Spidercloud are now shipping their multi-mode dual-band 3G/LTE Enterprise Small Cell radio node, after extensive trials with Tier 1 operators. This new solution has been short listed for an award at next week's Small Cell World Summit in London. We asked Ronny Haraldsvik, their CMO, to provide some of the background, explain how the system works and reveal some of the challenges they had to overcome.
There are quite a few standalone either 3G or LTE Enterprise solutions today. How strong is the market pull for combined multi-mode 3G/LTE?
We're finding that operators don't want to skip ahead directly to LTE only. There's too large an installed base of 3G only smartphones that need to be served. That won't disappear overnight. At the same time, LTE is marketed as a premium service and has to be shown to work well indoors. This means operators ideally want both 3G and LTE, but have been held back by lack of available commercial products.
Spidercloud have been conducting trials with LTE for the last six to nine months. We launched our standalone LTE solution more than a year ago and announced dual band 3G/LTE last October. Our first commercial orders for dual band are shipping this month.
How much does the architecture differ from 3G?
You'll find pretty much the same physical components, with software handling the different signalling protocols, interfaces etc. Our dual band radio node is software configurable between 3G and LTE, meaning that each band can be remotely configured to either 3G or LTE. The same single Ethernet cable provides power and communication to each node. The same in-building Services Node handles 3G and LTE, with one IP connection back to the operators' core network.
Trials and smaller scale rollouts can directly connect to the operator's EPC (Evolved Packet Core), where our in-building system looks like just another eNodeB. Larger rollouts are likely to use an LTE Small Cell gateway to concentrate and consolidate traffic flows. We've already proven interworking with several leading Small Cell gateways.
As for handset testing, so far we've not found any smartphones or handsets that have caused problems. Samsung, Apple, Blackberry etc. all perform seamlessly.
What type of end-user performance have you seen in real-world situations? Is this similar to what we've found outdoors on LTE?
It's not just about achieving a headline peak data rate in a lab. We've loaded up the system with 10-15 connected devices per radio node and ensured that each gets their fair share. Average downlink rates are 56.5Mbps using 10MHz FDD. We've seen peak rates in the order of 400 Mbps from 9-10 connected devices, although our system could easily handle more.
What's more important are the usability factors that are apparent to the end-user when using 4G rather than 3G. These are the very fast connection/call setup times (in milliseconds), high call establish ratio (99.5%), very fast handover between radio nodes (<80 ms), high handover success rate (99.96%) and low call drop rate (0.5%).
These metrics are as good as our 3G performance and possibly better than you'd find in an outdoor urban environment.
This makes it a great platform to support voice, whether VoLTE or VoIP, both of which we have found to be extremely reliable.
Are there any major differences when planning or deploying an LTE indoor system compared with 3G?
We've updated our E-RAN App estimator app to incorporate 4G. The tool appears very simple and straightforward to use but has quite a few calculations buried inside. It took a significant amount of work to cater for a two-layer network, factoring in RF propagation across the band classes and the capacity characteristics of 4G. We've modelled the most in-demand FDD frequency band classes in the tool. When onsite, it remains simple and easy to use, streamlining the sales process.
Other 3rd party tools are available for larger and more complex deployments, such as iBwave.
With each radio node having its own dedicated capacity for fast user access, a dual-band E-RAN system would need fewer Radio Nodes to connect more devices more often, as compared to a shared antenna system. With our approach, radio nodes can be migrated over from 3G to LTE at a later date hence planning should take account of operating in either mode.
Which market segments and use cases show the strongest demand?
As far as concrete orders today, the number one application is voice integration within offices to enable mobile use instead of desk phones. I confess I find it surprising how much this remains attractive. This doesn't mean the office PBX is going away – there are still many desk bound staff for whom wired connections work best – but there is demand for a pleasant and useful way to blend both wireless and wired technologies together.
There are many other use cases and we've done a lot of cost and business modelling work in that space. We already see growing demand from hospitality venues such as hotels and conference centres, as well as hospitals.
We've seen a tremendous appetite for our solution worldwide, especially in LATAM where the dual-band 3G/LTE product is particularly popular, but also in Europe and the US where both dual-band 3G/LTE and dual-band LTE is of interest. We're convinced that all small cell players are bound to see positive growth in the coming six to twelve months.
Spidercloud is a sponsor of ThinkSmallCell