The Small Cell Sector Is Growing Up

Carl Weinschenk
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2016 Telecommunications Trends: More Choices, Less Lock-In

Small cell technology is a key to alleviating the bandwidth crunch and improving the quality of connectivity. It’s a big deal to mobile carriers.

This week, Verizon and Samsung announced an LTE Network Extender. It is aimed at enterprise customers in mid-sized buildings of 10,000 to 100,000 square feet, according to the story at WirelessWeek. The platform, according to the story, can support 40 or more concurrent users in a 31,500 square foot space. The device supports both data and emerging Voice over LTE (VoLTE) services.

Nokia, according to Telecom Paper, has also announced small cell innovations. The Nokia Flexi Zone Mini-Macro Base Station, according to the company, provides 2x20W of power and is easy to deploy. The goal is to cost-effectively eliminate coverage gaps.

The company also said that its LTE-Advanced Pro LWA can integrate into small cells. It enables use of unlicensed spectrum, which increases potential data rates available to subscribers. New synchronization options, the story says, cut small cell deployment costs.

The third item from Nokia is Site Certified for Overall Relative Efficiency (SCORE). The idea is to provide “a straightforward rating” of base station locales. The elements considered in the assessments include network performance and cost of deployment.

On the non-product front, FierceWireless reported this week that Sprint CTO John Saw said the carrier is considering replacing fiber with 2.5 GHz spectrum it controls for small cell backhaul. The rationale is to reduce costs:

Saw added that the company is currently conducting field tests for using its 2.5 GHz spectrum to backhaul its small cell traffic. Sprint has between 160 MHz and 194 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in many of its markets. ‘I am confident that with a backhaul strategy of dark fiber and microwave radio and small cells being surgical and precise, we can have a very low cost and efficient backhaul plan,’ Saw said.

Saw’s comments come a week after Re/code reported that Sprint is considering a “radical overhaul of its cellular network” that would include changes to its macro tower assets. The small cell backhaul appears to be a separate, related step.

Kumu, a startup I blogged about last week, could be a big player in small cell development. Telecom Italia, partnering with the firm, ran a test of full duplex small cell backhaul near Turin. The trial, carried out in a live network, could lead to a significant increase in the capacity of small cell backhaul and other networks by allowing transitions to occur simultaneously in both directions.

Small cell technology is a very important part of the wireless landscape. The key is to get signals to and from the antennas precisely and inexpensively. It seems that the challenge is being addressed by a number of vendors and carriers.  

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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