June has come round again, which can only mean one thing for the small cell industry – the Small Cells World Summit 2012 is here. Previously the Femtocell World Summit, this event is a showcase for industry innovation and a forum in which to discuss all the pertinent questions and latest developments. Unlike many other events in the telecoms calendar, this one is devoted entirely to small cell issues, rather than the mobile industry as a whole.
We’ve got a stand again this year’s event, showcasing a number of our small cell devices, including our new smart cell, running on the Orange network. It’s exciting to be able to show our products working on a real network, demonstrating how this technology works outside of a controlled environment. If you’re reading this from the summit, why not stop by and see what we’re doing?
The main issues being discussed at this year’s event centre around deployment challenges, particularly when dealing with outdoor public access small cells, and how small cell solutions are going to work with existing WiFi and macro networks. Read on to find out what some of the big names in mobile had to say about these timely questions.
Small Cell Forum update
Prof. Simon Saunders, Chairman of the Small Cells Forum
The first talk of the day, from Prof. Simon Saunders, took a look at the direction the Small Cell Forum is heading in during 2012. One of the big topics that came up in Simon’s talk was the need to ensure that small cells are differentiated for deployment in specific environments. There is also a need to work together with existing WiFi networks, rather than trying to compete with them. This is the best approach for everyone involved – especially the end users.
Key to the work of the Small Cell Forum is engaging and getting buy-in from operators. They are doing well at this, currently boasting 67 operators within their membership, with combined subscribers totalling an impressive 2.99 billion, or 47% of mobile subscribers globally. Add this to the 76 vendors and it’s easy to see why the Forum is key to the future of small cells. It’s a future that looks extremely promising too: the Forum predicts there will be more small cells than macrocells by the end of this year, reaching a total of 6.4 million deployments.
But it’s not all rosy. As the scope and scale of small cell deployments grow, and as the technology evolves, new challenges are arising. Ensuring compatibility across different types of equipment is important, especially due to the increasing variation in the types and capabilities of small cells, with the ability to self organise and work with existing macro networks being of particular importance. The other major issue the industry is facing right now is the need to improve user experience, as the technology comes into increasing contact with consumers in public areas.
If you’re interested in the Forum and their work, download their brand new Small Cells Market status report, which includes case studies, survey results and market data to highlight the current state of the industry.
Delivering a great customer experience through a portfolio of small cell solutions
Meredith Sharples, Alan Law and Sebastien Pham, Vodafone Group
The most important thing for getting consumers on board with the small cell deployments was the central point from the Vodafone Group in the second talk of the day.
There are four big points, they argue, that are essential to making this happen:
- Quickening the pace of standardisation in the small cell industry;
- Making pricing more competitive and drive down the cost;
- Reducing the number of site boxes and increasing the availability of multi-technology solutions;
- Growing revenues by developing more value added services.
How femtocells support Orange’s B2B strategy
Emmanuel Adnot, Orange
Orange took a different direction in their talk, focusing on the B2B market for enterprise small cells, in preparation for their UK rollout this summer. They current have no plans for B2C deployments of small cells.
The main issue here is that the needs of enterprise customers are much more specific from those of consumers. This is where WiFi as a complementary solution really comes into play. For example, it makes more sense for enterprises to use WiFi for small groups of workers, such as homeworkers. But as soon as the scale gets larger, with lots of workers and visitors in one space, enterprise small cells are by far the best solution. They are also ideally suited to improving communication within a business, bringing coverage to areas such as basements or storerooms that have previously been black holes for signal.
Deploying small cells in a big world
Martin Guthrie, NEC
This potentially controversial talk, concerned with the capacity challenges facing small cells and the difference in priorities between operators and vendors, was softened by the jokes, joviality and general good humour of the speaker.
The big problem is that the vendors are concerned with the technological side of small cells, and solving the technical issues, while operators are concerned with revenue. This will become more acute as capacity inevitably cannot keep up with demand, leading to higher prices and poorer services for frustrated consumers, trying to get the best out of a congested network. Any solution is going require striking a careful balance between the pico, femto and macro level cells, making sure that they work together effectively as far as possible.
Delivering small cells into the heart of London
Robert Joyce, Telefonica
The third operator to talk on day one, Telefonica, took yet another alternative approach to small cell deployments. Their focus wasn’t on enterprise or closed consumer small cells, but on open, public access cells, for large urban spaces.
As you can imagine, public space deployments can be a legal nightmare. Telefonica, for example, had to get permission for 400 lamppost sites in London – not an easy task.
This talk ended with an interesting concept for urban environments: a solar powered femtocell. The prototype already exists – could they be part of the future of small cells?
The NGMN Alliance and small cells activities
Julius Robson, NGMN Alliance
The NGMN Alliance are concerned with finding the best solutions for the next generation of mobile networks. As such, their work looks at the best situation for deploying small cells as part of a boarder network, comparing the various solutions on the market, and working out the specific backhaul requirements of small cells.
Small cells have very specific deployment requirements, meaning ease of installation must be taken into account at every stage to make sure that the number of deployment sites can be maximised. This means keeping them small and light, and making them tamper-proof. Encryption is also essential, to increase trust in small cells and their ability to safely handle data.
If you want to know more, take a look at the NGMN Alliance’s white paper on small cell backhaul requirements [PDF].
Panel discussion: Backhaul challenges for small cell deployment
To round off the day, we took some questions to the panel. Some interesting points came out of the discussion, nicely complementing the talks:
- A wide range of backhaul solutions are required;
- WiFi is free, but operators are sceptical of its value for backhaul;
- Quality of service is inextricably tied to the backhaul environment. This, along with quality of experience, is essential for end users;
- The direction of the market will ultimately come down to the priorities of operators in trying to drive revenue;
- Rural deployments are a mixed bag. For some areas, just having service to start with would be a good next step. This makes quality of service a lesser priority;
- Robustness is especially important in public access small cells, as their reliability affects entire communities.