Cambridge Wireless, now rebranding as CW, is a UK industry not-for-profit that organises many technical seminars and events on all aspects of wireless communications. It's Small Cell Special Interest Group is the second most popular topic, and this event was heavily over-subscribed with standing room only.
A top-notch speaker line-up from leading Small Cell enterprise vendors punched home the message that this is not radical new technology anymore, it is complementary to and won't be superseded by Wi-Fi, and has a strong business case.
Here, we recap some of the key points and link through to the presentation decks.
The pace of change is increasing
The event was hosted at PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) in their brand new/state of the art building next Tower Bridge in London. Our host described how ecologically and environmentally sympathetic it was. He then advised us not to expect coverage from at least one national network operator – his own mobile phone didn't work well in-building - re-inforcing the market need for good in-building cellular coverage solutions.
The rate of change across telecommunications is becoming even more rapid. Telcos risk being relegated down the value chain, but there remains plenty of opportunity for them but little evidence of them taking that onboard.
As an unrelated aside, Agilent – a joint sponsor - is to split out its $2.9 billion/year Telco test equipment business with a new brand name of KeySight.
Setting the scene
ThinkSmallCell presented a market summary of Enterprise Small Cells. Nothing radically new here, but plenty to reference within the Small Cell Forum documentation. We reminded everyone that the scope of an Enterprise Small Cell includes any non-residential building, not just offices. It's mostly 3G today and tied to a single network operator.
Segmenting the Enterprise by building size, we can see there are a range of solutions and that local controllers/gateways are considered a sensible choice for medium to large ones.
Simon Saunders of Real Wireless presented highlights of the Enterprise Small Cell business case. A couple of graphs compared Small Cells with DAS – one with network operator sharing and the other without. DAS does work out better for larger buildings because the cost can be defrayed between multiple operators. Single operator DAS didn't work out so well.
There were several DAS vendors in the audience, and I sense there are some developments coming through in this space.
10 Years to become an overnight sensation
Nick Johnson, CTO of ip.access, reminded us of the long road and hard work it's taken to get to this point. Ip.access first GSM Enterprise Small Call was launched in 2002 and they are now live in well over 100 networks, mainly in Europe. He argued that this is now a mature technology, with over a million ip.access Small Cells live around the world today.
One popular early application was providing great service in retail mobile phone stores. The diversity of use cases has grown tremendously. Examples included the higher floors of tower blocks, where smartphones can receive the pilot signals from so many different basestations, causing confusion, dropped calls and poor service. Definitely not what a penthouse suite expects. A single small cell quickly solves this problem by providing a strong beacon signal throughout the upper floors.
Other examples included:
• Copenhagen railway terminus concourse, resolving peak commuter traffic with just two small cells deployed in retail shops.
• The NASDAQ trading floor
• Guam airport in the pacific
• Utrecht medical centre serving 11,000 staff, patients and visitors
• Private networks where organisation have their own
There is a winning combination of a local system integrator/partner, Small Cell product and network operator working together. Some partners can also bring their own spectrum to a project, such as in the GSM/DECT guard band, which opens up further possibilities.
A 3 dimensional problem
Art King of Spidercloud described how RF can propagate in strange and mysterious ways. In the larger buildings that they work with, stronger signals can sometimes be found from the floors above or below. This can lead to unexpected behaviour from the UEs (Smartphones) and traffic being handled differently from how was originally envisaged.
This leads to a greater necessity for SON (Self Organising Network) functionality, which adapts and automatically tunes the system to cater for such scenarios. Some RF planning is required before installation but it need not be perfect – the system copes with changes as the usage of the building and each user evolves.
He explained five hidden learnings from Enterprise Small Cell deployments to date. This included IP network security and policy issues – IT departments are concerned about co-mingling the Small Cell and internal IP traffic on the same IP network. A dedicated VPN solves that issue. System scaling is another – what happens if another 10 floors are leased in a building? Can the existing system be easily expanded to cope?
He believes that two different levels of skillsets are required for a complete installation. A team with standard IT equipment capabilities can connect and power up the system to a working level. Thereafter a DAS installer skillset may be needed to fine tune and optimise the system for best performance, integrating it with the outdoor macrocells. This approach allows a full installation to be completed in days.
Enterprise Wi-Fi now a business priority, but not yet Carrier grade Voice
Mark Grayson of Cisco explained in detail Cisco's rationale for investing in both Wi-Fi and licenced cellular Small Cells. His charts showed the excellent performance of Wi-Fi 802.11ac for data, but contrasted that with the relatively poor handling of multiple voice sessions. Wi-Fi offers about 10x fewer Erlangs of voice capacity per MHz than LTE. Their view is that 3G cellular is required for good indoor voice service, something that their combined Wi-Fi access point with Small Cell plug-in module.
Wi-Fi benefits from being "non-affiliated" (i.e not locked to any single network operator). It can monitor and track smartphones moving through a building, even if dormant and not actively connected to any Wi-Fi session. These can be used to provide valuable analytics about where and how customers use the building space, helping target the best areas for banner advertising, staffing levels and layout.
This has been used to turn around the business case for funding installation. One Calgary Mall expected to be paid to allow a DAS system to be installed. Instead, they saw the value of Wi-Fi analytics and contributed towards the cost of that system. Mall owners also see Wi-Fi provision as another benefit they can offer to their tenants.
Cisco have shipped over 10 million Wi-Fi access points to date, of which 229,000 Service Provider units shipped in 2012 (Dell'Oro). They have also reached over 2 million 3G small cells (including Ubiquisys and AT&T microcells). Their Go To Market sales channel is different to traditional industry vendors, selling via partners directly to the business enterprise customers. They want to replicate the success they've had so far with Wi-Fi by reusing their Channel Partners. The primary differentiator for Enterprise Small Cells is voice, and Cisco is executing on a strategy of convergence.
There following a highly interactive Q&A session with all speakers forming a panel. The audience didn't hold back with some pretty challenging questions, rounding off a thoroughly successful event.
The Enterprise Small Cell Business Case by Real Wireless is available from the Small Cell Forum website (~150 pages)