SUMO, Super Multi-Operator Core Network or Super MOCN, is ip.access' new term for a fully featured multi-operator commercial small cell platform. With Enterprise in-building wireless being a hot topic these days, and neutral host/multi-operator support a key factor, Nick shared his insights on the commercial changes needed to achieve success.
What’s your vision for the future Enterprise Small Cell market?
The small cell industry has been somewhat technology led for a long time and now needs to move into a more commercial phase. We aim to enable that evolution. In the past, we’ve provided a set of building bricks (small cells, gateways, management tools etc.) for our customers and partners to assemble into their own custom solutions. We now plan to offer a full end-to-end managed service that will enable local partners within each region. Think of it as if we are now offering a complete building rather than just the individual bricks.
Our service will aggregate thousands of separate sites of different sizes into a common pipe, greatly simplifying the integration and management for the network operator.
Local partners would install and maintain equipment on site. We would centrally provision and manage each installation. Network operators would retain a supervisory view to monitor performance but would not otherwise need to be involved at a detailed level. This approach allows major network operators an opportunity to scale across tens of thousands of individual small/medium sized businesses that would otherwise be difficult to achieve entirely in-house.
What about the large investment required before the first site goes live? Isn’t integrating with each new network operator a costly exercise?
It’s true that IT integration can be expensive the first time you do it. We rely on the fact that we’ve done this many times before, and have a large installed base of network operators worldwide. For these existing customers, there would be little effort involved.
When deploying a traditional gateway inside each new network, there are normally a minimum of five or six essential interconnection touchpoints. However, by locating the small cell gateway at our own regional server site, we can reduce that to just two. One is the account management function and the other is the NMS (Network Management System) used by the NOC (Network Operations Centre).
We’ll take primary responsibility for running the small cell RAN and working directly with local partners to rectify faults. The operator retains supervisory monitoring so can keep an eye on things when they need to and ensure SLAs are met.
This approach is critical to enable the ecosystem to scale up. We remove the complexity of network operator staff needing to be involved in every single new small cell deployment, performing tasks such as configuring into the core network, backhaul, site survey and project management. We sweep those all up into our service offer while allowing complete transparency of network operation.
We find some operators are quite nervous about that concept and want to work in the old fashioned way, duplicating all the touch points again. I don’t think that will work very efficiently, and we need to build up a level of trust. We have a very persuasive body of evidence that demonstrates we can deploy small cells quickly and effectively. Operators have been known to take six months to deploy a small cell in response to a customer complaint, whereas we can typically commission within a couple of weeks.
How will you address the thorny issue of Multi-operator support/Neutral Host?
This is where our SUMO (Super MOCN) capability comes in. We’ve developed a commercial offering on top of this 3GPP standard feature that allows the same small cell to be shared by multiple networks.
Our small cell gateway can connect to multiple network operators and combine traffic into each small cell. We’ve added the ability to partition, measure and reserve capacity to achieve performance guaranteed SLAs.
Operators that share our vision today can deploy their own in-building systems that are later sub-leased to their competitors, generating direct profits from the small cell and making a SUMO solution significantly cheaper than installing a dedicated access point. Third parties, who already operate networks on behalf of a spectrum holder, can install their own equipment and sublet it to all-comers.
We started off with the somewhat prejudiced view that the largest operators would not be keen on this concept and so it would not be very popular in the US. But we found that in the Nordic regions and elsewhere, we are starting to see some movement and a refreshing change of view. We’re pretty confident there will be a commercial deployment of this solution during 2016.
What are the implications of unlicensed and shared spectrum?
I expect we’ll see a lot of change in how spectrum is licenced in the next few years. This won’t happen overnight and will require new handsets that support new frequency bands and modes. I could foresee a Carrier Wi-Fi business model that instead uses LTE on unlicenced or shared spectrum, enabled through wider roaming agreements between service providers and existing network operators.
This equipment would be installed and funded primarily by third parties, opening up a new sales channel and revenue source for equipment vendors.
Is the Enterprise market primarily 3G or 4G or both?
We’ve heard for some time that dual mode 3G/4G has been essential for the North American market. T-Mobile USA’s launch of such a product in November reaffirmed that. However Verizon’s 4G-only Enterprise small cell, announced in January, indicates that LTE smartphone penetration and VoLTE maturity are ready for mainstream.
This isn’t true for all regions or all operators. Some network operators rely on 3G features which are not fully implemented in their 4G networks. Others have not or will not deploy VoLTE. LTE and smartphone penetration are not as high in developing markets. I expect we’ll continue to see demand for 3G and 3G/4G multi-mode products for some time. This is especially true for our non-operator customers (eg transport, maritime, security etc.) which have special requirements.
How quickly can this vision be realised?
I think there’s a huge unmet pent-up demand for in-building wireless service within businesses today. We often see that expressed quite vocally at conferences, and I’ve regularly come across it in the course of business. I agree with Joe Madden’s assessment that businesses will contribute up to 35% of the overall funding for in-building cellular systems. Most businesses simply haven’t had the option to buy their own in-building cellular systems at a sensible price before, and if that were on offer then they would take it up.
Small cells as a service shared between multiple network operators is a key enabler to satisfying this demand. This is a global opportunity and we will be treating it as such. From our side, the technology is done – it’s now simply down to business decisions. Our SUMO solution finally allows small cells to be a source of profit for the operator, rather than a cost.