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Harnessing the big potential of small cells

Karl Horne, Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific, Ciena | March 26, 2015
While deploying small cells, plan for the backhaul requirements too.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Karl Horne of Ciena
Karl Horne, Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific, Ciena

A plethora of newer and faster wireless devices supporting an ever-increasing range of applications continues to strain mobile networks worldwide. Video streaming, social media, Internet browsing, and applications dominate mobile phone usage today.

The continued proliferation and growing popularity of social media apps meansthis pressure on mobile networks will only intensify in coming years. As Internet of Things (IoT) and associated Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications come of age, there will be even further pressure placed upon mobile networks the world over.

In the Asia Pacific region, mobile data consumption is growing at unparalleled rates. Arecent survey conducted by ACG Research found that Asia Pacific has higher current mobile broadband bandwidth requirements than the other regions; which suggests a more mature market. Driven by growing demand for mobile data, 68.6% of the world's mobile data hotspots were in Asia Pacific, according to ABI Research(2014). Gartner expects worldwide mobile data traffic to grow 59% in 2015 over 2014.

In this scenario, it is not surprising that mobile network operators (MNO) are grappling with a 'capacity crunch'. They are faced with an urgent need to increase network capacity and mobile broadband speeds without incurring prohibitive costs.

MNOs need to be well positioned to take advantage of this data boom with quality services, which is only possible when they upgrade their networks accordingly to meet growing capacity and speed demands.

Increasingly, heterogenous networks are emerging as the network strategy of choice for operators. Small cells are being used to fill coverage gaps as well as augment the capacity in under-served areas. Small cells bring low-powered radios physically closer to end-users to strategically improve bothcapacity and coverage without the prohibitive costs of new macro cell base stations.

As operators in Asia explore different options to serve data hungry consumers, and LTE and LTE-A adoption spreads, small cells will become an integral part of network architecture in the region. The Asia-Pacific region will represent more than 50% of the worldwide small cell equipment market by 2019, according to ABI Research.

Integrating new small cells with existing macro cell networks
'Densification' - or the dense deployment of small cells throughout the macro cell network - will augment the capacity and coverage of the overall wireless network.Widespread deployment of small cells is easier than macro cells, but densification alone will not yield improvements in network capacity and quality of service.

Small cells will yield benefits only if the underlying network is upgraded to deliver true quality of service improvements, and this raises new challenges for the operator's network planning team. Planning and delivering backhaul from the small cell, either back to the macro cell or directly to the Mobile Telephone Switching Office (MTSO), is a primary challenge to the widespread deployment of small cells.


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