Saturday, 15 February 2020

This Blog has a *** NEW *** Address

This blog started when I was running Metrocells Workshop a long time ago. Since then this has evolved to look at all small cells, infrastructure innovations, Wi-Fi, etc. It made sense to expand the scope of this blog to look at all kinds of Infrastructure as a whole.

As a result, I have created a new blog and exported all the posts there. The new blog is called "Telecoms Infrastructure Blog" and the new address is:

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

5G Small Cells at Home

Last year, NGMN published a whitepaper on '5G Small Cells at Home'. The whitepaper is available here. The summary on the website states:

The first objective of this white paper is to explore the potential technologies that could help improve the performance of local connectivity at home.

In addition to this, the second objective is to look for solutions of radio resources management at home that would be controlled by the network. The current situation is that the local connectivity is selected by a connectivity manager embedded in the operating system of smartphones that may not have a complete view of what happens, for instance in terms of traffic on cellular networks.

The global objective for operators is then to keep home users connected wirelessly to their local – fixed access network based – connectivity (delivered e.g. by Wi-Fi, a “small cell at home”) with a “premium” quality of service instead of adding pressure on the Radio Access part of the mobile macro network. Challenges for mobile macro networks are for example a lack of (licensed) spectrum that can cover efficiently indoors from outdoor macro network (e.g. low bands spectrum), cost of the radio sites, incl. equipment.

The abstract from the whitepaper as follows:

It is observed that traffic offload - from cellular networks to indoor local Wi-Fi connectivity - takes place when users are at home, but tends to decrease, due to increasing cellular data volumes and due to sometimes better user experience (coverage, throughputs) offered by 4G compared to Wi-Fi 5 (mainly available today at home).

In order to reverse the current trend, this white paper proposes to consider 5G New Radio- Unlicensed (NR-U) technology (that will be part of the future 3GPP Release 16 – Dec. 2019) as a potential (additional) candidate for future small cells deployed at home.

It is expected that small cells at home using NR-U technology will provide – at least – radio performance as good as what Wi-Fi 6 could do, will enable the optimization of the management of radio resources as NR-U could be connected to operators’ core network. Furthermore, the deployment of small cells at home can ensure that the traffic generated at home will be transported via the fixed network, regardless if the Wi-Fi interface of the device is switched on or off.

It's available here.

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Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Malaysia Looks at Small Cells for 5G

(Click on the picture for larger version)

Malaysia will soon be auctioning 5G Spectrum but their National 5G Task Force Report, "5G Key Challenges and 5G Nationwide Implementation Plan" has identified that 5G will require small cells along with macros.

Quoting from the report:

These relatively new approaches have the benefit of lower cost and less visual impact, but the downside is that the potential for passive sharing (multiple Telcos using shared tower and power facilities) at a site is lower than more traditional structures. New 5G small cells (aimed to alleviate load on macro cells) will cause a further shift towards these lower impact facilities.

These new structures such as bus stops, smart poles, etc. can also be used for CCTV, security cameras, Wi-Fi hotspots, digital advertising, and different types of sensors. Street furniture is more suitable for small cell deployment due to limited space. Figure 4.8 (next page) depicts an example of Street Furniture suitable for 5G deployment:

Today, there are few 4G sites that deploy Street Furniture. However, Street Furniture may become significant for 5G deployment with the right design and deployment strategy. This is more important in supporting uRLLC use cases outlined in above sections such as Automated, Autonomous and Connected Vehicle (AAVC), unmanned aerial vehicles, and Smart Cities. However, there could be limits on Street Furniture’s ability to accommodate 5G deployment due to constraints on space and loading capability. The 5G Task Force expects that future generations of 5G equipment will more easily integrate with the natural environment and be more compact so that more types of this structure can be used, following technological advancements.

You can read the complete report here.

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Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Ubicquia Touting Streetlight-powered Small Cells for Densification

We have seen a fair number of small cells on lamp posts and poles on this blog. Here is another one that I became aware of through Fierce Wireless. The following from the article:

The startup Ubicquia is touting its streetlight-powered small cell as a relatively easy way to deploy small cells for LTE densification and for 5G because streetlights are already permitted with municipalities. In addition, streetlights come with electricity, and they’re often in close proximity to fiber for backhaul.

