The major challenge facing the small cell market hasn’t been whether the small cells work or not, but how to make deploying them easier and more cost effective. To address that challenge Ericsson has announced new solutions aimed at making deployments easier for both indoor and outdoor small cells.
Simplicity in deployment should lead to more deployments
Small cells are just a tool. They are one of several options mobile operators have when it comes to improving network coverage and capacity. How and when operators use small cells depends on a variety of factors, one of which includes ease of deployment of small cells versus other options. Ericsson’s recent small cell announcements are a continuation of previous solutions coming from the vendor to make deployments easier.
Calling upon work previously done by one of its acquisitions, BelAir Networks, Ericsson now offers operators the ability to hang small cells from cable strands. This creates what is essentially a zero-footprint deployment as the cell is mounted to aerial cables. Ease of deployment with this solution comes firstly from not having to deal with a landlord if the operator owns the existing cable plant. Secondly the solution can accelerate deployments, as there are fewer zoning issues regarding what can be attached to aerial cables than there are around what can be fixed to the side of a building or other street furniture. Thirdly, more than one operator can share the cable strand. Of course, this solution is only good in areas where there are aerial cables. Many newer US developments have underground cabling, and aerial cables also tend not to be used in European cities.
For indoor networks, Ericsson announced three different solutions that allow more than one operator to share Radio Dot (Ericsson’s enterprise small cell solution) infrastructure. Network sharing using Ericsson’s solution requires either one operator, a neutral host, or an enterprise to be the lead network tenant. With the trend towards people bringing their own devices to work, a company can’t just have coverage from one mobile operator. Every operator needs to be served, but every operator may not want to take on the cost of a full deployment. Enterprises may also not want to have multiple radio systems running through their buildings. Shared infrastructure helps in reducing the number of complete network systems and lowers costs through sharing. There is an aesthetic benefit as well in that shared radios reduce the amount of network gear jutting from ceilings and hanging off walls.
These improvements could also motivate enterprises to be more proactive in pushing mobile operators to deploy indoor cells and persuading mobile operators to cooperate. Cooperation on infrastructure is never an easy task.
The demand for small cells will only increase as mobile operators look to expand network capacity. Capacity-increasing solutions like CBRS/3.5GHz and LTE-LAA all require small cells, and 5G networks will need small cells too. Making it easier to deploy small cells is a challenge that all radio vendors need to address. Ericsson, for its part, has established a good track record in taking on this challenge.
Daryl Schoolar, Practice Leader, Next Generation Infrastructure