David Orloff, incoming Chair of Small Cell Forum, outlines their plans for 5G

David Orloff Small Cell Forum ChairAlthough there’s no fixed term, the chair of Small Cell Forum changes from time to time. This month, David Orloff of AT&T steps up to the role. He shared his view of the Small Cell landscape, his vision of how Small Cell Forum will address it, and what we should expect to see from them in the years ahead.

What’s been your involvement with Small Cell Forum up to now?

At AT&T, I lead new product introduction for our Radio Access Network, which includes everything from macrocells to small cells and Self-Organising Networks. I’ve been closely involved with trials of equipment as well as the procedures to accelerate and simplify their deployment.

I’ve been an active participant with the Small Cell Forum and served as a Board Member for four years.

I’m really very excited to be taking on this new role, especially as we expand the Forum’s focus onto the wider scope of HetNets.

The Forum has studied and published extensive documentation about most aspects of Small Cells. What’s left for it to do?

I believe the industry worldwide is actively considering its next step, revolving around how to implement 5G. The next few years will be intense as the industry introduces HetNet, SON, IoT, Unlicensed Spectrum, MEC (Mobile Edge Computing), RAN Virtualisation and multi-operator/neutral host. 

5G will involve piecing all of these components together in a coherent fashion.

While I realise that some people will have a different view of 5G, especially given the attention around millimetre wave and multi-gigabit radio technology, I think the scope is really a lot wider than being just another new radio interface.

Doesn’t this compete or overlap with other organisations?

I’ve heard many times that some think the Forum is trying to cover too much scope, too much complexity and that such an ambitious task just isn’t possible.

It’s also said that there are other groups, forums and bodies addressing this task.

I disagree and believe there is a clear, otherwise unfilled role here for which the Forum is ideally suited.

We’ll continue to align with other organisations and will fill the gaps with implementation on how to develop and deploy these new capabilities.

There will be times where we work with standards organisations, such as to introduce a new interface requirement. Generically we are not trying to do the same thing as NGMN – we are trying to add value around the concepts so that they can be implemented and operated efficiently. Nor are we trying to become a standards organisation such as 3GPP, ETSI or IETF.

We’ve demonstrated our ability to release useful material and provide the detailed understanding that the industry seeks. This has led to more new members joining us, not just as financial sponsors but as active participants and contributors. I believe we are reaching a strong tipping point where more companies recognise that the work we do matters and want to support it.

How will the Forum organise itself to address that?

We are in the midst of restructuring our working groups to streamline activities and focus our resources.

Our seven working groups will be slimmed down to five disciplines, and we’ll organise around two very specific directions/paths of work:

  • -       deployment of hyper-dense networks
  • -       enabling the digitised enterprise

For the most part, it would be fair to say that these map to outdoor and indoor applications respectively.

Will the Release Program continue as before?

We’ve been organised to publish groups of documents around a specific topic on a set date. This has helped us to schedule and progress the work, as well as clarify which topics we’ve been working on.

This is unlikely to change dramatically. Our next release is due out in November, aligned with SCWS America, and covers the body of work on RAN Virtualisation.

I’d expect we would publish a Release during 2017, with a run rate of approximately three Releases every two years. We’ll be firming up the schedule during our Forum plenary meetings next month in Rome.

There aren’t any other staff or organisational changes planned – Sue Monahan remains as CEO, Andy Germano continues to represent us in the Americas and our hard working secretariat continues to work hard behind the scenes to facilitate our activities.

How long is the timescale for 5G? Isn’t it too soon to focus exclusively on it?

The timescale will differ for every operator and region, based on their own environment and ecosystem. Some of the pieces and component technologies are needed very quickly, others less so.

The Forum wants to help solve the HetNet puzzle and help set out a clear long-term industry direction, so that investments made today evolve towards that  vision. This is why it is becoming quite urgent to develop and set a common consensus of what the industry is working towards.

We are kicking this program off during our upcoming Plenary meeting in Rome next month, followed quickly by a further round of face-to-face workshops during the Small Cells Americas event in Dallas in November. These two sets of meetings just several weeks apart will help build up momentum and clarify the industry’s understanding.

What about today’s small cell deployment status?

On a global basis, the cellular industry has compressed. Last year many network operators slimmed down and tightened their belts, resulting in layoffs to meet market competitive requirements. Perhaps it’s not too surprising to see that this year the vendor community has followed that trend.

But for the most part, cellular operators continue to invest and grow the capacity of their networks. That trend will likely shift further towards small cells as the industry builds out 5G. For sure, operators aren’t slowing down the rate of new capacity implementation although the methods and architecture continue to evolve.

The Forum has already done a huge amount of work on existing 3G and 4G technology, which is now mature. I expect the industry will see increasing volumes of small cells deployed both indoor and out. While there will always be some amount of continuing evolution related to current technology, the Forum is now setting out to help solve the HetNet puzzle and lay the foundations for 5G.

Further Reading

Small Cell Forum website - http://www.smallcellforum.org/

Small Cell Forum release documentation - http://scf.io/en/index.php

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