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Strong Attendance & High Energy at Small Cells World Summit 2013

By Mike Collado
June 9th, 2013

What a successful week in the Big Smoke for the 2013 Small Cells World Summit!

Shockingly, it was sunny – never rained at all. (We’re told the previous week was hideous.)

According to Small Cell Forum Chairman, Gordon Mansfield, the Summit far surpassed the attendance goal and stretch goal with a final tally of 730 registered attendees. It attracted a global audience of operators, solutions providers and media. Mansfield says there was a significant uptick in new participants and members from the U.S.

Matching the high level of interest was the high level of energy. This was evident in the enthusiastic thought leadership presentations – although some presenters pitched more than counseled. Plus Andy Germano‘s (Small Cell Forum VP of Americas) comedic “roasting” of the industry analysts at the Gala Dinner and Industry Award made new inroads for event ceremonies – great stuff! Our congratulations to the winners including our friend Rupert Baines.

For some great coverage, see our friend David Chambers‘ (Think Small Cell) video and blogging from ALU’s Wilson Street on Day 1 and Day 2 and posts from from Small Cells World Series.

2103: The Year of the Small Cell?

Presentation after presentation and conversation after conversation invoked Dan Jonesprediction that 2013 is the Year of the Small Cell. You’d think these were politicians, not technologists!

We’re not buying it just yet.

But we fully believe the fuse has been lit. And that’s why SOLiD has become a member of the Small Cell Forum.

The conversation has advanced far beyond the early days of femtocells and it is now centered on the broad ecosystem that will make up the HetNet.

We’ll be interested in how the interest and energy as well as deployment advances manifest at the Small Cells Americas event at the end of the year.

Defining the HetNet

Sprint’s Doug Alston did a wonderful job of explaining why we’re even having this discussion by both breaking down the problem and showing the solutions. Alston calls it a “growing” problem due to three key changes in wireless behavior:

  1. Smart devices have enabled users to consume large amounts of bandwidth – namely video – which has caused the oft called “data tsunami”
  2. Users have morphed from mobile to nomadic, so they’re staying put in certain places longer consuming spectrum
  3. Mobile usage has changed from outdoor use to indoor

So the question is how to fill in the capacity gaps?

According to Alston, the HetNet includes the macro cell layer and the small cells layer which helps enable network densification. The small cells toolkit is broad and includes picocells, femtocells, Wi-Fi and DAS.

The Old Versus the New

Given that we were at an event called Small Cells – not DAS or Wi-Fi – one must take the presentations from the week with a certain grain of salt.

For instance, Sprint’s Doug Alson – in a moment of levity – declared the operator was giving up and no longer resisting Wi-Fi as a capacity tool to help fill in for macro spectrum holes.

It’s an interesting admission given how operators have traditionally been wary of Wi-Fi’s unlicensed spectrum and championed small cells instead.

More tellingly, it speaks to the reality that spectrum is finite and there are only two ways to address it: (1) acquire new spectrum frequencies which is both expensive and time-consuming or (2) surgically deploy small cell technologies where needed.

The acceptance of Wi-Fi may continue to grow – at least in the short term – as Sue Rudd at Strategy Analytics suggests that Wi-Fi may be a stop-gap until small cell deployments really kick in. Besides, Wi-Fi is, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance‘s Ed Figueroa, a mature and affordable technology that offers a low cost-per-bit.

The other debate concerns DAS or Distributed Antenna Systems…

Perhaps there’s a tendency to see the world in binary terms with winners and losers. For instance, a popular question at industry events is, “Will Small Cells be the end of DAS?”

(Ironically, some postulate that DAS is the original small cell.)

The naysayers cite the high costs for deploying DAS which the industry typically pegs around $1 per square foot.

The proponents point out that DAS has a huge upside – at least for now – to small cells: neutral host. Meaning, the costs of site planning, acquisition, installation, power and backhaul can be spread among multiple operators.

