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Small cells gaining intelligence for mobile performance, features

Stephen Lawson | June 22, 2012
As major cellular equipment makers push small cells as tools to boost mobile data capacity, two smaller manufacturers are building more intelligence into the devices.

Ubiquisys, a small-cell pioneer that benefitted from an early bet on the technology by Google in 2007, is planning the first demonstration of its "smart cells" on a commercial carrier network next week, according to Keith Day, vice president of marketing. Day declined to say what carrier in London would host the demonstration.

The company developed the smart cells with Intel, eyeing the opportunity to cache content and run applications right at the edge of the network. This can both boost performance for subscribers and make better use of the wired links to small cells, which often are not as fast as the lines to traditional base stations, he said. More work at the edge means less traffic over the backhaul.

The cells to be demonstrated next week will have Intel Core processors, 8GB of memory and 80GB SSDs (solid-state disks), Day said.

"It does a lot of things much more efficiently, which otherwise would be done elsewhere," Day said.

Using well-established tools for determining what content users will most likely want to download, the Ubiquisys system can store certain data in the smart cell and avoid round trips to storage or servers deeper in the network. For example, once one person near the cell watches a YouTube video, that video can be cached locally so another person nearby can download it more quickly, Day said.

The performance benefit could work upstream too, letting users quickly upload photos to the cell and then have them sent the rest of the way into the network over time.

Certain applications, such as antivirus protection, could also run on the small cell, giving a performance benefit over trying to run them in the core of the network, Day said.

It's not clear whether carriers are ready for this type of capability in small cells for the general public, but it's important for smaller equipment vendors to distinguish themselves with new technology, Ovum's Schoolar said. "They might be kind of ahead of the curve on this stuff," he said. Ubiquisys says its smart cells are in trials with multiple carriers and are available now.


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