Ian Aaron, CEO of Ubicquia, said there are 360 million streetlights around the world that have a common electric socket. This socket, known as the ANSI C136 (or NEMA) socket, “has been around for 55 years,” said Aaron. “It’s a common socket whether in Australia, Germany, USA, or Brazil. We build products that plug into that socket.”

One of Ubicquia’s products is its Ubimetro small cell, which can be mounted onto existing streetlights. Aaron claims the Ubimetro for streetlights is a better option than deploying small cells onto new cellular poles or onto cable strands.

Municipalities have already been complaining about the new 30-foot-or-higher poles that are sprouting up in their cities for the deployment of wireless small cells. One alternative to erecting new poles is to deploy small cells on existing cable strand. Some cable operators, such as Comcast and Charter, are looking into the possibilities of strand-mounted small cells. And Altice USA has already deployed some strand-mounted small cells in partnership with Sprint.

But Aaron says that not all cable aerial infrastructure is strand-mount. He said that strand-mount refers to a specific type of cable that is reinforced with an internal metal wire in order to support devices that could weigh up to 30 pounds. “Only a small amount of the cable infrastructure is strand,” said Aaron. “They use strand for areas where they have to hang the large splices. It’s not universal.”

Conversely, streetlights are pervasive, and they’re conveniently located near homes, businesses and cars. Aaron said, “The issue around small cell densification is not about the technology; it’s about getting permits and persistent power.”

“If you look at a small cell deployment today you would see a big box that converts the power on the pole from AC to DC; another box that does the metering so utilities can bill you; then you’ve got the radio; and then you’ve got multiple antennas,” said Aaron. “We’ve integrated all that into a device when plugged in you can’t see it from 25-35 feet.” 

The 4G Ubimetro device dimensions are about 8 inches by 15 inches by 3 inches. Ubicquia’s patented small cell device plugs into the streetlight, and clamps on to create a secure mounting. It has omni-directional antennas. Its 5G small cell is roughly the same size.

In terms of the radio antennas for the small cells, Ubicquia designed those itself using in-house talent from a team of C-suite executives that previously worked for Motorola.

Ubicquia doesn’t have any named customers, yet. The company is planning its first commercial product and first live small cell deployments for early 2020. It could potentially work with carriers that are densifying their networks. Aaron said utilities are also interested in participating in the rollout of small cells because it offers them a new revenue opportunity.

At MWC last year, they announced that they are working with Qualcomm. Quoting from their press release:

Ubicell can replace the photocell on more than 360 million streetlights worldwide, and delivers advanced light control, ANSI 12.20 power metering and tilt/vibration sensing. Integrating the Qualcomm® SDM845 processor from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. brings high-performance edge processing and advanced smart city services that take advantage of the processor’s integrated hardware-accelerated neural network inferencing for edge AI, IoT security, media processing for video analytics, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and enhanced WiFi range and performance.

They also recently announced partnership with Altiostar to accelerate Rural Broadband. From their press release:

Ubicquia®, the global leader in simply smart, simply connected network and IoT platforms for smart cities, and Altiostar, the pioneer in open virtualized radio access network (vRAN) technology, today announced an expansion of their partnership that will integrate Ubicquia’s new Ubimetro™ streetlight-powered small cell for CBRS spectrum with Altiostar’s Open vRAN software. The Open vRAN-integrated Ubimetro small cell is compatible with more than 50 million existing streetlights across the US allowing municipalities, utilities, wireless internet service providers (WISPs) and mobile network operators (MNOs) to expedite service deployments with the industry’s lowest total cost of ownership (TCO).

Today’s news follows last week’s announcement by Ubicquia that its Ubimetro suite of small cell products will also offer Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) capabilities. The Ubimetro portfolio of small cells are designed to support the network of the future, including 4G/5G, millimeter-wave spectrum, CBRS, and now Altiostar’s Open vRAN. Ubimetro provides a network-agnostic architecture with integrated MIMO antennas, a wide range of radio frequency front ends, and Ethernet, fiber and DOCSIS backhaul options.

