Top Three Trends at 4G World: Small Cells, Wi-Fi and Sandy
Representatives from the entire telecoms industry gathered last week in Chicago for the annual 4G World exhibition and conference. As the week went on, two dominant trends emerged from the four day conference: small cells and Wi-Fi. For a show that was previously dominated by talks of towers and rooftops, these two trends show a clear shift in the industry from outdoors to indoors. The wireless industry seems to have accepted the fact that over 80% of mobile traffic now occurs indoors and that everyone needs to focus their attention on meeting that demand. Haig Sarkissian from Wireless 20/20 struck a chord at the “4G Network Evolution HetNet and Small Cells” Session when he said “If 80% of traffic is indoors, then 80% of investments should be made toward in-building solutions.” Going back to small cells and Wi-Fi, these generated very interesting discussions, especially since they are two technologies that were previously thought to compete against one another. Read on below…
Trend! Small Cells
On day one of 4G World, people poured into the Small Cell Summit until the event was standing room only. Everyone wanted to learn more about this increasingly popular wireless buzz word and learn more they did. The industry appears to have realized and accepted the role that small cells need to play in the wireless industry. Neither technology nor spectrum can handle the future data demand, so small cells need to fill the gap, both outdoors and indoors. However, as the hype around small cells increased throughout the conference, in-building experts were heard offering cautionary advice that this technology is not ready yet and that we have a ways to go before all our data offloading problems will be resolved. Here’s why:
There is no small cell strategy. For example, a leading US operator has deployed 900,000 femto cells at this point – but there is no strategy to support them. The management of small cells is becoming an issue, and one that needs to be resolved before small cells become mainstream. The industry needs to develop a self-managing and self-optimizing system in order to prevent total small cell chaos.
Infrastructure is not ready. Jim Parker, a Senior Manager of the ASG DAS division at AT&T stated that if small cells were to be deployed in a medium sized conference room today, allowing for all technologies, use by all US operators and enough capacity for a group of 50 to 100 users, the corners of the room would be stacked with boxes, creating quite an eyesore. Small cells need to support a neutral host as well as multiple technologies, they need to integrate with the macro network, and they require a backhaul site in order for them to support the amount of data that continues to increase.
Another topic that received a lot of buzz throughout 4G World is Wi-Fi. The good news is that Wi-Fi is no longer seen as a competing technology with LTE or 3G but as a complimentary technology that needs to be considered in future product development and deployments. However, as with small cells, there are some issues that need to be ironed out first.
User experience needs to improve. Since Wi-Fi is currently offered separately from a cellular plan, usually by venue owners, there is no way for mobile operators to control the quality of service. Furthermore, there’s no way to bring users back to the 4G network, once they have switched to Wi-Fi. The solution? HetNet.
HetNet is required. For Wi-Fi to become fully complimentary to 3G and LTE, the industry needs to establish HetNet (heterogeneous networks), that is, a network where users can instantly and seamlessly go from 3G to 4G to Wi-Fi, depending on what they’re doing on their mobile device. The technology to support HetNet is not ready though and will take a few years before it becomes mainstream.
It goes without saying that Hurricane Sandy was a hot topic at 4G World. With a projected 40% of attendees based on the East Coast, the show felt a little bit empty without our East Coast friends. We saw speakers present via Skype with howling winds as background sound and Sandy even managed to make her way into several industry discussions – bringing the conversation to the need for public safety networks. This topic, which has long been discussed in European countries such as Germany is now beginning to take up more room in North America.
In conclusion, it seems as though there was a lot of consensus on where the telecommunications industry is headed and the future looks bright. Whether it is small cells, Wi-Fi or HetNet, it’s in the works but the world will have to be patient for a while longer before all of our wireless dreams can come true.
If there had to be a fourth trend, I’d say it was Halloween. We were particularly happy to demo our products for Jack Sparrow who was interested in getting in-building coverage in his pirate ship.
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