We’ve long believed that there won’t be a single winner; rather, the toolkit will be broad to include both new (small cells) and the old (DAS & Wi-Fi) solutions. Besides, DAS will likely evolve to more closely resemble smalls with the neutral host value proposition of supporting RF and IP on a single, digital platform.

More to Debate…

There’s still more to sort out and it has to do with Small Cells and Backhaul.

Until recently, the connection between the two – pun intended – wasn’t top of mind. Last year, iGR‘s Iain Gillott called backhaul the elephant in the room: ” how do you reliably, effectively and efficiently get the traffic to and from the small cell?”

The debate this week was do you place the small cell where you need coverage or do you place the small cell where there is backhaul?

To be sure, it’s really a question of QoE versus TCO.

According to Monica Paolini at Senza Fili Consulting, if you put the small cells where you need them, it can be very expensive for backhaul. OTOH, if you design around reduced backahul costs – and let’s remember that operators prefer fiber for backhaul – performance is likely to suffer.

AT&T’s David Orloff says it’s an obvious win if operators can design RF around existing transport availability.

But clearly that’s not always going to work. The need to surgically place the hotspots where capacity is needed was repeatedly stressed throughout the week.

Part of the answer to the question lies in how a small cell will be used. Specifically, will it support capacity spikes or consistently fill a general area?

We expect this discussion to become a key theme.

A Final Thought

Stepping back and digesting all of the discussions from the events thus far in 2013 (there’s been a lot of them – Gordon Mansfield and I added up all miles we’ve accrued for events  since January), we’re left with a key trend: convergence.

We’re witnessing the industry movement toward the convergence of cellular and public-safety through the efforts of FirstNet.

The DAS industry is seeking ways to converge RF and IP – beyond just Wi-Fi.

The wireless industry is converging macro and small cell networks as a Heterogeneous Network.

We believe – similarly – that wireless and wireline backaul are moving closer to work more holistically.

And it follows then that small cells will seek to become less standalone and more homogeneously carrier neutral.

Your Turn

Did you attend SCWS? What were your key observations?

Small Cell Industry Award Winners 2013 (courtesy of the Small Cell Forum)

Many Questions About DAS, Small Cells & Spectrum At 4G World

By Mike Collado
November 3rd, 2012

4G World 2012

Team SOLiD enjoyed a busy and productive week during 4G World in the Windy City in spite of Hurricane Sandy which affected travel for many exhibitors, presenters and attendees from the East Coast, making for a much cozier event than organizers had envisioned.

(BTW, please considering joining SOLiD and our employees by making a contribution to a charity of your choice that is working to support the hurricane relief and recovery efforts to help our neighbors, brothers, sisters and four-legged friends. Here’s a list of highly-rated charities that are responding. Thank you!)

Nonetheless, we connected with Michael Howard at Infonetics and Joan  Engebretson from TMCnet who has since published a column about our vision to converge DAS and Optical Transport to form the foundation for next-generation DAS networks.

We braved the chilly night air to catch up with partners and peers at a rooftop party hosted by our partner and friends at iBwave. Plus we got our Chicago-style deep dish pizza fix at Lou Malnati’s.

SOLiD had the privilege to present on the the “In-building 4G Wireless Solutions for Venues” panel along with Jim Parker from AT&T’s Antenna Solutions Group, Mario Bouchard from iBwave and Emil Olbrich from NIST (agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce). Based upon the panel’s interaction with attendees, it’s clear that there are many fundamental industry questions about DAS, Small Cells and Spectrum.

DAS and WiFi and Small Cells (oh my…)

The key problem for wireless operators is satisfying customer needs given a “data tsunami” that Jim Parker quantifies as having 20,000 percent growth. With customers now uploading more content than they’re downloading and the bulk of cellular traffic occurring indoors (80% cites Mario Bouchard), the macro network can not efficiently service users in high-density areas. Given the tremendous uptick in use, it is necessary to build the network from the “inside-out” to compliment macro network approach of “outside-in.”