More info on Ubicquia:

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Thursday, 12 December 2019

Huawei RuralStar 3.0, successor of RuralStar 2.0 Lite, coming in 2020

At MWC 2019, Huawei announced RuralStar Lite, the successor or RuralStar 2.0. The press release says:

At the Mobile World Congress 2019, Huawei released an innovative rural network solution, RuralStar Lite. This solution is specialized to cost-efficiently bring voice and mobile broadband (MBB) services to rural villages with a population of 500 to 1000 people while keeping the return on investment (ROI) period within three years for operators.

Huawei released the RuralStar solution in an effort to bring mobile connections to these unconnected rural areas. This solution has reached more than 90 networks worldwide, serving to provide mobile access for hundreds of millions of people. For most of them, it's the first time in their lives they have ever enjoyed access to the mobile world thanks to this solution.

Picture source: maxwireless on Twitter

Boasting three significant innovations, RuralStar successfully addresses a number of long-standing issues of network development in rural areas where transmission is difficult to reach, infrastructure is costly to build, the power supply is unstable, and deployment requires a long time to complete. For operators, the ROI period can be within three years for a rural network that covers more than 1000 users. To expand connections to unconnected villages having a population of 500 to 1000 people, Huawei released the RuralStar Lite solution to accommodate the local service characteristics of few connections and small coverage areas.

RuralStar Lite features a power consumption of as low as 200 watts. Fitted with four solar panels, this solution greatly simplifies power supply. It allows all related equipment to be installed on poles with a height of 6 m to 9 m, without the need to install supporting rods and build fences. With these advantages added together, project costs are significantly reduced and the total cost of ownership (TCO) decreases markedly.

RuralStar Lite has so far been successfully deployed in Zambia. The deployment demonstrates that RuralStar Lite is able to extend voice and data services to 500 to 1000 users in a village covering a radius of 1 km to 2 km. In addition, the ROI period is expected to be less than three years for operators.

Interestingly, there isn't much information available on the solution even after all this time. While this is a good solution and has been promoted by operators like MTN, there isn't much information about the specifications either. Looking at the slide from MTN above, RuralStar is being deployed at Rural sites. As the requirement is to deploy GSM, UMTS and LTE, one assumption would be that the RuralStar can handle all of these. Whether this would keep the radio head as it is or not, I am not sure.

The above picture shows an example RuralStar site deployed by MTN. The deployment uses LTE backhaul so works as a relay. The small problem with this is that a Macro site from Huawei is required for this approach to work. Without a Huawei macro, this site would need another backhaul solution.

There are also other vendors looking at the same market like AMN, IP.Access, Airspan, Parallel Wireless, Mavenir, etc.also looking at providing alternative solutions for the same problem.

MTN is also looking at OpenRAN to improve it's rural coverage footprint. In a recent press release, it announced:

MTN is projecting to deploy more than 5,000 sites in rural areas across its 21 operations, bringing 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity to areas that were previously unconnected. In order to realise this goal, MTN will rely on an ecosystem of partners who will bring their expertise to build and maintain the sites, utilising a full turnkey approach.

MTN operations in Uganda and Guinea Conakry are already benefiting from this technology, as MTN has also partnered with the likes of VANU, Parallel Wireless and NuRAN Wireless to deliver the technology.

As one of the foremost members of the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP), MTN carries out solution testing on all hardware and software elements at its state-of-the-art head office in Johannesburg, South Africa. The TIP initiative aims to define 2G, 3G and 4G RAN solutions based on general-purpose, vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology.

By continuing to accelerate innovation through initiatives such as OpenRAN, MTN continues to lead the delivery of a bold new digital world, solidifying its position as a leading mobile operator in the market.

Regardless of the approach, mobile users in Africa will ultimately be the winners!

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Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Africa Mobile Network and MTN connecting Zambia

Africa Mobile Network (AMN) is working with MTN in Zambia to connect the unconnected by providing mobile services infrastructure relaying services for MTN Zambia in the most Rural parts of the country. This allows users in all corners of the country to use MTN Mobile Services. Health Service Providers and Farmers in Remote Areas now have access to good coverage enabling them to communicate more effectively and use a variety of services like Mobile Money.

Here is a nice video showing how connectivity is making difference to end users lives.

