Small Cells at MWC: Obstacles and Progress

    The flavor of 5G for which the major players, with the notable exception of T-Mobile, are planning involves very high frequency spectrum. There is a lot of new science in this. What is already well understood is that the nature of spectrum that high will require small cells. The macro cells that have sufficed to date are incapable of doing it alone.

    This is a big logistical challenge even under the best conditions. At Mobile World Congress in San Francisco, executives for Nokia and Sprint asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to eliminate some of the non-technical obstacles. The pleas came from executives from Nokia and Sprint, according to a report by FierceWireless on a panel discussion at this week’s Mobile World Congress in San Francisco.

    The obstacles include fees and demands that certain tasks, often unrelated, be performed in exchange for the right to deploy. This is expensive and time consuming. Brian Hendricks, Nokia’s head of policy and government relations, suggests that carriers may have to pay $10 billion in license fees to condition the U.S. telecom infrastructure.

    Writing big checks may be the easy part. The story also had input from Charles McKee, Sprint’s vice president of Government Affairs for Federal and State Regulatory. The bottom line, according to McKee, is that municipalities see the opportunity to get some goodies in exchange for their cooperation:

    …some cities have asked Sprint to deploy all new street lights across the entire city as a prerequisite to Sprint installing small cells on some street lights for cellular coverage. He said that other cities have asked the carrier to provide free, citywide Wi-Fi as a condition to accessing the city’s infrastructure.

    Participants in the panel on which the report was based suggested that the FCC and the Trump Administration take strong action to streamline the process.

    This issue, as important as it is, will not slow down the development of small cell technology. On the product front, Samsung Electronics subsidiary Electronics America introduced a small cell family aimed at homes, enterprises and outdoor service areas. The family can use Licensed Assisted Access and Citizens Band Radio Service (LAA and CBRS) approaches and frequencies. The small cells deployed can be managed in the cloud.

    Samsung Electronics America also said that it will work on 4G and 5G lab and field trials with Charter Communications “at various locations in the U.S.” through the end of the year. The goal of the 5G element of the program is to evaluate Samsung pre-commercial equipment at 28 GHz, which are multi millimeter  (mmWave) wavelengths. The 4G element will be at the 3.5 GHz CBRS frequency. Small cells will be part of the test.

    Finally, there was news on small cells’ use in development of Mobile-Central Office Re-Architected as a Datacenter (M-CORD). This a nascent approach aimed at bringing functions previously consigned to the data center to carrier networks, including the edge nearest end users. Sponsors of the open source initiative made several announcements at MWC. One of these is its integration with commercial small cells. This, according to the press release, will enable M-CORD field trials with outdoor-hardened radio access network (RAN) components.

    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.


    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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