timeline.
  • Fiber remains the operator’s first choice for backhaul. However, operators are actively investigating alternative solutions where the cost/performance equation is better optimized for small cell deployments.
  • Traditional wireless backhaul vendors are dominating the high-frequency space while new entrants are protagonists in the low-frequencies.
  • Operators are overwhelmingly asking for multimode LTE, 3G, and Wi-Fi outdoor small cells. This puts tremendous pressure on the backhaul network capacity requirements that certain technologies would fall short of meeting.

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The questions that arise, when thinking of 5G, is announced funding and R&D effort will reach the subscriber and when the commercial 5G networks will launch. Will that be highly profitable for the engaging investors or governments? There are several scenarios but the scope of this article is to review the 5G leading market’s announced funding, plans and expected results. Who are the serious investors and what are they trying to accomplish? What are the “best” 5G definitions?

LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the major technology that drives the next generation of mobile broadband. The sign of growth is positive and rather glooming as LTE networks will account for 1 in 5 Mobile Broadband subscriptions by 2017. But this upcoming 5G concept aims more to build that mobile ecosystem that 4G has set the ground. What to expect is a truly converged network where wired and wireless communications will use the same infrastructure. In that environment interoperability and standard solution will allow applications to smoothly adapt, helping subscribers to “stay connected”.

Today, 5G is also described as the ” beyond 2020″ mobile communications technology. 5G is not described today by any particular specification in any official document published by any telecommunication standardization body. However there is always a technology vision from the vendors or other experts when defining the upcoming or the future and that usually derives from technological elements that are lacking today. New International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum is expected to be agreed upon for the World Radio Communication Conference (WRC) in 2015 in Geneva. ITU is currently at work on IMT spectrum requirements for 2020 and beyond.

What is the vision of the top vendors, if we sample Ericsson and Huawei?

Definition #1 by Ericsson

“5G is an evolution of existing standards and arise of new complementary technologies. 5G will enable the long-term Networked Society and realize the vision of unlimited access to information for anyone and anything. 5G solution will not consist of a single technology but rather an integrated combination of radio-access technologies. This includes existing mobile-broadband technologies such as HSPA and LTE that will continue to evolve and will provide the backbone of the overall radio-access solution beyond 2020. But it also includes new complementary radio-access technologies for specific use cases. Smart antennas, expanded spectrum – including higher frequencies – and improved coordination between base stations will all be crucial to fulfilling the requirements of the future.”

Definition #2 by Huawei

“5G wireless networks will support 1,000-fold gains in capacity, connections for at least 100 billion devices, and a 10 Gb/s individual user experience capable of extremely low latency and response times. Deployment of these networks will emerge between 2020 and 2030. 5G radio access will be built upon both new radio access technologies (RAT) and evolved existing wireless technologies (LTE, HSPA, GSM and WiFi). Breakthroughs in wireless network innovation will also drive economic and societal growth in entirely new ways. 5G will realize networks capable of providing zero-distance connectivity between people and connected machines.”

Cisco VNI

Europe

As we all agree that 5G will not really be deployed before 2020, lots of enthusiasm is buzzing as usually in an effort to fix 4G technology’s weaknesses and lead connectivity’s perfection.  Europeans have already built the ‘5G Infrastructure Partnership’ to usher in a new era in mobile network development. The Partnership is an industry association comprising public-private partners (the so-called 5G-PPP), funded from €700 million from public sources to develop the next generation of ubiquitous 5G communication systems during its seven-year Horizon 2020 programme. European are planning seriously to take the 5G leadership, sharing expertise with the rest of the world. However there is a “threat” growing in Asia that aims to overtake Europe’s leadership.

Korea

South Korea and specifically SK Telecom announced recently their 5G plan.  Ministry of Science and Technology announced in 2014 that it would invest $1.5 billion (1.6 trillion won) and partner with local telecom operators and smartphone makers to install a 5G wireless network that would become fully operational by December 2020. Korean 5G connections are expected to reach speeds 1,000 times faster than existing 4G speeds, announcing the impressive “one-sec-movie-download service”. On 5G, the same 800MB movie would take just a second to download. South Korea will begin trial tests for its planned 5G service in 2017 and a full rollout is expected by the end of 2020 when others are planning 5G beyond 2020. Additionally SK Telecom will offer 300 Mbps “3band-LTE-A” connections by the end of 2014 capable of downloading full-length movies (800MB) in 22 seconds. However no serious standards are officially launched yet which puts a big question mark to the 2017 deadline.

China

In 2014, China Mobile, the world’s largest provider of mobile communications, has started the development of standard 5G network. Currently the largest telecom companies China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom have not yet completed the installation of all stations of standard 4G, and the current officially launched fourth-generation network is extremely small. However, projects of foreign companies to build the fifth-generation network are forcing Chinese operators to begin to develop standards of next generation networks. During the past two years there has been a close collaboration between NSN and China Mobile, especially in the area of TD technology development, and specifically TD-LTE, helping to provide a “personal gigabyte” experience.

Conclusions, where is 4G/LTE standing?

4G LTE can carry 70 per cent more traffic than the latest 3G technology – most likely enough to meet capacity needs by 2020 no matter the high demand for mobile data. European telecom operators saw revenues down by single digit per cent in 2012 and 2013. However, 100 per cent of new smartphones and tablets to be LTE-enabled from 2015, leading to a 54 per cent penetration of 4G-enabled devices in the population by 2016. Then, the next 4-years till 2020, 4G will be quickly spread across Europe and other countries, experiencing commercial success. However 4G will rather allow Telcos to take advantage of this new technology to innovate in their offerings, their services and their networks.

 

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