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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)

Wireless Service in the Subway is Big News in the Big Apple

By Mike Collado
April 28th, 2013

Last Thursday, we joined New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Interim Executive Director Thomas F. Prendergast of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) plus executives from Transit Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Boingo Wireless to celebrate the launch of cellular and Wi-Fi service in 36 underground stations of the New York City Subway.

Check out the video coverage here and here; and online coverage here, here and here.

Even crooner Michael Bublé got in on the action!

The event was held in one of the stations at Times Square and marked the completion of the first phase of a multi-year plan to deliver wireless communications in 277 stations.

Transit Wireless owns and operates the subway station wireless communications network and acts as a neutral host for extending a variety of wireless carrier services to NYCTA’s more than 1.6 billion riders annually.

SOLiD’s Distributed Antenna System (DAS) equipment was selected by Transit Wireless in 2012 for the project.

Here’s a highlight of quotations and photos (we’ll share more soon):

“This goes beyond providing cell service underground. It brings our customers a new level of security – with the ability to dial 911 in an emergency,” said Governor Cuomo. “Customers now know that when they see something, they can now say something using their device to call 911. And now with all the major carriers on board, the vast majority of MTA customers will have the ability to do so.”


“The MTA has been on a clearly defined mission to bring our mass transit system into the 21st century with upgrades to the station environment through several ambitious new-technology communications projects like this one, aimed at improving the travel experiences of our customers while offering another level of security,” said MTA Interim Executive Director Thomas F. Prendergast.


“The New York City subway system is one of the most heavily trafficked systems in the world and now riders have wireless service,” said William A. Bayne Jr., CEO of Transit Wireless. “This network benefits not only riders, but city workers and first responders, and it will be the backbone for future technology and safety improvements to the city’s subway stations.”


“We are thrilled to mark the completion of Phase 1 which brings cellular and Wi-Fi service to 36 New York City Subway system stations,” said Seth Buechley, President of SOLiD. “We look forward to our continued collaboration with Transit Wireless to provide New Yorkers the same level of wireless service underground as they enjoy above-ground.”


ABC's Times Square Studios


ABC's Times Square Studios


ABC's Times Square Studios


Base Station Hotel



Your Turn

Have you used the service yet? How was it? Let us know in the comments below.

A Different Vibe at the 2013 IWCE Conference

By Mike Collado
March 25th, 2013

EXPRESS PS at Tempest Telecom Booth

The resounding observation among attendees of the 2013 IWCE Conference was newfound “energy”.

Maybe it’s because in 2012 Las Vegas played host simultaneously to HIMSS and IWCE which siphoned off – or at least competed with – attendance at the public-safety and two-way radio technology event. But this year it seemed that IWCE attracted twice the number of attendees!

And with the combination of FirstNet initiatives and the industry push toward LTE public-safety communications, the event appears to be attracting new entrants who are bringing an information technologies (IT) outlook to radio frequency (RF).

Which is a good thing as the public-safety and cellular industries collaborate to ensure that mission-critical communications for first responders work both outdoors and indoors.

DAS (Finally) Gets its Due

Whereas in previous years solving the challenge of indoor public-safety communications was typically handled in a lone signal boosters session, the 2013 agenda hosted multiple sessions on DAS, small cells and interoperability communications not to mention backhaul. SOLiD and many members of the DAS Forum who are active within public-safety were on hand to participate on the educational sessions.

During the In-Building Wireless and DAS Fundamentals workshop, SOLiD’s President and Founder of the Safer Buildings Coalition – Seth Buechley – joined a panel of DAS OEMs and Integrators to explore industry trends and initiatives.

While public-safety communications has moved away from “fireman jacks” (where first responders used to plug in radios to building wiring) and instead to RF wireless coverage, the need for RF coverage extension remains.

The cellular industry solves these challenges through DAS. Which is why the Safer Buildings Coalition advocates for accommodating public-safety on the same in-building network that enables cellular.

Consolidation & Convergence

Increasingly building owners are being mandated to include public-safety coverage. Panelists suggest a trend of consolidation and convergence.

For instance, Seth Buechley asked if DAS is seen as the plumbing that delivers RF, shouldn’t cellular and public-safety be delivered on the same network?

Darlene Braunschweig (Tempest Telecom) likened today’s in-building public-safety market to the early days of neutral-host cellular DAS when building owners insisted on a single platform as opposed to having three systems installed by three different people.

Indeed, Tempest reports that the firm is seeing fewer public-safety only deployments.

And following the trend of convergence, Seth Buechley shared that a key initiative of Safer Buildings Coalition is to create and consolidate myriad cellular and public-safety standards bodies and integrator certification programs so as to ensure that the needs of both industries are satisfied to ensure mission-critical communications.

Look for more from Safer Buildings Coalition at the APCO Annual Conference & Expo.

Public-Safety Only DAS

Although the industry trend is toward a converged, neutral-host DAS platform for both cellular and public-safety, building owners will increasingly be on the hook to enable public-safety communications as local codes include coverage mandates.

To address this need, SOLiD launched its single system public-safety DAS – EXPRESS PS – at IWCE which was showcased in Tempest’s booth.

EXPRESS PS supports 700/800/UHF/VHF public-safety frequencies on a single system and provides coverage for public-safety and land mobile radio (LMR) communications services inside buildings.

Now Your Turn

Did you attend IWCE? What were your key takeaways?

SOLiD President & Safer Buildings Coalition Founder Seth Buechely at IWCE








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