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5G will need small cells, so Nokia is sending in the drones

Stephen Lawson | Oct. 5, 2016
The completely wireless, solar-powered F-Cell can be delivered by a drone

In Nokia’s demonstration, a drone carried an F-Cell to the roof of the building and dropped it off, leaving the cell to turn itself on, configure itself and automatically connect to the wireless backhaul network.

That network is built around a closed-loop, 64-antenna system that uses massive MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) technology. It forms eight radio beams to communicate with eight F-Cells.

Each cell has a total system throughput of about 1Gbps, and with enhancements and higher frequencies, that could grow to tens of gigabits per second, Nokia says.

A "drop and forget" cell like the F-Cell would make small-cell deployments simpler and cheaper, said Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall. But it wouldn’t help with issues like zoning and negotiations with landlords, which are already big challenges, he said.

AT&T is already making deals with municipalities to mount LTE small cells on light poles and other sites, Keathley said. One such deal can give the carrier access to small-cell locations throughout a city, and by the time 5G is available, AT&T will have laid much of the groundwork for that next deployment, he said.

Marshall doesn't think current methods for getting small cells into cities will suffice for 5G. Carriers need new approaches, like sharing sites with rival operators, offering free Wi-Fi from the sites or using them to help cities deliver services, he said. "5G will need a heap of sites."


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