Small Cells, Big Deal

Ericsson’s antenna integrated radio (AIR) product has been a big hit, says Light Reading. Unveiled in February 2011, Ericsson’s AIR combines the antenna and the radio unit — two elements that are traditionally separate — into one compact piece of equipment. The product has been shipping in large volumes throughout 2012.

According to Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown, Ericsson said in the autumn of 2012 that it was shipping 2,000 units per week. The AIR base stations can be used in 2G, 3G and LTE networks, and come in different sizes. The smallest has a radius of 100 meters and is the size of a one-liter milk carton with automated configuration.

It improves mobile network performance and is easier to deploy than conventional products, according to Ericsson.

T-Mobile USA is installing Ericsson’s antennas across its network as it works through its 42Mbit/s network upgrade and Long Term Evolution (LTE) rollout. It’s the largest deployment of the product, according to Ericsson.

The new antenna puts Ericsson ahead of rivals Huawei Technologies and Nokia Siemens Networks, which do not yet have such products available, says Heavy Reading’s Brown. In a recent proof of concept project, Nokia Siemens Networks and “a leading global operator” have jointly demonstrated core virtualization and cloud management.

“NSN and Huawei are doing the same type of product, but they are being a bit more ambitious,” he says. “They are going for a greater number of active antenna elements, which are more complex. Ericsson has gone earlier with a simpler, more practical product and they’ve been able to industrialize it.”

Huawei’s AtomCell solution integrates baseband, radio frequency, and power amplifier functionality in one small box. When four Atoms are combined, an AtomCell can also support MIMO and user-targeting beamforming.

Alcatel-Lucent is going further with its lightRadio strategy, says Rethink Wireless. While the Ericsson AIR system leaves its baseband at the foot of the mast, the lightRadio approach removes it from the cell site with baseband processing done in the cloud.

Alcatel-Lucent’s products are based on their lightRadio, which shrinks antennas and amplifiers, then centralizes the baseband in the cloud. The lightRadio Cube uses a software-based radio that can be used in any spectrum band from 400MHz to 4GHz in both 2G, 3G and LTE. The Alcatel-Lucent 9768 Metro Radio (2.6 GHz), uses directional antennas to extend coverage and capacity both indoors and outdoors. The full architecture will be ready by 2013, says Lucent.

Both Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent initially demonstrated their systems last year at Mobile World Congress. In future the baseband processing will also be integrated into the same unit, according to Ericsson.

Sprint will deploy Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio Metro Cells to augment coverage in high-traffic areas.

The Alcatel-Lucent 9768 Metrocell (left) integrates two lightRadio cubes and a full-sector remote radio head into a single compact unit. Sprint is deploying LTE on its 1900MHz spectrum this year and will start deploying LTE on its 800MHz spectrum in 2014.

Sprint may also use Clear’s TD-LTE-A service (at 2.6 GHz), which is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2013, for additional spectrum in high density urban cores. Clearwire will use Samsung and Huawei gear to upgrade its WiMAX network to TD-LTE.

Samsung will help Sprint develop their Small Cell Network Infrastructure. Samsung’s small cells will allow Sprint to consolidate multiple legacy networks and spectrum bands in a single platform,” said Dale Sohn, president of Samsung Mobile.

Terms weren’t disclosed for the two small cell supply agreements with Alcatel-Lucent and Samsung.

Nokia’s Flexi Multiradio Antenna System (known as Liquid Radio), combine antennas and radio in one enclosure, with dedicated power amplifiers for each antenna element.

Nokia will provide its Single RAN Advanced platform for the LTE deployment, based on its Flexi Multiradio 10 Base Station. Nokia says their Flexi BTS is the only macro basestation that can build outdoor sites without a dedicated cabinet.

Cloud-controlled Radio Access Networks eliminates clutter at the radio site. Remote data centers, linked by fiber, house baseband units, lowering cost by 50%, according to ZTE.

Intel is also interested in Cloud-Radio Access Networks, where the server is the basestation. A remote server would output RF-modulated light, which can travel a mile or more, directly to tiny antennas, lowering cost and providing more control over interference and service options.

China Mobile has over 700 million mobile subscribers and Qualcomm chips are used on 12 of CM’s 30 chosen terminals and handsets. China Mobile aims to sell 100 million end-user TD-LTE devices in 2013. They required terminals to support five modes (TDD, FDD, TD-SCDMA, WCDMA, and GSM/GPRS/EDGE) and 17 spectrum brands.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors that enable spectrum flexibility are in Samsung’s Galaxy S3, Nokia’s Lumia 820/920, Sony’s Xperia Ion, HTC One S, Evo LTE, Droid Razr HD, and Google’s Nexus 4. Qualcomm MDM9615 baseband chip, used in the iPhone 5, is capable of supporting both FD and TD LTE, as well as China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA 3G network. The MDM9625 chipset adds CDMA2000 support.

The small cell and handset infrastructure of China Mobile may benefit Sprint/Softbank most of all. That’s because LTE phones are more likely to add support for the 2.6 GHz band first, since it’s the most globally harmonized. Sprint’s devices may be able to roam globally in nearly every country in the world.

Sprint’s Galaxy S III, LG Optimus G and HTC EVO don’t do 2.6 GHz (yet), but Moto’s Razr-M, Huawei’s Ascend P1 and ZTE’s Grand X do. Everyone will be on board by MWC.

AT&T and Verizon will be stuck at 700 MHz when T-Mobile rolls out LTE on AWS (in a few months). Verizon will follow later with LTE on AWS. AT&T doesn’t know what they’re doing. Small cells on current PCS (1.9 GHz) frequencies will create major interference issues, say network engineers, and 700 MHz is too bulky for small cells on light poles.

China Mobile is deploying 20,000 TD-LTE base stations. Right now. Google will build 2.6 GHz into their LTE phones and may team with Softbank to utilize their 160 MHz of bandwidth. A window antenna could deliver “wireless cable” to homes. That will require capacity that only a 20-40 MHz channel can deliver. Dish and AT&T could use their 40 MHz of 2.1 for IPTV, with 2.3 GHz for small cells.

I guess that about wraps it up for 2012.

Related Dailywireless articles include; FirstNet: The Asymetrical Threat, Intel: Basestation in the Cloud , China Mobile Awards Contracts for TD-LTE, London: The Biggest Small Network in the World, AT&T: 40,000 Small Cells, Softbank & Sprint Do a Deal, WiMax Forum Embraces TD-LTE, Small Cell, Big Growth, Sprint to use LightRadio for Small Cells, London: The Biggest Small Network in the World, Alcatel-Lucent: Small Cell lightRadio, Telefónica Launches lightRadio in Barcelona, LightRadio: Early 2012 Launch, South Korea Completes Nationwide LTE Coverage, Brazilian 4G Auction Raises $1.3B, Huawei LTE 4×4: Goes to 250 Mbps, Clearwire and China Mobile Announce TD-LTE Testing Plan, Europe Supports Shared Spectrum,

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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