Saturday, 31 May 2014

DAS or 'Small Cells' for Indoor Location

There was a recent webinar by Maravedis-Rethink & EJL. The slides are available on Slideshare here. I think there were some good points made about using DAS or Small Cells for the Indoor environment. Here is the youtube clip. You can drag the pointer to the beginning, to listen from the start.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Small Cells for the 'Connected Car'

Couple of weeks back I was in an event where Connected cars were a big focus. A few discussions centred around Small Cells in the cars. It may be a bit of a challenge but it should still be possible to have Small cells in the cars. The biggest challenge would be the backhaul. You cant have the standard backhaul for cars, especially as its moving, generally at high speeds. 

Some tricky solutions where one of the frequencies is used for backhauling small cells while small cells would provide coverage to the passengers of the car may be doable but it may not be worth the effort. 

Generally, the focus right now is to have something like a MiFi device in the car. The device can receive the mobile network signals and create a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Another solution being discussed was the use of Mobile Relay Node (MRN). As far as I understand, MRN has been pushed out of Release-12. Another issue is that the practical gain may not be as good as expected. Most of all, small cells or relay would only be useful if all the passengers in the vehicle reply on the same mobile network operator. As far as I have seen, this is generally not the case.

In light of this, it would make sense to continue on the current solution of having Wi-Fi hotspots in the cars backhauled to the mobile network.

Your thoughts please.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Unlicensed LTE (LTE-U) for Small Cells

I first wrote about LTE-U (or U-LTE as referred by others) back in December last year pointing towards the Qualcomm presentation here. As things move fast in our industry, quite a few things have happened in the last 6 months. Huawei did a demo of U-LTE in Mobile World Congress this year and LTE-U has been a constant topic of discussion in various 3GPP meetings. A half-day workshop is due to take place in June to discuss this topic further. In the meantime I have summarised some of the discussions that took place (unofficially?) in Jan 2014 between the interested parties.
To be clear, the discussions for LTE-U are centred on the 5GHz unlicensed spectrum. As you can see from the picture above, there is a massive amount of spectrum that is available, either free to use (unlicensed) or in a lightly licensed way.
There are strict rules and regulations in place to make sure this license is not misused or monopolised. There will be a need for Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA) techniques that I have discussed here. The current LTE standards do not have a DSA inbuilt and hence referred to as "Rude". The following is from a recent Light Reading article.

The technical concern with LTE-U, as Peters describes it, is that LTE is a "rude" technology. WiFi includes a "politeness protocol" that LTE lacks, meaning that WiFi will back off if it senses interference from other users. Eventually rude ol' LTE operating in WiFi's polite bands could take over the band.
The 3GPP called another unofficial meeting in January to discuss concerns around LTE-U, which also included the potential effect on the value of licensed spectrum, the need for international harmonization of the unlicensed bands used for LTE-U, and whether the technology would be for downlink only or uplink as well. The group met again in March, primarily to work out timing for the new technology's deployment.

Huawei presentation explains why unlicensed carrier offloading, see the embedded presentation for details.
NTT Docomo shows the various deployment scenarios and also lists the regulatory aspects, especially in Japan. See the complete presentation below:

Nokia has even gone ahead and done simulations for different scenarios. The scenario above shows LTE deployment in the same unlicensed band as WLAN as you can see, the results are similar to the interference in WLAN-WLAN case.

There is also a roadmap to how LTE-U standardisation will work in 3GPP, hopefully after the workshop in June, we will probably hear more.

As expected, some of the operators with heavy investments in WiFi (like AT&T) have some reservations on LTE-U. Some analysts on the other hand are sceptical on how much savings there would be, taking the interference into account. Note that spectrum is just one part of deployment costs, there are many other factors to consider. Personally, I don't have an issue whether this will work or not, it definitely would do but with all the advancements in LTE-Wi-Fi Interworking, I think we may be able to do a better job with just selective deployment of LTE-U and using technologies like MAPCON, IFOM, Hotspot 2.0, etc.

Added on 9th July 2014

3GPP held their workshop on unlicensed LTE on 13/06/2014. See the news on 3GPP website here. All documents are available here.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA) techniques for Small Cells and Wi-Fi

Licensed shared access and unlicensed shared access
Picture Source: Analysis Mason

There is a lot of spectrum which is used sparingly or is kept reserved for unlicensed or shared access. Any party that wishes and is allowed to use this spectrum has to co-ordinate with the license holders or others in similar situations. Hence we have different access mechanisms which are collectively called as Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA) techniques.

An article by Analysis Mason on this topic suggests the following:

The term DSA has come to encompass a number of different approaches and techniques that aim to increase the utilisation of the radio frequency spectrum. At its most ambitious, it is hypothesised that cognitive and software-defined radios could intelligently choose when to transmit, so as to avoid other radio transmissions and also to avoid causing undue interference to fellow frequency users. Short-term propositions include near-real-time spectrum assignment in certain bands and greater use of long-term secondary spectrum leasing to authorised spectrum partners.
DSA is therefore all about making better use of radio spectrum through re-use of 'idle' bandwidth, being either frequencies that are not used in all locations, in which other systems could be deployed, or frequencies that are only used intermittently, and which could therefore be re-used outside these times. These 'gaps' in utilisation, which provide opportunities for DSA, arise for a number of reasons.
  • Coverage: a licence holder might not be using its allotted licence in a specific region.
  • Time: an area of spectrum might by less-frequently required at different times during a day (or on longer timescales).
  • Lack of service users: there may be a limited number of subscribers taking advantage of a service.
  • Licence technical parameters: the regulator may have mandated that a piece of spectrum can only be used for a specific purpose, while other technologies emerge during the life of a licence that can use the same spectrum.
  • Pragmatic under-utilisation to prevent interference: empty guard bands are placed between spectrum bands to stop transmission leakage to prevent interference, which could be re-used by systems that have the appropriate characteristics to avoid interference.
One of the overarching drivers for DSA is to help overcome spectrum shortages – particularly noting that under-utilised bands may exist across a relatively wide range of the spectrum. Even in the economies where wireless communications have developed the most and usage restrictions have been removed, thus making spectrum use as flexible as possible, spectrum under-utilisation is still considered to be widespread.

