Want to make a difference? Deliver capacity where your subscribers are!

July 27, 2015

No mobile operator has unlimited capital, time or resources. So, why should an operator prefer a scalable small cell system to provide 3G/LTE service in medium to large enterprises, rather than just offer femtocells to hundreds of thousands of small enterprises? Wouldn’t covering small enterprises have a bigger impact on subscribers and networks? We think not… here’s why.

1. The impact of enterprise small cells is not proportional to the number of enterprises (believe it or not!), but to the amount of floor-space they cover, because floor-space is proportional to subscribers. As data from the US Department of Energy shows, commercial buildings larger than 50,000 sq. ft., though they are just 5% of all commercial buildings, have more than 50% of commercial floor space (shall we call it the 5/50 rule?). Other studies show similar ratios in other major cellular markets.

2.  If small cells are going to reduce macro cap-ex and improve customer experience, they must deliver capacity where it is needed – in places where thousands of smartphone-toting subscribers congregate. Consider the following… Let’s say a US operator decided to purchase 100,000 small cells and installed these at 100,000 small enterprises spread over the United States, will it be able to reduce its macro network investment? Will millions of subscribers see a marked difference in network quality? We think this is unlikely, as it does not target the medium-large buildings where the most important enterprises reside.  Now, let’s say the same operator used 100,000 small cells to deliver capacity in 2,000 of its busiest buildings in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By doing so, the operator would be adding capacity where it is needed most, in markets packed with high-ARPU subscribers, and where adding new cell sites is extremely expensive.

Perhaps, we are not saying anything that mobile operators do not already know. Every year, operators spend billions of dollars providing coverage inside large buildings using distributed antenna systems and dedicated macro cells. All that we are saying is that operators can leverage the lower price point of scalable small cells to open up a much larger building market that was previously unavailable. Conservatively, operators can triple the number of buildings covered, provide ten times the capacity, and do it all in less time and for less money than they did in the past!

– Amit Jain, Vice President of Marketing & Product Management
Twitter: @SpiderCloud_Inc

Business productivity with an inside-out mobility system

August 12, 2013

Mobility drives improved efficiency and productivity.  Having the ability to work anywhere in a building is only as good as the reliability of the network. Poor indoor coverage and capacity is a growing headache.  IT managers are now turning to their mobile operator to fix the problem. In fact, 61% of IT decision makers from businesses with 250+ employees say that their businesses have struggled with indoor coverage and capacity, and of these, 73% of people had taken steps to address the issue by contacting their mobile operator.

The challenges operators faced when deploying an indoor mobile network can be broadly summarized with: time, cost and complexities.  Speed is of the essence to satisfy the business needs of customers, yet traditional methods of improving indoor coverage take too long to deploy and are too expensive.  For example, installing a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) can take months, if not years, due to local city and building approval cycles, Radio Frequency Planning, etc. It is very costly and involves high complexity, so the solution is not viable for many enterprises. Over the next 5-8 years, DAS will become less relevant for broadband connectivity inside buildings. It is an old technology approach that extends a signal inside a building with unnecessary complexity that adds excessive cost and time to network project plans.

Small cells are an increasingly attractive option for operators, as shown by recent statement partnerships like Qualcomm’s $100 million investment in Alcatel Lucent and Cisco’s even more dramatic $2 billion acquisitions spree.  However, coordinating networks and applying self-optimising network (SON) technology in a small cell environment is very different than dealing with a macro cellular environment. Nokia Siemens Networks, Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson all experienced this when they tried to convert their macro experience into an indoor environment. The experience has to be seamless, accounting for real-time factors such as network congestion and device preferences. In addition it has to be interoperable with other gateways, certified on carrier networks and highly scalable beyond a “mesh” of just 3-5 small cells.

Furthermore, dense indoor networks present several technological challenges. Experience shows the indoor Radio Frequency (RF) environment becomes increasingly complex and challenging as the density of the deployment increases. This is particularly true in multi-story buildings where mobile devices experience a three-dimensional RF environment. A single handset is able to see a very large number of small cells, some on its own floor and others from floors above and below it in buildings with open atriums and in campus areas. A device may experience as many as 3-5 handover events per minute and the radio signal inside buildings experiences flat fading, which means that even a stationary handset sees signal from individual and uncoordinated small cells fluctuate.  Without a central coordination point, or support for soft handoff, such network deployments will experience unacceptable call drop rates.

A scalable small cell system overcomes these obstacles while simplifying the installation process with self-optimizing and self-organizing software, and has the ability to scale to support 100 Multi-access small cells (up to 10,000 devices) with just one services node connection to the operator’s core network. Our very own scalable multi-access 3G, Wi-Fi and 4G/LTE small cell system allows mobile operators to deliver unprecedented cellular coverage, capacity and smart applications to enterprises. The scalable system architecture simplifies deployment and overall network configuration for mobile operators.  Overall, the system provides uninterrupted, trouble-free mobile data and voice services.

