The growth in the demand for cellular and Wi-Fi wireless capabilities at any time and at/within any location is driving the demand for small cell technology network deployments. Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) to help eliminate capacity issues for cellular operators or extend the reach of Wi-Fi services (including those of cable TV companies and other network services providers) has launched a new service designed specifically to support all types of wireless operators in the challenging task of deploying metro cell/small cell networks.
Alcatel-Lucent’s vice president in charge of wireless strategy and marketing, Parker Ross, offers his insights on the company’s new service, lightRadio Metro Cell Express, in an interesting piece entitled, Mobile Europe Insight Report 2012. He explains how the combination of technology and Alcatel-Lucent professional services will enable operators to efficiently and quickly overcome the issues that deployment of small cell networks poses.
As Ross points out, along with the growing demand for mobile broadband at the macro cellular level comes the necessity to implement small cells in strategic locations to boost capacity and put network capacity closer to the heaviest traffic areas and users. As operators start to address the challenges such deployments raise they have come to understand that metro cell deployment is complicated. It demands a wide range of skill sets and experience — something Alcatel-Lucent has in abundance from having deployed most of the major LTE (News - Alert) small cell networks that are in commercial operation around the world. These are skills that likely do not exist even in the largest of service provider organizations.
Before addressing in depth the deployment issues, however, the industry really needs a reality check, Ross notes. For example, he suggests that even a mere reference to small cells can mean different things to different people. No industry consensus exists to clearly define the term, set the standard for infrastructure or determine exactly what type of small cells are needed in different deployments. Hence, without clear guidance on the process, even sophisticated operators could face challenges and complexities that will be difficult to overcome.
To truly deploy the right small cells network and support the growing demand for mobile broadband, operator strategies need to be coordinated in both the technology and the business model. Without this coordination, operators could quickly face a reduction in value. There are big questions to be addressed:
- Where should small cells be place for optimal radio performance?
- How and where can small cells be sited given regulatory issues and local ordinances?
- How can networks be deployed that are cost-effective based also on such critical operational issues as the availability of power and access to backhaul networks
In addition, this must fit into a business context of a hotly competitive market. Indeed, as noted by Thomas Wehmeier, Principal Analyst with Informa (News - Alert) Telecoms & Media, “Although I believe we have clearly explained how Wi-Fi can and should play a complementary role for operators, I don’t believe we have sufficiently outlined the risks and threats to future operator business models."
To guarantee that successful deployment, operators therefore have a lot of pre-deployment strategic and tactical planning that must be done. This process demands a rethinking of the plan, design and implementation of the network based on getting the right mix of answers to the questions above and many others. At the same time, business relationships and partnerships must also be examined in their relation to the support of the build out of small cells to support mobile broadband.
It should also be note that in addition to its lightradio Metro Cell Express, Alcatel-Lucent is offering the Self Organizing and Self Optimizing Networks (SON). This enables operators to drive the lower cost of deployment and overall operation through the automation of a number of processes that are currently labor and time-intensive. That said, from a holistic standpoint, nothing is perfect, and there are challenges to be addressed before the full opportunities available in SON technology can be optimized.
The debate surrounding the deployment of small cells and the small cell network continues throughout the global industry. Leaders are focused on developing the standards and protocols necessary to support consistency in the field, yet challenges remain. That said, for those operators looking to get a leg up by being early deployers of next generation LTE small cell technology, the new Alcatel-Lucent service provides the combination of technology and experience that can make a very complex process manageable and help pave the path to successful deployments.
Edited by Peter Bernstein