For large public venues (think: hospitals, college and corporate campuses, sports venues, convention centers and the like), DAS, WiFi and Small Cells are identified as the go-to solutions capable of scaling to bring more capacity indoors.

Which One To Use?

During a case study earlier this year at the ACUTA Annual Conference, a panelist pondered whether WiFi could be used to support smartphone users across the campus at Indiana University. While it’s tempting to look to unlicensed spectrum and existing investment in deploying and supporting WiFi Access Points, the issue is that the cellular band is very large compared with WiFi. On the other hand, wireless operators do look to WiFi as a complimentary strategy to offload data to conserve RAN.

Wireless Spectrum

Meanwhile, having been fed a steady diet of Small Cells at 2012 industry events, attendees at 4G World questioned whether Small Cells – and most folks are referring to a femtocell or picocell – will replace DAS as a more cost-effective technology. (To inject a little levity, Bouchard quipped that “small cell” is a buzzword that attracts a lot people to conferences)

Today, a femto can’t compete with DAS because it does not provide a neutral host solution. And even if you cobbled together multiple femtos required for each carrier, you’d need a bunch of them and they’d not scale as bandwidth requirements increase. Besides, all these boxes would be aesthetically unappealing.

But the key reason, as we alluded to above with WiFi, has to do with spectrum. Remember, the cellular band is very large: dropping a PICO or eFEMTO for this entire band is not possible since the typical pico chip only handles 20Mhz up and 20Mhz down.

SOLiD CTO, Saeed Anwar, cautions that supporting 4 major wireless operators (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile) does not mean you need just 4 picos. Rather, each wireless operator has a spectrum across the entire band. For instance, Verizon Wireless has 4 bands (700, 850, 1900 and 2100 MHz). However, 1900 is a very large band (65Mhz up and 65 Mhz down) and is split in many sub-bands. These sub-bands may also vary by region on operators owning specific sub-bands. So, Verizon alone could have 700 upper c as one pico, 850 as a second pico, variations in 1900 picos because of the large spread and a 2100 AWS pico. (There are also variations in 700 and AWS but not to such a big scale as 1900)

What Is A Small Cell, Really?

The answer, it seems, depends…

Bouchard referred to Small Cells as a big bucket of solutions. Meanwhile, Parker cited DAS as being the original Small Cell.

The Small Cell Forum was originally focused on femtocells. However, our discussion with AT&T’s Gordon Mansfield, who was recently named the new chairman of the Small Cell Forum, reveals a  migration in thinking. Specifically, Mansfield shared that the Small Cell Forum will distinguish between residential (femto & wifi) and enterprise cells going forward.

Michael Howard at Infonetics was similarly adamant at 4G World that small cells and residential (femto & wifi) should not be in the same bucket.

So it seems reasonable to categorize it like this: small cells are the technology deployments used to fill-in where enterprise needs are not being met by DAS and WiFi.

What do you say? Let us know if the comments section!


Entrance to the Exhibit Floor at 4G World 2012

DAS, Small Cells & WiFi Are Key Themes During the 2012 Wireless Infrastructure Show

By Mike Collado
October 4th, 2012

2012 Wireless Infrastructure Show

SOLiD spent a productive and meeting-filled week in sunny – er, rainy and VERY muggy – Orlando, Florida at the 2012 Wireless Infrastructure Show where it seemed as though Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), Small Cells, Backhaul and WiFi were on the lips of nearly every presenter and attendee. What a difference a year makes.

This well-attended event drew stakeholders from the wireless operators, DAS manufacturers, integrators and backhaul solutions providers as well as other infrastructure providers and professional services firms.

The first day general session keynote served as the backdrop for the introduction of Jonathan Adelstein as President & CEO of PCIA while the second day’s keynote, headlined by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, attracted a packed house.

Lastly, it must be said that the DAS Community is a dedicated bunch of individuals – in spite of the Monday Night Football Party held by the Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum (WWLF), the DAS Forum Breakfast and Annual Meeting scheduled at a ambitiously early 7 am the following morning was filled!

