Mobile operators are struggling to survive in an industry with seemingly overwhelming demand but with capacity constraints. What sounds like significant opportunity is actually creating bottleneck issues that without relief can imperil operators competitiveness simply due to lack of the ability to provide quality service. To handle the traffic influx, most mobile service providers around the world are considering or are well along in metro cell deployment. That said they faces significant challenges in understanding the why, where, when and how metro cell deployments can be optimized.
In a recent Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) TechZine article,Answers to the Top 5 Questions on Metro Cell Deployment, Azfar Aslam, Director of Bell Labs (News - Alert) Advisory Services, and Alistair Urie, Product Differentiation Director Wireless Business, Alcatel-Lucent addressed the major challenges regarding optimal metro cell deployment head-on. The authors delve into the details of well-defined deployment strategies, and how such deployments can achieve the lowest possible total cost of ownership (TCO) without sacrificing on large capacity increases, coverage and improved customer experiences.
Interestingly, the authors point out there is no need to wait. Indeed, they can enjoy the benefits afforded in 3G metro cell deployments now, even as they deploy 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) in their marco cellular infrastructure. They note that this is not to minimize the challenges when two different networks exist. For instance, LTE (News - Alert) and W-CDMA networks support very different deployment architectures, introducing their own unique issues.
The five questions
Now to those five questions and the author's answers.
The first question, why, relates to the lowest TCO argument. Metro cell provide operators more capacity for less money. Operators need to be able to meet capacity demands of an increasingly mobile society that wants access to real-time, rich and personalized applications. The revenue opportunities in meeting this demand are significant, as long as capacity is there to support it.
The second question, where, is a bit more of a challenge. Typically, deployment takes place in one of three areas:
- Outdoor urban hotspots
- Indoor urban hotspots
- Rural locations
Outdoor locations tend to be high-traffic locations where many users are mobile and will be tapping the network all at the same time, including train stations, shopping centers and airports. Indoor locations tend to be convention centers and hotel lobbies. Rural location deployments serve to extend packet data services and voice, boosting service to rural areas.
The third question, when, is simple. The answer is now. For example, if the current network is W-CDMA its quality o f experience (QoE) can immediately be improved. In heavily trafficked areas there is a clear demand for accessing the LTE network. Metro cells provide this access and the authors note that Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio technologies enable this giving them the capacity they need today and a smooth glide path to the future.
The fourth question, how, points to the build out of a metro cell radio express access network that is deployed on top of the existing macro network. The options are to use the 3GPP-defined macro architecture, the Iub, the Home NodeB, or the HNB, architecture, the Iuh, to integrate the metro cells. There are differences between the two methods that must be examined against the current architecture in place.
The final question asks whether or not the operator should use a dedicated or shared carrier. Both solutions can be built to suit the need, although a selective dedicated carrier tends to be preferred for metro cell deployments, especially if an outdoor environment is selected for deployment. This allows for exclusive use of the metro cells, providing the operator with more control over capacity.
Growing wireless demand makes it clear that operators must make significant investments to handle the influx regardless of location. However, they must have a good plan in place, and understand all of the ramifications in terms of timing and technology if they are to achieve the desired results.
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Edited by Peter Bernstein