Nokia-Siemens Networks has consolidated all their small cell solutions into a single product group. Randy Cox, who heads up their Small Cell product management, highlights what's holding back the small cell market today, identifies changing requirements for small cells and explains his view of where public Wi-Fi fits into the picture.
Nokia Siemens Networks have recently won the EE residential/small enterprise deal with 3G femtocells. How does Nokia Siemens Networks determine when selling Femto ends and Flexizone starts? Are there any overlaps?
We've consolidated all our small cell solutions into a single, consolidated product group with a comprehensive portfolio from residential 3G through 4G picocells and Wi-Fi.
We see 3G/LTE Femto primarily as a coverage tool particularly suitable for the enterprise indoor market where operators needs a cost effective tool to rapidly offer improved coverage and data services. It also has a role to play for some lower density type public indoor locations. Flexi Zone is designed to be a fantastic outdoor capacity underlay tool and what can do outdoor, can also be used for indoor capacity because the challenges of indoor are lot easier. In that regard we see Flexi Zone being used in dense environments where capacity is key (think tube station, concert halls, exhibition venues etc.) or in a mix indoor/outdoor locations where people are moving around (airport, train stations, large business/university campuses, etc...).
The scope of small cell solutions has broadened considerably to include Wi-Fi, 3G, femto, pico and micro. There are different definitions of what the various terms mean, and we often have to explain/review and agree terminology with customers to avoid confusion.
For example, the distinction between residential and enterprise is becoming more of a grey area, with less difference in RF power, capacity and features. Indoor requirements have also been changing rapidly this quarter:
- Up to now, RF power was 20-30mW, low cost, minimum functionality
- Today, it's multimode (more access technologies 3G/4G and/or Wi-Fi) and higher RF power.
Demand is changing towards a much more sophisticated residential product than before. There is global interest for this new scope, but perhaps less in Europe and we have not yet seen much demand for an integrated wireline modem/set-top box with femtocell.
I believe we are seeing views congregate around RF power levels to define the different classes:
- Up to 1W = femto
- 2x 1W up to 5W = pico
- 4W/5W and up = micro
We don't see a lot of demand for outdoor femto, where instead operators need higher RF powered units to penetrate in-building and increase the range of coverage. There is also a need for more advanced solutions which are able to manage interference and support full mobility like a macro. Based on the predicted number of outdoor small cells required for capacity in the future, these must achieve a very low TCO which will mean it must take full advantage of the complete SON paradigm.
Nokia Siemens Networks has been promoting carrier grade Wi-Fi as a part of the solution. Are you doing anything unique here or that requires the latest handsets?
We launched Smart Wi-Fi at Mobile World Congress 2013, recommending three stages to success for cellular operators:
- Get it now
- Upgrade to LTE+Wi-Fi
a) Get it now
Wi-FI offers a huge ecosystem, low cost parts and is widely available in smartphones today supporting up to 600MHz of unlicenced spectrum. Operators can quickly gain capacity by partnering with existing Wi-Fi operators/aggregators or building out themselves.
I believe landgrab is a critical strategic issue today. We advocate that "He who gets to the light pole first, wins". Acquiring locations for small cells can be incredibily difficult but is very important for the longer term. Offering free Wi-Fi is one method to gain a footprint quickly while also achieving data offload.
The downside of today's customer experience is that authentication may not be seamless, and some system require a password/login screen which reduces consumer uptake.
b) Integrating with Wi-Fi
Seamless authentication based on your existing SIM card, using some of the new standards from the WBA and Wi-FI alliance, should make Wi-Fi access a breeze.
Integrating this into the packet core, providing the same policy management, charging and lawful intercept mechanisms should make this easier for both consumer and network operator alike.
c) Upgrade to LTE and Wi-Fi
Our vision is to have the Wi-Fi become just another radio access technology, using traffic steering to make best use of it alongside QoS monitoring to assure the customer experience.
We feel we are in a good place to provide innovative solutions.
What's holding the industry back at the moment is figuring out the exact use cases – there are a wide range of views across the industry. Regardless of that, some operators have made a decision to proceed, expecting to learn from their initial experience and be ahead of the pack.
Some areas are forecast to have very dense penetration of small cells, as many as 10x the number of today's macro/microcells.What issues do you see in making this work better and are today's standards adequate to cope with that yet?
LTE was designed from the outset to handle large numbers of small cells, integrating efficiently and effectively with macrocells as a HetNet. 4G standards by default allow better interference management for femtocells than 3G.
In dense high traffic areas, 3G is more of a challenge and struggles with interference and handoffs.
Anything from 4x to 100x are quite possible ranges of the numbers of small cells per macro and we could even see higher numbers in exceptional areas.
But let's not get too hung up on the purely RF side of the story. NSN looks at small cells with a holistic view and we see there are wider issues which may constrain the numbers of small cells deployed, such as the ability to gain site access/location and the ability to manage such large number of cells.
Any other observations about the state of the small cell market today?
What's holding the market back most is lack of clarity and consensus around the use cases and the solutions for them. I've heard a wide variety of views about this from different operators I speak to around the globe.
Some operators aren't letting that prevent progress though, and are making decisions, deploying and learning for themselves rather than waiting to find out from their competitors' experience.
We have a comprehensive small cell portfolio, complete from residential through to Micro/Macro and Wi-Fi, and are able to address a wide range of these use cases.