Nokia have been making great strides with Small Cell deployment in recent years, both indoors and out. I caught up with Stephane Daeuble, Senior Product Marketer for Nokia Small Cells. In addition to growing take-up of indoor and outdoor small cells by traditional operators, he foresees the next pocket of growth for Small Cells expanding into Private LTE for vertical markets.
What’s your current view of the Small Cell market status?
We share the same view as the rest of the industry. We’ve all been waiting a long time for the small cell market to mature, but recognise that they are now a widely accepted tool within most networks. Perhaps Europe is a little behind the curve, but all markets are picking up at a fast pace as they continue to invest in LTE, densifying and paving the way to 5G.
Those operators who have adopted outdoor small cells didn’t wait for the planning rules to change but found ways around them. Everybody in the ecosystem now recognises that they can’t be too greedy about their slice of the cake (site rental fees, service deployment costs etc.). The number of deployments is now considerable with many operators deploying several thousands of units annually.
We are seeing now that once outdoor hotspots have been resolved there is a need to move indoors to tackle the capacity needs. In terms of outdoor dense urban deployments like city centres, we find that roughly three to four small cells per macrocell satisfy the outdoor demand for capacity. The rest is then best handled through indoor deployments and will require many more, as we evolve towards 5G. In effect, new building environmental regulations are making it more difficult than ever to penetrate into buildings from outside. The trend towards higher orders of modulation and greater use of higher frequencies above 2GHz has increased the demand for indoor solutions.
For those who have deployed VoLTE, Wi-Fi Calling is a cost-effective option for triple-play operators and seems to work well in residential homes. In multi-tenant apartments, public indoor and busy campus environments the inherent limitation of Wi-Fi in terms of quality of service means cellular voice service remains another important driver for small cell indoor deployments.
Operator strategy on indoor varies greatly but in most advanced markets, operators realise the value to differentiate through better quality of service. This combined with the lower cost of indoor small cell deployment compared with DAS makes it very compelling.
LAA, which adds downlink supplementary channels in the unlicensed 5GHz band, is another driver for small cell deployments. While it was originally thought to be most relevant for indoor small cells, due to the reduced coverage in 5GHz spectrum, over the past few months, we are seeing very encouraging performance data point from the field showing that it works remarkably well outside, providing a coverage boost area much wider than expected. As we demonstrated a few years ago at MWC, despite the use of 5GHz, the LTE uplink robustness means the LAA benefit extends up to 150 to 200m radius – not very far off many outdoor urban small cells ISD.
The US is ahead with LAA because they had a chance to leapfrog using LTE-U and started deployments earlier – using small cells that can be software upgraded to LAA. We are now seeing an increased interest from Asian and European markets, and we expect LAA support in more devices will drive further momentum for LAA small cells.
Where will we find the next growth opportunity?
Beyond 5G where we expect to see a lot of small cell deployments right from the start, the market often talked about Enterprise as the next major market for small cells, providing great voice connectivity to complement Wi-Fi data. But we are now seeing the next big opportunity in the ability to connect Industrial Processes and related IoT applications.
Industrial verticals today use Ethernet cables today to connect their sensors, machines, robots, etc…. Nokia believes mobile connectivity has the scope to provide as much change to the industrial segments, as it did for everybody in the last 20 years.
While many of them experimented with Wi-Fi, they found it not enough reliable, robust, secure or predictable for their needs. Industrial processes need the right wireless technology that can provide Ethernet-like reliability, security and predictability and this is where LTE and later on 5G come in, complementing Wi-Fi, that will stay for day-to-day business communication.
These LTE networks in industrial campuses, will take shape leveraging small cells, that provide the right all-in-one compact form factor, ease of deployment and cost point for these many private LTE deployments.
3GPP radio technology, having now proven their worth for public safety use with very stringent requirements, can play a significant role in providing business critical wireless connectivity with the extra benefit of mobility. For example, the use of private LTE provides industry verticals, the flexibility to move machines around based on production needs, add 1000’s of sensors to improve process and quality without worrying about the cabling, or even allow for remote driving of vehicles, forklift trucks, etc…
Based on the needs for digitalisation and number of mission/business critical applications, we are seeing most interest from the five major segments below:
- Oil & Gas
It was noticeable this year at MWC where we saw a large number of delegates coming from many industrial segments and enquiring about wireless/mobile technology use case for their businesses.
Eating our own dog food
To create private LTE networks, Nokia is deploying our Flexi Zone small cells, combined with MEC (virtual Multi-access Edge Computing to run IoT applications) within our own manufacturing & logistics hubs.
Using this campus LTE, we connect hundreds of sensors, power tools, machines or even introduce new applications like inventory drones. While we do so, we then evaluate the added business efficiency and agility it gives us, the value of the intelligence we get from digitalisation, the quality benefits of being able to remote monitor or act according to real time information, etc….
For example, the ease with which we are now able to reconfigure our test equipment’s for different production types, means we are able to significantly reduce factory downtime.
Beyond our own sites, we now have significant numbers of references in that space from mining, harbours, utilities, etc… One of the recent public project was replacing Wi-Fi with LTE throughout Helsinki airport working with Ukkoverkot, enabling connectivity for the airport workers and moving vehicles such as marshalling cars to the fuel trucks.
The beauty of LTE is its ability, using a single network, to support many different purposes for people and machines, but also replace traditional legacy radio technologies such as PMR. With the same LTE network, we are able to run applications such as voice push-to-talk, but also LTE-M and NB-IoT for lower datarate long battery life sensors and machines, or very high data rate such as LTE connected security video cameras.
Private LTE including CBRS and MulteFire
While many network operators will play a key role in the private LTE space, leveraging their spectrum assets, we see CBRS and MulteFire as positive development that will drive faster adoption of LTE in these verticals.
In effect using unlicensed or lightly shared spectrum, MulteFire (5GHz) and in the US CBRS (3.5GHz band) allow verticals to deploy their own Private LTE networks. At the same time, we also see many operators looking at MulteFire as a method to offer LTE quality connectivity services to their corporate customers’ sites, extending into those countries where they don’t own spectrum.
Small Cells are the second enabler and now widely available. Nokia has recently announced our MulteFire small cell product – the world’s first.
MEC (Multi-access Edge Computing) is the third enabler, providing reliable low latency value added applications running close to the edge. These can host everything from a full autonomous LTE host (standalone LTE network). They can also be used through a major operator as a local breakout (keeping the company data confidential) and can run any applications required by the verticals (Video orchestration, Analytics, IoT management, Security access management, etc…)
Of course devices will also be needed and for industry you need more than mobile phones – LTE enabled rugged tablets/PC, LTE connected sensors, LTE IoT GW. These exist using the current LTE bands, for CBRS we have trial devices already and we are probably 9-12 months away from 1st commercial MulteFire end-user devices.
We are seeing considerable momentum building for MulteFire; with the MulteFire alliance doubling their membership in the past year and the significant interest we saw at MWC18 from industry verticals, we believe there is a very bright future for industrials to leverage LTE connectivity to embrace IoT, and leapfrog into the 4th industrial revolution.
More details of Nokia’s Small Cells can be found on their website.
For more on MulteFire, visit the MulteFire Alliance website