Beyond reliable indoor coverage and capacity, a scalable system also gives operators the capability to deliver hosted and managed services over its SCSN for mobility, unified communications (UC), secure access to applications, device management and integration of cloud and telephony (PBX), as well as new context-aware and location-based services.  Exact Ventures recently found that the managed mobility services market presents a $100 billion opportunity to operators, and that enterprises can save 35% a year by adopting such operator-delivered managed and hosted services.

Much as Wi-Fi exploded on the scene 10 years ago and over time segmented into residential and commercial markets in response to differing demands, small cells look set to follow the same trajectory.  Stand-alone small cells are made for homes and small businesses, whereas a system like SpiderCloud’s Enterprise RAN (E-RAN) is made to scale and designed to achieve high-performance mobility so vital to business productivity.

Ronny Haraldsvik SVP/CMO
Twitter: haraldsvik

Addressing the mobile data explosion with small cells

April 16, 2013

Consumer femtocells and their higher power cousins, enterprise and public access femtocells, provide coverage in hard-to-reach areas. But they do not address the mobile data capacity explosion. Why? Because they cannot be used in places where the demand for mobile data is actually exploding!

Spidercloud’s Amit Jain is speaking today at the LTE LATAM 2013 conference, taking place at the Windsor Barra Hotel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The demand for mobile data is highest in places where hundreds or thousands of people congregate, such as large shopping centres and large office buildings. Using a single small cell, irrespective of its power or capacity, will not help operators meet the demand for data. All that the operator will get is dissatisfied subscribers, who can see five bars of coverage, but merely get a few hundred kilobits of data.

To address the mobile data explosion, operators need a small cell system that enables them to:

  • Build a dense small cell network inside buildings, with numerous small cells
  • Easily add more small cells as more smart phones and more apps come on the network
  • Provide consistently high throughout, and consistently low call drop rates
  • Deploy this small cell network in hours or days, with technicians who are not cellular gurus

This is a tall order. The indoor RF environment, especially in large multi-storey buildings is very challenging. In a dense deployment, a handset can see several small cells at the same time. Because of fast fading, a handset may handover from one cell to another several times a minute without moving at all.

So, is a dense small deployment not possible?  Yes and no. It depends on the architecture adopted. Broadly, four architectures have been proposed in the industry:

1)    Femtocells connected to a Home Node B Gateway (HNB-GW) with hard handover
2)    Small cells connected to a Home Node B Gateway (HNB-GW) with soft handover using “Iurh”
3)    Pico-cells connected to a traditional 3G Radio Network Controller (RNC)
4)    Small cells connected to a small local controller. Local controller connects to the core network as single HNB.

The first option, hard handover of femtocells, has been trialled by many operators and most agree that it is not practical to deploy more than 5-10 femtocells in a large building.

Many suppliers who initially proposed the first architecture are now moving to the second architecture. They are implementing soft handover using a variation of the Inter-RNC handover protocol called ‘Iurh’. Since soft handover requires synchronization between small cells, some suppliers are building small cells with expensive oven-controller oscillators. All handover signaling goes over the backhaul link and can become a significant expense. And there is no way for an operator to locally offload data traffic without breaking inter-small cell mobility. Products based on this architecture are currently in development.

The third option is using pico-cells connected to a RNC is another way to do soft handover between small cells. This architecture is often offered by macro cellular infrastructure suppliers, who are able to scale down their macro NodeBs and reuse existing RNCs. It can be attractive if an operator requires a small number of small cells, but in the case of high density deployments, the cost of RNC ports can add up. Further, this architecture does place very stringent requirements on backhaul, and it unclear how SON functionality will be implemented.

In the fourth architecture, all small cells in a building connect to a small local controller over Ethernet. This controller is responsible for managing mobility, interference and SON. It aggregates all the traffic and connects to a HNB gateway as a single HNB would using standard Iuh signaling. All inter-small cell mobility events stay inside the building, and do not load the backhaul link or the HNB-gateway. The local controller acts as the master-clock and synchronizes all the small cells, eliminating the need for expensive oscillators in every small cell. If an operator wants to offload data traffic locally or integrate with enterprise applications, it can do so using the local controller. Some innovative operators are working on innovative enterprise applications that use the network intelligence that can be accessed at the local controller.

SpiderCloud’s 3G small cell solution is based on the fourth architecture. Operators have used it to deploy as many as 65 small cells in a 16-storey office building, with thousand of subscribers and hundreds of thousands of inter-small cell handovers daily and the technology is now ready to provide coverage, capacity and new applications in even larger buildings.

– Amit Jain, VP of Product Management