Small cell deployments are one of the most popular long-term strategies of mobile operators worldwide because they provide the capacity boost needed in the near term, along with the flexibility and compact form factor needed for highly-localised deployments in high-traffic environments.
Mobile operators no longer see wi-fi offload and small cells as competing solutions. They realise both are needed with each playing an important role within a multi-RAT, multi-layer cellular network - spanning from macro base stations at one end to residential femto cells at the other.
Once a mobile operator has wi-fi offload infrastructure in place, it has done most of the hard work to roll out LTE small cells. Thanks to its early wi-fi "land grab", it has secured a network of permitted wi-fi access points and small cell sites, with power, backhaul, and lease agreements, ahead of its competitors without wi-fi offload. Access to small cell mounting real estate is crucial to keep installation and operation costs down, and to reduce deployment times.
Not only can wi-fi and LTE operate side by side, but they completely complement each other in an integrated deployment strategy, delivering the highest capacity increase afforded by next generation radio technology and spectrum availability, combined with the lowest TCO.
The initial deployment of an IEEE 802.11n wi-fi offload solution (if it's Smart) provides mobile operators with an immediate capacity increase, available to most data-centric devices already in the hands of their subscribers. But equally importantly, the wi-fi infrastructure provides the foundation on which mobile operators can realise their longer-term data strategy, by establishing a network of sites that can be shared by wi-fi and LTE small cells. Once they decide to roll out LTE small cells, operators can simply add an LTE small module to their wi-fi access points - sharing lease costs and backhaul capacity.
This small cell strategy looks to deliver BIG time benefits.
Steve Glapa is senior director of field marketing, Ruckus Wireless.
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