This past week we had the thrill to join our friends from Alliance Corporation at the annual Calgary Stampede as a sponsor for the team Alliance fielded in the chuckwagon races. What an exciting break from our daily focus!
We recently had the privilege to present at the Small Cells World Summit.
At last year’s conference, Doug Alston from Sprint observed that the wireless industry transforms itself every 10 years and has unique characteristics:
While we agree with the first three periods, we take issue with the fourth.
Instead, we believe the 2010′s are based upon data capacity and enabling capacity where it is needed within the network.
We are familiar with the “data tsunami” in which industry experts forecast that the consumption of mobile data will increase more than six times over the next 5 years.
But a more stunning observations gets overlooked.
Within any given geographic market, there will be super-dense urban locations where the mobile data network will be unable to meet the average level of data demand due to the congregation of large numbers of users. In these locations, the demand for mobile data will exceed the network’s capacity not by a factor of 6 but by a factor of 10, 15, or perhaps 20.
We believe the 2010’s will instead be characterized by new strategies and technologies to densify the network.
Meaning – filling the capacity holes.
In order to achieve this outcome, the wireless industry is going to rely upon a toolkit approach that consists of a heterogeneous network that includes small cells (pico, metro, micro), remote radio reads (RRH), femtocells, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and WiFi technology, along with a reengineered mobile backhaul network that is comprised of fiber and Ethernet.
In fact, we believe in certain markets we will see a change in paradigm in which the densification strategy begins with putting the cells as close to the user as possible and then working back out to the macro network.
And to solve for the challenge, the industry will deploy both evolutionary and revolutionary strategies.
We’ll discuss what this means and what those strategies may look like in our next post.
We’re just back from the 2014 Small Cells World Summit where we were treated to a week of fabulous weather in London (thanks Andy Germano for packing the sunshine in your carry-on bag), networking and information sharing among the wireless industry’s elite innovators and thought leaders.
One word best describes this year’s event and – we believe – the climate of the small cell market: maturation.
With 1122 registered attendees (>40% year-over-year growth), SCWS outgrew the Metropole which previously hosted the event (no, we don’t miss climbing three levels of stairs and the maze we had to navigate to reach the backhaul sessions last year).
The ExCel ensured that conference tracks, exhibits and networking were in close proximity.
And while there was crossover noise from the adjacent presentations and the roar of jets taking off from London City Airport every five minutes (we LOVED David Swift’s cheeky Tweet!), the new venue signaled a new milestone for the conference and the Small Cell Forum.
But the real sign of maturation is the message.
Gone – for the most part – is the bravado we heard at last year’s conference that suggested that Small Cells would supplant or even kill off Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) as the method for densifying the network.
Stuart Carlaw (ABI Research), Joe Madden (Mobile Experts) and others all share that a toolkit approach is needed. And that the toolkit includes the macro network, DAS, Small Cells, WiFi and other emerging strategies.
Similarly absent is the wireless backhaul bombast.
Backhaul also requires a toolkit approach because – while operators prefer fiber – it’s cost-prohibitive to trench fiber to the location of a radio. So wireless backhaul is needed. But as Manuel Rosa da Silva (Portugal Telecom) poignantly declared during the Operator CTO Panel Discussion, “If you don’t have fiber, you’re dead.”
(South Korea has battle-tested wireless backhaul. It’s a tool in the kit but real-world experience demonstrates that buses, rain storms and bird droppings wreak havoc on a network reliant upon this strategic approach)
Lastly, the ecosystem discussion is evolving beyond a focus on just the technology. The industry is now also exploring and implementing training and certification programs as well as pragmatic business models that seek to drive revenue through OTT (over the top) services that extend service beyond basic connectivity.
(Small Cell Forum Chairman Gordon Mansfield said it well: “It is important to recognise the potential social impact of what we and the tech we develop can do.”)
Collectively, the maturation of the industry discussion informs that the real ramp-up of deployment of small cells to help densify the network is near.
