Chairman, Small Cells Forum and AVP Small Cell Solutions, AT&T (USA): “Small cells represent a critical tool in any operator’s arsenal.”

Gordon Mansfield, Chairman, Small Cells Forum and AVP Small Cell Solutions, AT&T (USA), is delivering a keynote on Day Two of the LTE North America conference, taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Ahead of the show we find out how and why small cells are going to become a critical part of every operator’s network.

How would you sell the benefits of using small cells in a network?

It’s a well-publicised fact mobile data usage is continuing to grow with no sign of abating. As such, carriers need to increase network capacity. While there are a number of means of bolstering capacity – moving to 4G, improving spectrum efficiency, Wi-Fi offload – nothing comes close to frequency reuse through increased numbers of cell sites which improve capacity by up to 1600x. In addition, small cells yield noticeable benefits for the macro network; a 2012 Forum study showed that by placing four small cells within one macro, not only is data offload of over 50 per cent achieved, the macro network performance is improved by 315 per cent. Small cells give operators a relatively low-cost means of augmenting their networks where improvements are needed, whether it’s a busy urban area or remote village with poor coverage. This isn’t to say small cells will supersede macro cells or that they overcome all spectrum limitations, but they do now represent a critical tool in any operator’s arsenal.

What are the biggest challenges with the integration of small cells into a network?

The challenges are often tied to where the small cell is being deployed. With the trend towards small cells being deployed in enterprises, there is the question of integrating in to an enterprise’s own network and the implications of this. In December, the Small Cell Forum is launching Release Two (which focuses on the enterprise) of our Release Program, which will help clear up some of these issues. Backhaul remains a key question with small cells, particularly in the urban/public access space. There is a wide array of backhaul options available to operators for virtually every possible deployment; the question for operators is making sure they select the right one. As small cells now form a significant part of most operator plans the next challenge will be the integration of the multiple technologies available into HetNets.

The LTE North America conference is taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Click here NOW to download a brochure for the event.

Once they are deployed what are the key areas of network optimisation required to maximise the use of small cells in a network?

The importance of correct placement of a small cell itself is something that should not be underestimated, whether it is for capacity or coverage. If placement is done correctly, then a great deal of optimisation is already achieved. Once installed, tools such as SON help improve network efficiency and effectiveness, especially as it develops and grows. The broad goal of SON is to enable the configuration, deployment, optimisation, operation and maintenance of dense networks of various dimensions with very little or no manual input or feedback. Again, looking at the enterprise case it has been shown that an enterprise deployed and operator managed small cell makes for the most optimal approach.

What are the latest advances in the development of the small cells standard?

While 3G continues to represent the bulk of small cell deployments, the roll-out of LTE networks around the world means that 4G small cells are a growing market. As this trend continues, we’ll see an increasingly greater number of multi-mode small cells. There’s also a significant effort to better integrate small cells with Wi-Fi as illustrated by the Forum’s work with the Wireless Broadband Alliance. There is also a lot of activity with macro integration and coordination to enable small cell networks to get the most efficient use out of the spectrum available. 3GPP Release 12 is also seeing small cell related activities including the management of interference, cross standards interfaces and further radio optimisation. Can small cells alone enable carriers to effectively deal with the data crunch?

As I mentioned before, small cells are a hugely powerful tool in battling the data crunch but they’re not some magical silver bullet that will fix everything. Alongside 4G/LTE, DAS and Wi-Fi offload, operators have a comprehensive set of options to ensure they can provide their customers with the best possible user experience. Macro cells remain their bread and butter, but operators are better equipped now than ever before to solve capacity problems.

Are small cells as important for backhaul as they are for the RAN?

This all depends on the intention of the deployment. Small cells have been primarily used to improve coverage in residential spaces where backhaul has been readily available. However, as small cells move in to new settings such as enterprise, urban and rural spaces, capacity has become a much greater consideration. With small cells becoming a more important part of operators’ networks there may be additional reasons for deploying them including backhaul. Whether it is capacity coverage or backhaul the small cell now has a place in virtually all operators thinking going forward and the importance of their use depends on the operators’ specific need for their deployment.

What is your primary reason for attending the LTE North America conference?

LTE North America, and the broader LTE World Series, is a great chance to meet with many of the industry’s key players and discuss the biggest topics of the day. This year will be no different and be a great chance to network and hear the latest developments affecting LTE.

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