Best known for their outdoor rural small cell solution, Parallel Wireless announced their plans for a radical shakeup of In-Building wireless. We spoke with their CTO, Rajesh Mishra, to understand both commercial and technical aspects.
What’s your vision of future Enterprise wireless?
We want to make it as easy to deploy in-building cellular as it has been to install Enterprise Wi-Fi. In future, I would expect more and more building owners and businesses to arrange and pay for installation of their own cellular equipment for connection to the network. This increases funds available to buy equipment, spreads the installation work across a wider range of installers and greatly expands network capacity at relatively low cost to the MNOs.
I foresee that the emerging eco-system to enable this will consist of many partners specialising in their own area – ODM equipment vendors, system installers/integrators and outsourcing companies. This larger number of different equipment manufacturers involved will reduce cost through competition resulting in increased total market size.
Our intention is to enable many of the low cost manufacturers to mass produce radio equipment by providing a detailed “white box” reference design. We’ll test and certify those products, and ensure interworking with many other existing small cell and DAS vendors. We’ve already proven interoperability of our HetNet gateway with around 15 eNodeB and some 15 EPC vendors, from the smallest to the largest, and feel we are a strong position.
Our standard Enterprise small cell specification will be 250mW (24dBm) MIMO, with separate 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi radios. This can be configured to be multi-band and/or multi-carrier as required.
These connect into our HetNet gateway anchored in the cloud, which consolidates streams of 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi traffic for each network operator. This Enteprise vRAN architecture avoids the need for each operator to make an expensive up-front investment in their own small cell gateways.
Your solution combines 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi. Why do you think all three are required?
Reliable indoor voice service remains a critical service. While VoLTE could provide that, the reality is that few markets have deployed it yet. Many handsets don’t and couldn’t physically support it, making 3G essential. Voice over Wi-Fi isn’t yet robust enough in many public environments.
3G on its own isn’t enough for the medium to long term, where LTE ensures full use of available spectrum and high data performance.
Wi-Fi is not a mandatory feature and we don’t always turn it on. Many Enterprises already have extensive Wi-Fi deployed or may insist on an independent system for security reasons. Others look at the cost of upgrading to the latest 802.11 variants, often requiring a complete replacement of every access point, and may find it worthwhile instead to replace those with our small cells and use the built-in Wi-Fi.
Which are the biggest barriers to entry you have had to overcome?
Mobile network operators recognise there is a cost when introducing any new equipment vendor. But they also recognise that lock-in to a single vendor reduces competitive pressure on pricing, and may hold back innovation.
When introducing any new solution there will be some qualifying costs, such as trials, testing, approval and introducing new operational processes. This is the same for any vendor.
Where we differentiate is that our HetNet gateway is Cloud hosted. It’s not required to install a femto-gateway in the operator’s data centre, nor local controllers at each Enterprise site. Scalability is inherent and we are already provisioning deployments with tens of thousands of nodes. This reduces time to market and up-front investment.
Won’t a Cloud solution impose high demands on backhaul capacity to each site?
We aren’t using a Cloud RAN architecture, where baseband is pooled at a central location. That usually requires dedicated dark fibre from every building.
Baseband processing capacity is now very low cost, due to continuing advances in silicon manufacturing. This is no longer such a precious resource that saves significant cost when centralised. We think it makes more sense to locate that function in the small cells at the network edge.
Since our Cloud gateway approach carries only signalling and data traffic, there is little backhaul overhead and the end-to-end system remains efficient.
What about Neutral Host, supporting multiple network operators?
Our HetNet gateway was designed from the outset to support MOCN (Multiple Operator Core Network), a standard 3GPP feature which allows multiple networks to share the same small cell deployments. It’s highly scalable and very cost effective. While it’s true to say that few networks have opted to use MOCN to date, the feature would appear to be very attractive and suitable for this purpose.
We can also use multiple Small Cells to drive DAS systems or deploy multiple sets of Small Cells at each location.
How will sales channels evolve for the Enterprise market?
Right now, we aren’t selling to end users and instead focus on direct sales through mobile network operators. We already have a substantial order pipeline and expect a busy year, fulfilling a backlog of orders. We’re ensuring that our system works well and is extremely simple to install and commission.
We’ll be demonstrating this simplicity at Mobile World Congress, showing how a bunch of devices in the same room can self-manage, self-heal and operate efficiently even when randomly placed.
In the longer term, say 3 to 5 years, I’d expect we’ll see quite a different eco-system. Some product will be sold through operators and some certified models of small cells will be sold directly to the end user. Sales may be directly from ODMs or via ourselves.
We can expect to see a variety of installers become involved, ranging from larger Enterprise oriented system integrators, smaller local integrators to Value Added Resellers. Using open standard interfaces enables a wider eco-system to become engaged, while each operator retains ultimate control of the network operation and performance.