DAS: A Success Story 15 Years in the Making

It was observed during the DAS Forum‘s Annual Meeting how “hot” the DAS market is. But it’s important to understand how much it’s evolved (read our series of posts here):

  • Early adopters included shopping malls, casinos and airports. Today, Healthcare, Education, Sports Venues and Corporate Campuses drive the majority of DAS deployments.
  • DAS was originally conceived to enable voice coverage. Today, DAS is about the delivery of data capacity in a market where, according to Cisco’s Bob Friday, mobile data will grow by a rate of 26 times between now and 2015.
  • First-generation passive DAS network technology has been replaced by fiber-efficient, high-power active DAS systems.
  • Neutral-host DAS platforms have become so prevalent that RF Engineers just entering the industry are often surprised when they encounter single-carrier systems.
  • Public-safety is rapidly becoming a requirement to support local fire codes. As a founding member of the Safer Buildings Coalition, SOLiD believes that any DAS installed should accommodate public-safety communication services.

 Just What is a Small Cell?

Ask 10 people what is a small cell and you’re likely to get 10 different answers.

The purpose is simple – small cells complement the macro network in providing capacity offload, better coverage and improved end user experience.

You put the cell site closer to the user to achieve system efficiency. This translates into a better user experience which is delivered from a lower power, lower cost site.

The confusion around the definition gets compounded by names such as femtocell, picocell, metrocell and microcell.

So what is a small cell?

We believe it’s anything less than 20 watts. It has a low height (versus a tower). It’s networked and self-optimizing. And the backhaul cannot be over-the-top to ensure quality of service.

What do you think?

Backhaul Gets Its Due

Backhaul Panel Discussion

Earlier this year, Iain Gillot at iGR blogged that mobile backhaul is the elephant in the room. His point was that while the industry had been talking about small cells ad nauseum, there was little discussion about how to move traffic to and from the small cell to the cell tower?

It’s been well established that the bandwidth explosion is going to last.

SOLiD had the privilege to join a diverse panel of experts that included dark and lit fiber providers, integrated solutions providers and backhaul equipment manufacturers to tackle the topic.

What emerged was that just like the broad set of tools to move the cell closer to where the users are, there needs to be multiple solutions in the toolbox for backhauling.

Ultimately the right answer is about weighing cost versus performance.

SOLiD believes that – in spite of the marketing buzz from microwave backhaul solution providers – that fiber is the most compelling approach for its scalability and cost-effectiveness.

Analysts including iGR’s Iain Gillot, Yankee Group’s Jennifer Pigg and ABI’s Aditya Kaul tell us that fiber is today preferred by mobile operators for backhaul provided it is available at the cell location. (See below analysis from iGR).

SOLiD’s INFINTY ACCESS solution multiplexes 16 channels of high-capacity broadband per strand of fiber. But what’s unique is the cost of the tunable laser that drives this technology: it costs a fraction of similar tunable lasers. We expect that as small cells begin to be deployed in greater numbers, fiber solutions like SOLiD’s will be similarly deployed.

Collision & Convergence

Question: What’s the cheapest way to gain licensed spectrum?

Answer: Offloading traffic onto unlicensed spectrum vis a vis WiFi.

It used to be that voice and data lived in separate worlds. However, Cisco’s Bob Friday showed in his presentation how the iPhone has ushered in (if not forced) the collision of the two.

Indeed, mobile operators are using every trick in the book to squeeze capacity out of their networks.

In addition to small cells and outdoor DAS, WiFi is a compelling method to “offload” traffic which AT&T has been doing in locations such as Starbuck’s.

One of the biggest pain points for capacity is at sports venues where on Game Day, a network can come to a grinding halt by 80,000 rabid fans texting, tweeting and uploading photos and video at the same time after a key play. As AT&T’s Chad Townes discussed this week, WiFi is very attractive to offload capacity and save Radio Access Network (RAN) spectrum.

