Small Cell Technology Solutions Help Wireless Service Providers Succeed in Challenging Market

Next Generation Communications Blog

Small Cell Technology Solutions Help Wireless Service Providers Succeed in Challenging Market

By Mae Kowalke

Wireless service providers today are going through a transformative, challenging period in their evolution. Increasing demands for bandwidth and quality of service are driving the need to transform from 3G networks to LTE. In the midst of this transformation, existing architecture must be maintained and leveraged to its fullest ability.

More and more providers are turning to metro cells as a way of extending life for 3G networks and serving low-density areas where wireless coverage would not otherwise be economically viable.

“Metro cells offer a valuable option for solving some of today’s most pressing wireless network problems,” said Nikolas Olaziregi, Alcatel-Lucent’s Corporate CTO Technology Strategy Advisor, in a recent TechZine article, "Metro Cells are In Sight." “They can provide performance and capacity uplift where needed, almost overnight, while lessening the obstacles associated with macro cell site acquisition.”

In the article, Olaziregi defines a metro cell as “an operator owned and managed wireless access node, using licensed spectrum and providing open access.”

Metro cells are a low cost option for better coverage and capacity in a targeted area. They are easy to deploy, and because they have low emissions are less subject to regulation than macro cell sites. When utilized strategically, metro cells can help reduce a network’s total cost of ownership (TCO).

The key with small cell technology is to understand how such solutions can fit into the larger network. Femtocells are not the be-all and end-all of wireless access points, but can be integrated into a macro network for cost effective, targeted coverage.

There are areas of networks, for example, where macro signals do not reach. Such blind spots—deep indoor locations, garages, basements—are prime candidates for metro cells. So are remote regions with low population density, where investing in a macro cell cannot be justified.

Conversely, metro cells can also be useful in areas with a high density of macro cells, introducing a finer grain topology to increase capacity. This boosts quality of service via higher throughputs—vital for gaming, video applications and other advanced services. Metro cells may also be useful at the cell edge, where adding more macro cells is not feasible because of intercell interference.

Olaziregi pointed out that there is a difference between metro cells and femtocells, although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Femtocells “support a limited number of channels, have restricted access and can only be deployed indoors.” Metro cells use the same basic technology, but support “provide open/public access mode, in both outdoor and indoor environments.”

“Metro cells provide higher processing power and emission levels,” Olaziregi said. “In 3G networks, metro cells will serve 16 to 32 users initially, with higher capacities expected in LTE deployments. Coverage will be affected by a variety of factors, but is likely to range from less than 100 meters in dense urban areas to several hundred meters in rural environments.”

Read Olaziregi’s full article for much more on metro cells, including results from a TCO case study about the technology. Alcatel-Lucent’s Wilson Street site also offers information and case studies about small cell technology and how it is being used to help wireless service providers succeed in a challenging market.

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