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It’s a Small Cell World, Afterall

By Mike Collado
June 4th, 2013

Gordon Mansfield Kicks Off the 2013 Small Cells World Summit

We’re in Blighty this week – London to be exact – for the Small Cells World Summit which kicked off this morning.

The organizers say more than 720 attendees registered for the event which eclipses recent DAS events we’ve attended. And the DAS market is on fire!

To put the momentum of Small Cells into perspective, Small Cell Forum Chairman Gordon Mansfield shared during the opening update that there are now up to 46 small-cell operator deployments across 23 countries.

So even if the industry can’t fully agree on just what a small cell is – we heard lots of definitions floating around the bar lounge last night – the subject is certainly top of mind.

Further proof is the inaugural inclusion of a concurrent track that is focused on backhaul.

Backhaul as Irrigation

Esteban Monturus of wireless research firm Maravedis provided a strong visual theme as Day Chair for the Backhaul Summit using a metaphor to describe backhaul as irrigation infrastructure for plants and vegetation.

Think of those leaky hoses that deposit water at plant roots as wireline backhaul and dispersed sprinklers that deliver water to remote areas as wireless backhaul.

The water is, naturally, the carrier bandwidth.

The #1 Option is Fiber

The unanimous opinion among presenters is that fiber – when available – is the choice for backhaul in Small Cell deployments.

As articulated by Kevin Duffy at Fastback Networks, fiber is preferred because it guarantees the bottom line SLA – it offers high-reliability; capacity is nearly infinite; quality of service (neither timing nor latency are issues); and great scalability.

But fiber is not everywhere which presents either two options: (1) invest to trench for fiber or (2) deploy wireless backhaul to reach the nearest fiber point of presence.

According to Esteban Monturus, wireline will be the dominant method for small cell backhaul but will decline over time as wireless gains ground due to the flexibility to deploy it. In a recent interview with David Chambers at ThinkSmallCell, Monturus shared:

While some people forecast that as many as 80 or 90% of outdoor metrocells will be connected by wireless backhaul, he thinks we’ll see something more akin to today’s macrocell split – about 55% wireless and 45% fibre. While it’s true there isn’t fibre everywhere, operators will use that wherever possible and install short range wireless in the vicinity.

It’s About Sharing

According to Kevin Baughan at Virgin Media – who presented on two panels all before lunch today – the emerging model for small cells is sharing which in turn helps lower TCO.

This trend was echoed by ALU’s Mike Schabel who succinctly identifies the key pieces of small cell deployments as the 4P’s: People, Power, Poles and Ports.

Schabel further acknowledges that there is a large ecosystem that is teed-up and ready to participate in the deployment of small cells and called upon his peers to help provide leadership.

More to Come…

We’ve got two more very full days to hear how the industry plans to further develop the network whereby the macro provides coverage and the small cell enables targeted and necessary capacity.

This is predicated on both an outside-in and inside-out approach.

And, ultimately, it’s a strategy that will seek to bring the network closer to the users and the small cell closer to the backhaul.

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