Although many DAS manufacturers likely wished for WiFi to go away, it’s clear that WiFi is another tool to choose from in the solutions bag.

As the first DAS OEM to converge commercial cellular and public-safety on the same platform, SOLiD embraces what appears to be an evolution trend towards a mash-up of DAS / Small Cells / WiFi / Backhaul.

We suspect that’s what the interesting case studies at the 2013 Wireless Infrastructure Show will address.

Tell us below in the comments what stood out for you at the show.


Courtesy of iGR


See SOLiD at CTIA Wireless 2012 at Booth 4461

By Mike Collado
May 3rd, 2012

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

SOLiD is exhibiting at CTIA Wireless 2012 in the Crescent City at booth #4461.

We know it’s busy at CTIA and it’s difficult to see everyone. So here are five reasons to visit the SOLiD booth:

Reason 1

We’re launching the TITAN™ 20W Remote Unit. TITAN provides high-capacity DAS for outdoor applications (think  large sports venues, metropolitan subways and college/corporate campuses). It seamlessly integrates with the ALLIANCE or EXPRESS head-ends and, like all SOLiD solutions, makes highly-efficient use of fiber. TITAN is powerful, yet compact. Plus its rugged design meets fire code equipment requirements and is ideal for harsh environment venue applications. And because all of SOLiD’s solutions were designed after the launch of the iPhone, TITAN is built to handle today’s wide spectrum of frequencies and deliver not only coverage but, more importantly, capacity, making TITAN a compelling solution for oDAS projects.

Reason 2

One of the most talked-about challenges during the recent DAS in Action event was – surprise – small cells. But the elephant in the room was backhaul. SOLiD is also launching ACCESS-GT™ which reduces network backhaul costs which are a serious issue due to the explosion of mobile data bandwidth consumption. ACCESS multiplexes 16 channels of high-capacity broadband per strand of fiber. But what’s unique is the cost of the tunable laser that drives this technology: it costs a fraction of similar tunable lasers. We’ll be demonstrating ACCESS at the SOLiD booth (4461).

Reason 3

We have the best multi-service, neutral-host DAS platform – ALLIANCE™. That’s not marketing hype; a Wireless Service Provider at a recent industry event told us that. SOLiD designed ALLIANCE for today’s market in which Building Owners are increasingly owning the DAS and have a significant say in how in-building networks will be deployed in their properties. ALLIANCE supports commercial wireless, public safety radio, private 2-way radio, and paging on a single infrastructure using one strand of fiber. It is 4G certified and offers guaranteed RF power control, so wireless operators to lock-in power levels. ALLIANCE is completely modular and flexible to accommodate current and future requirements. We’ll have ALLIANCE for demonstration in our booth.

Reason 4

Check out the industry’s fastest and easiest commissioning system. After bringing to market the ALLIANCE best-in-class multi-service DAS platform, we set about designing a single-operator DAS that was, well, easier to deploy, commission and manage. Designed to meet specific frequency band requirements, EXPRESS™ is a Quad Band and MIMO-ready solution that has a small footprint and is highly fiber-efficient. EXPRESS has UHF/VHF radio capabilities built-in. And our EasySET™ 1-Click software configures and commissions the DAS network – automatically. Stop by, we’ll show you!

Reason 5

Meet with Seth Buechely (President), Saeed Anwar (CTO) and Ken Sandfeld (Vice President of Sales). Learn how SOLiD is solving coverage and capacity challenges at leading hospitals, world-class hotels and resorts, Fortune 500 corporate campuses, international airports, large sports venues, metropolitan subways and other marquee customer sites. Get a deep-dive technical product demonstration. Hear about coming DAS trends. Explore your projects with the SOLiD team. We’re looking forward to it!

Also, please be sure to visit our SOLiD Certified Partners – Alliance Communications (5245) and Tempest Telecom (5201) – at CTIA!

Tell Us…

What are you seeking to accomplish at CTIA this year?

See you in New Orleans!