The Aricent Group, a global technology innovation company, offers software frameworks and engineering services to small cell vendors.
I asked Rathinder Bhat, Director of Business Development, for his perspective on the recent LTE Asia conference, the current status of LTE small cells and his views on the adoption of small cell technology in that region. He foresees there are five key areas to be evaluated and addressed to ensure a successful multi-vendor combination of small cells and HetNets.
How is Asia-Pacific adopting LTE small cells today?
APAC is a very diverse region but the conference was a pretty rounded event. We see Korea and Japan at the forefront of small cell adoption. While South Korea is ahead today, the Japanese operators are in different but advanced phases of testing their solutions. I expect that we'll hear more news before the end of 2012.
Korea already has a strong LTE ecosystem, with early availability of a wide variety of LTE devices and operators are actively pushing for LTE small cells. Japan seems to have more guarded approach. They continue to use their macrocell sites for LTE rollout and appear to be adopting different strategies for LTE small cells deployment.
Hong Kong is another very interesting marketplace with lots of activity in LTE and so is Singapore. Malaysia, which has a large installed base of WiMAX, seems to still be evaluating whether it should continue with that technology or migrate to LTE.
India, where I am based, is probably still at least two to three years away. There is still a priority on 3G and LTE Macrocells and we would need a strong change in thought process to integrate small cells into the system. There are pockets of high traffic use where small cells should be appropriate. There is no easy answer to say if 3G will quickly be replaced by LTE.
Additionally, based on technology maturity levels, regulatory environment, mobile density, choice of whether FDD or TDD, I foresee adoption of LTE small cells will pace out differently across APAC.
This contrasts with Europe, which we still see embracing 3G small cells Overall, Japan, Korea and North America will continue to lead the adoption of LTE small cells
Is the small cell technology considered mature?
Small cell solutions have brought a paradigm shift in the last few years. 3G small cells are mature and widely deployed. For LTE small cells, the pre-integrated software and hardware reference designs being offered by silicon and software vendors are getting mature. They are not limited to femtocell products any more.
In addition to off-the-shelf hardware and software, Aricent, for example, is enabling its OEM customers to build specialized software on RRM (Radio Resource Management), SON (Self-Organising Network) and O&M (Operations and Maintenance) to complete the solution.
I believe there is a mature solution in place in the market today, and the evidence for that is seen in the initial commercial rollouts. Aricent is involved in this with multiple customers at different stages of development and deployment, and you can expect to hear some public announcements of that soon.
Different operators have different considerations, with some wanting a more ruggedised approach to testing and validation. We see some operators take a "big bang" approach to deployment while others deploy in a regional/area basis during the early stages.
What issues do you envisage related to small cells and HetNets?
I think the following are some of the top considerations that need to be analysed and addressed
- Interoperability between Macro and small cell network is a key aspect. While specifications set the standard, it is also important for the Eco-system to ensure consistent implementation. In multi-vendor environments, specifications need to ensure that the X.2 interface is not only clearly specified as it evolves and fits the bill, but that IOT (interoperability testing) is considered pretty carefully
- Back-office integration is also important and costs should not be underestimated. This would need careful and coordinated planning involving many internal planning and business processes within the operations departments
- The issue of interference, where operators want to be certain of any impact to their existing macrocell network and ensure they maximise the capacity and coverage benefit across the entire HetNet.
- Handover between radio technologies, which will need to consider the mobility issues including Wi-Fi
- Voice Call Support. The number of voice minutes used today is still prolific and it remains an essential service. The choice between CSFB (switching back to 2G/3G for voice) and VoLTE (Voice over LTE natively) is another difficult question for operators to make during the transition. Support for (voice) roaming is critical.
Does Carrier Wi-Fi have a role to play?
Yes, it will certainly have a key and interesting role to play. Offloading to Wi-Fi is an important strategy for many operators, especially in the medium term. The premium cost and scarcity of spectrum makes this more attractive and it is definitely being considered at different levels.
Integrating Wi-Fi and small cells together into a common service will be easier for those operators with both fixed and mobile assets, but some express concern about how it might affect perceived overall quality of service.
While the 3G/LTE small cell solution for Enterprise has a stronger business case because of QoS and performance considerations, I see a two pronged strategy being adopted with short term use of Wi-Fi for offloading while investing in small cells to build out capacity going forward.
How do you see ODMs evolving to address the changing market demand for small cells?
ODM's (Original Device Manufacturers) have been a part and parcel of the 3G small cell Eco-system and they are definitely evolving to LTE small cells. For small cell solutions to Operators, OEM's and System Integration companies work closely with ODM's for 3G small cells and addressing LTE would be a natural extension. Importantly, involvement of ODM's in the LTE Eco-system is expected to drive down prices and add to the likelihood that mass-market volumes will be achieved.
What is the scope of Aricent's activities in the small cell LTE marketplace?
Aricent has been at the forefront of communications technologies having enabled solutions in the 2G and 3G domains. LTE was a natural evolution for us. We are one of the pioneers in LTE software solutions and services and a key LTE ecosystem player. On LTE small cells, Aricent has mature software solutions for both FDD and TDD modes covering both eNodeB and core network (EPC). Our high performance software is available and targeted for different platforms, allowing vendors to jump start their development and also leverage our multi-years of professional services expertise in this domain.
In the longer term, we are aligned to the goal of multi-mode small cells and have all the key software components available. Our core architecture team continues to assess our customer's requirements and address solutions to meet evolving market needs.
For more information about Aricent, visit their website at www.aricent.com