We predict this year’s conference to have marked an inflection point in the advancement of both the small cell and densification market. And while it’s still fresh in our minds, we confess we’re already excited to be back again next year.
Tell us what stood out to you as revelatory at SWCW.
While great emphasis is placed on fan engagement, is fan safety being overlooked?
(The Stadium Tech Report provides research and analysis of Wi-Fi and DAS deployments at NBA arenas, with team-by-team research for all 30 NBA franchises as well as detailed case studies on deployments at Barclays Center, Staples Center and Amway Center – it’s free to download!)
When it comes to the debate on whether fans prefer the home theater or the stadium experience, I wonder if we are asking the right question. What used to be an unspoken concern about whether sporting events are best enjoyed at home or live has become a huge, often talked-about worry for the sports industry. But even as more technology is brought into stadiums to enhance the fan experience, I wonder if technology should be used first to answer a more basic question: Do fans feel safe at the game?
Venue owners and content providers alike are pulling out all the stops toward the goal of keeping fans entertained and engaged. In-stadium investment and innovations to enhance fan engagement abound; from massive LED video boards, live twitter feeds, half-time live entertainment, and kitschy games of picking the right car or mascot to win the derby, venue operators feel the pressure to meet rising fan entertainment expectations.
But what about just keeping fans safe? Following several well-publicized incidents of stadium violence California recently passed Assembly Bill 2464, the Improving Personal Safety at Stadiums Act, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), requiring major-league sports stadiums in California to clearly post the numbers fans can use to call or text-message stadium security.
“Many parents have told me that they are afraid to take their kids to a ballgame,” said Gatto. “This law will allow fans to report incidents to stadium security before they escalate out of control.” Indeed, several of the more high-profile beatings lasted over a span of several minutes, during which frantic fans dialed 911. In those instances, it is stadium security (from within the stadium) and not the police (coming from outside the stadium) who is best equipped to quickly respond and prevent an injury from becoming more serious. Not surprisingly, mobile phones play a critical role in complying with the new law – a law designed to make people feel safe, and perhaps more eager to come to the live event instead of just staying home to watch it on TV.
Fortunately, many professional and major-university stadiums and arenas have taken steps to improve cellular service by installing Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to serve wireless operators. But even with that recent progress, there are still many stadiums where users cannot make cellular calls or text, either due to insufficient network capacity or because their particular cellular provider is not operating on the DAS.
On a recent trip to CenturyLink Field, home of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, one could see a well-coordinated effort toward using technology to make fans feel safer. The stadium is fully equipped with a DAS providing reliable cell coverage and throughout the stadium there are prominent signs reminding fans to “Support Your Team With Class” followed by an invitation to text ‘Hawk12’ for assistance. During pre-game the massive end zone video boards are used to show emergency exit routing by sections.
These tactics serve as practical examples of how progressive venues use technology to address often-unspoken safety concerns fans feel in the midst of large crowds. When people cannot use their smartphones to communicate they feel less safe. If a phone doesn’t work in a hotel, hospital or shopping mall people may just feel disconnected.
When a phone doesn’t work in a raucous crowd of 50,000 people, personal and family safety become legitimate concerns. Add a drunk fan or two with deafening crowd noise, and being able to connect with local stadium security can potentially become a big deal. Even simple matters of making plans to meet someone within the stadium become difficult or impossible with no cellular coverage.
In every day life, people have grown accustomed to accessing their needs instantly via their mobile devices. Therefore stadiums with reliable cellular service are safer for fans – and most importantly to the Television vs. Stadium debate, people feel it. If fans don’t get a hot dog or can’t find the beverage they prefer, their game-day experience may suffer a small bit. But if they go to a game and find they can’t connect at all, the question of whether or not they and their family feel safe in the stadium may have an outsized influence on whether they return or not. Stadiums using technology to keep fans connected to the outside world and local security will earn the trust of their fans. Entertainment is good, but feeling safe is paramount.