LIVE FROM SMALL CELLS WORLD SUMMIT 2018, LONDON: Europe continues to lag in adoption of small cells, as the technology is set to become pivotal for 5G rollouts, industry experts warned today (22 May).
Kicking off the event, David Orloff, chair of the Small Cell Forum (pictured), said: “Small cells are integral for 5G, and the reality is that there are capacity needs, there are latency needs, and both of these aspects can be driven through integration with small cells.”
He observed: “Europe is lagging. We need a new mindset, we need to look at different ways on this – in the 5G era we do have densification needs in the entire global industry, and we need to work [out] solutions to ensure the framework is there and the foundations are there. We need to think differently.”
Speaking about the global rollout of small cell technology, he continued: “We see global synergies and global barriers, but we also see regional barriers that are delaying densification. A good example in the US is cell siting; in India there is a cost target that has to be met; in China there’s mindsets around operations; and in Europe there is a question around the business case and whether it is profitable to do densification.”
“Asia is cranking, North America is doing well, really preparing that framework and foundation and starting to deploy cells that are NR capable, so that we have a structure in place so that we can turn on 5G, working on mmWave. Europe is pretty far down.”
Notwithstanding this lag, Small Cell Forum forecasts an increase in the number of non-resident small cells deployed in Europe from 52,000 in 2017 to 310,000 in 2022. But mobile operator deployments are not the only game in town: enterprises are an important driving force due to quality of service and IoT requirements, and technologies including MulteFire and CBRS are easing the way for new players.
Orloff observed: “The MNO still has an opportunity, and even if it’s not the classic MNO, it could be a disrupter. We’re seeing now more disruptors in the MNO space come into the environment: the classic example is in India, obviously, but we are seeing a new operator emerge in Japan now, in North America and in France we’re seeing cable operators actually work to try and compete in this space as well. I’m surprised there are not more, and if we don’t sort out the densification issue in Europe, more are going to come into play.”
Irvind Ghai, VP of the connectivity networking business unit, enterprise carrier small cells at Qualcomm Atheros, said in a briefing today: “Our small cell business has doubled in the last year, of course its [a] small base compared to the rest of Qualcomm, but it has doubled. A lot of that growth is coming from emerging markets, or some of the established players in North America. So for us, we see 5G as a big growth opportunity in the European carrier base also.”
Graham Payne, an industry executive with significant experience in UK shared mobile networks, who has moved into the small cell space as CEO of Opencell, said: “In order to make it cost effective, for whoever pays, shared infrastructure gives you phenomenal savings and has to be the way to deal with it.”
Orloff said Small Cell Forum is working with partners from beyond the telecoms space, looking to vertical markets where the technology could find a home: “We started with hospitality and hotels, now we’re moving and we’re completely immersed in healthcare, and then we are going to move toward property management,” he said.
John Gravett, head of telecoms at property management company Cluttons, highlighted the importance of connectivity: a survey found 60 per cent of millennials would look for a rent rebate if they were in a property with poor broadband.
“The built environment works with a traditional approach. It’s all about yield value, about property value, that’s the key aspect: ‘was my investment worth it?’ The operators haven’t really sold to date the concept of being a true utility, which is what it is – you have gas and water in a building, you want connectivity nowadays. We need to try and get the value back to landlords, to say ‘this is where your returns are’,” he said.
Equipment vendors have already begun pushing 5G small cell technology. Earlier this week, Qualcomm announced what it described as “the industry’s first 5G NR solution targeted for small cells and remote radio head deployments”.
While the company said it is working with “early access customers”, the FSM100xx technology is expected to begin sampling “in 2019”.
Ghai said support for mmWave, which is well aligned for small cell deployments, is an important feature, alongside support for sub-6GHz frequencies.
“We are thinking through what the actual use cases can be, and how we can create an architecture that is actually optimised for real world use cases, versus just one use case.”
Ritchie Peng, president of Huawei’s small cell product line (pictured, right), said “when we talk about 5G, it starts from now, and we need to think about how to make it ready from day one. And that means that for indoor coverage, there needs to be something in advance”.
He also noted 5G small cells will have different performance requirements to macro 5G cells. Throughput could be less, he suggested, and “considering the limitations of the boxes, we believe 4T4R [MIMO] – a technology deployed now in LTE – may become the major technology for indoor in 5G” – whereas outdoor environments will see much higher order MIMO.
Huawei is looking to address 5G small cells with products in its LampSite line, targeting C-band spectrum deployments. The range includes both standalone 5G and dual mode 5G/LTE products.