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Confusion & Opportunity for Small Cells

By Mike Collado
February 8th, 2012

IWPC’s recent conference on backhaul for small cells was well attended, especially by vendors of non-line of sight (NLOS) sub 6 GHz and LOS millimeter (60 GHz and 80 GHz) technologies. The goal of this meeting was to discuss economic ways to manage backhaul costs for small cells.

As it turned out, small cells are not a well understood concept.

Because of this, there was much confusion at the event – on subjects from capacity and coverage to backhaul.

All vendors agreed that smaller cells bring antennae closer to terminals to provide a much better broadband experience than macro cells. In a presentation, Airspan stated that small cells will displace macro “dinosaurs” for capacity – it’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when.

However, when it came to the backhaul – vendors based their bandwidth on macro cell metrics.

SOLiD believes small cells should be deployed by Mobile Network Operators whenever spectrum resources are limited as a means to increase spectrum re-use.

Historically, this is achieved by more sectors and cell splitting.

Since the best reception is in the center 25% of a macro cell – this area would be equivalent of a well formed small cell when all surrounding cells are closer together and work in a coordinated multi-point (CoMP) manner.

Based on Qualcomm’s Femto cell simulation study presented at IWPC, this small cell would have the capacity of 6 to 7 times that of the average Macro cell.

What this shows is that mobile operators should engineer small cell backhaul for peak rates rather than average rates.

As for the backhaul choice, Mobile Network Operators want the best economic solution. A recent article in Fierce Broadband Wireless noted that NLOS technologies have a much better return on investment when used for access (RAN) rather than backhaul, and LOS unlicensed technology is hard to deploy in congested areas because of over use. The article also shows the relative leased cost of fiber; however, fiber prices continue to fall.

When we consider the amount of fiber available at fiber nodes such as DSLAM nodes, HFC nodes and FTTH nodes, we believe that fiber prices will continue to fall as telecom providers harness revenue opportunity from their network infrastructure.

Let us know what you think are challenges and opportunities for small cell backhaul in the comments section.

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One Response

  1. Greg Friesen says:

    I certainly would agree, there were lots of opinions on backhaul, and one of the consensues was that not one technology will fit everywhere for microcellular backhaul, but rather a combination of technologies will be required. One of those technologies, that we at DragonWave offer, and will be suitable for a high percentage of sights is LOS microwave in the 24-60 GHz bands, which can deliver the capacity, low delay, and synchroinzation required by LTE, without the risk of interference. LOS can often be achieved by using daisy chains, and rings with the high capacities of this technology, and selectively using repeaters where required.

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