The Cisco vision on the other hand seems far too optimistic and suggests the following:

TV White Spaces (TVWS) are spectrum allocated to TV broadcasts, but not being used in a given geographic location. TVWS radios allow for use of white space spectrum for unlicensed wireless access.
Authorized Shared Access (ASA) or Licensed Shared Access (LSA) allow a secondary licensee to use the “shared” spectrum when the primary licensee is not using it.
The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a three-tier model for shared access in the 3.5-GHz band. Tier 1 would be for incumbent federal agencies, including military radar users. Tier 2 would be authorized prioritized access similar to ASA and LSA. Tier 3 would be generalized authorized access, which is similar to unlicensed access.
A number of DSA technologies already exist or are in exploration.
Geo-location, database-based spectrum sharing techniques have the most traction as a practical approach to spectrum sharing. Devices that want to use shared spectrum must geo-locate themselves and consult a database to determine what spectrum is available.
The geo-location database manages the spectrum resource allocation based on predefined policies and availability to ensure the primary licensee is not impacted. An enhanced version of the geo-location database system—called a Spectrum Access System (SAS)—is the basis for the FCC spectrum-sharing proposal in the 3.5-GHz band.
A second technology is cognitive radio, which senses and monitors the radio environment. This includes knowing the location and policies for self-regulation. Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) and Transmit Power Control (TPC) are cognitive radio techniques that allow co-existence with radar and satellite systems.
Another technology is Software-Defined Radio (SDR), which allows devices to adapt to local radio conditions and use the appropriate radio frequencies.
I came across this very interesting whitepaper by MIT that details all the DSA techniques and its progress. Paper embedded below:

We will discuss in the future post how the DSA techniques could be useful for using Small Cells in the unlicensed spectrum (a.k.a. LTE-U).

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Small Cells as a Service (SCaaS) using NFV

If you have not read my earlier post on SCaaS, then check this out. If you have no idea what Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is, check this out.

In a recent presentation in CW, Interdigital suggested that they are working on some ideas where they can virtualize the small cells network in such a way to have multi-tenancy (multiple operators sharing pool of small cells resources). Here is the complete presentation embedded. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Open, Closed and Hybrid Access Small Cells

A question that often keeps cropping up regularly is regarding the open access and closed access small cells. Before we look at the explanation of these cells, lets see the different types of cells (from 3GPP TS 36.304) in brief:

Acceptable cell: An "acceptable cell" is a cell on which the UE may camp to obtain limited service (originate emergency calls and receive ETWS and CMAS notifications).

Suitable cell: A "suitable cell" is a cell on which the UE may camp on to obtain normal service. It is mandatory for the UE to have a USIM card belonging to the operator to which this cell belongs.

Barred cell: A cell is "barred" if it is so indicated in the system information. Its not available for use by anyone.

Reserved cell: A cell is reserved if it is so indicated in system information. It is reserved for operator use only.

Restricted Cell: A cell on which camping is allowed, but access attempts are disallowed for UEs whose access classes are indicated as barred.

Camping on the cell: With the cell selection, the UE searches for a suitable cell of the selected PLMN and chooses that cell to provide available services, further the UE shall tune to its control channel. This choosing is known as "camping on the cell".

To keep the discussion simple, I have ignored that some UE's may belong to MVNO and the PLMN Id of the operator would be stored as Equivalent PLMN Id.

Now lets look at a simple explanation of the different types of small cells.

Open Access: All (suitable) cells are open access by default. This means that they can be accessed by any device belonging to the operator whom the cell belongs to. Some people also refer to these cells as Open Subscriber Group (OSG) cells.

Closed Access: A (suitable) cell is closed when only certain devices can camp on them. These devices form a part of whitelist stored in a database to allow camping on the cell. Devices that are not part of the whitelist are not allowed to camp on this cell, even though they belong to the same operator and this cell is a suitable cell. The devices are said to belong to ‘Closed Subscriber Group’ (CSG). The cell is said to be a CSG cell as its transmitting CSG Indication set to 'true' and the CSG Identity.

Residential Femtocells are generally Closed Access but there are exceptions. Softbank, Japan for example gives open access Femtocells that can also provide coverage to users nearby. Another example is the operator Free in France that also offers similar open access Femtocells.

Hybrid Access: A (suitable) cell can also be hybrid access, thereby allowing all devices that either belong to a CSG or non-CSG to camp onto it. A hybrid cell may offer prioritised and/or additional services to the users that belongs to the CSG it is a part of.

I am not aware of any Hybrid Access Small Cells deployment to date. Please feel free to correct me.