AMN builds, owns, operates and maintains mobile network infrastructure, delivering services to the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in Africa.  Their ‘mass production’ approach to mobile network base station build is on a volume rollout trajectory with the first 500 sites in place by 2020, increasing to 1,500 by 2021, all in collaboration with tier one Mobile Network Operators (MNO) across Africa.

Recently, IP.Access announced that they have rolled out 4G services in Zambia with AMN.

The rollout covers seven countries: Zambia - being the first to offer 4G/LTE services in addition to 3G, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria plan to commence 4G rollout in the coming months. The network design is built around the ip.access ViperTM solution, comprising nanoVirtTM 3G/4G virtualised gateways and management system together with the 3G and 4G/LTE Small Cells. The small cells are installed on a tower near the centre of a village and deliver mobile coverage to the community.  Each deployment is highly scalable and upgradable, adding capacity to meet demand as needed.

GSMA has forecasted that 3G will dominate Sub-Saharan Africa in 2025. There will still be a lot of users on 2G then. It is important to keep these people connected while the 4G/5G handsets / smartphones become more affordable for these users. There are a lot of vendors who are doing a fantastic job in providing equipment that is enabling operators to connect these low ARPU subscribers.

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Friday, 6 December 2019

Small Cells on Hong Kong Lamp Posts

Hong Kong is not big. It's two thirds the size of London. There are around 226,200 lamp posts that are available to host small cell infrastructure.

HKT Limited and HKT Trust is a pair of listed corporations of Hong Kong, which the two corporations were bundled as one single stapled security. HKT, via its subsidiaries, is one of the largest telecommunications company of Hong Kong. It was commonly known as Hong Kong Telecom and had a dominant position in fixed-line, mobile, IDD and broadband services in Hong Kong. HKT Group is a subsidiary of PCCW since 2000.

HKT is exploring the possibility to deploy small cells on lampposts. There are around 226,200 lamps in the HK Public Lighting System. Distance between two lamp posts is approx 30 – 60 meters; typical distance is 50 meters or less. Each Small Cell / AAU covers up to 150 – 180m in one direction.  Target is to install two Small Cells / AAUs on a lamp post. This way there is only a need to install the small cell on every sixth lamp post to achieve a continuous coverage.

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Sunday, 24 November 2019

5G CrowdCell: World's First 5G OpenRAN Small Cell

I explained about Open RAN in a tutorial here. In the recent TIP Summit, there was a lot of discussion of Open RAN. In their presentation, Miguel Marin, Technology Director, AMAP, Vodafone talked about world's first 5G OpenRAN small cell. Known as the crowdcell, it can be seen in the picture below.

I wrote about Crowdcell earlier here. While it was more in an initial stage then, it is already working and under trials in Turkey. The video below shows a demo of crowdcell from TIP Summit 2019

You can learn more about CrowdCell on TIP website here.

This video from Lime Microsystems from last TIP Summit explains the CrowdCell concept.

TIP Summit 2018 from Lime Microsystems on Vimeo.

It should be borne in mind that the TIP website says that CrowdCell is intended for extending indoor coverage. Sprint's / Airspan's MagicBox is solving exactly the same issue. You can read more about that here. The only real difference here is that CrowdCell is based on OpenRAN architecture and principles.

Parallel Wireless has a similar solution for outdoors. You can read more about that here and here.

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Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Precision Planning for 5G Era Networks with Small Cells

Small Cell Forum, in partnership with 5G Americas has published a new whitepaper titled 'Precision planning for 5G Era networks with small cells'.

According to the press release:

The whitepaper explores the precision planning process of small cell siting and identifies how employing Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in network design can help to reduce the cost of deployments while optimizing coverage over traditional manual methods. The white paper was created by working teams at the two industry associations and includes project leadership contributions from: AT&T, iBwave, Keima and Nokia. The full whitepaper is available for download here.

The ever-increasing demand for mobile data is driving network densification with the deployment of small cells. Although lower cost than macro towers, the compact, low-power nature of small cells means they also serve a smaller area. This in turn means they need to be located closer to demand hotspots in order to effectively cover the mobile data demands of customers.

Manhattan, New York was one example used in the white paper where AI and algorithmic ML automated design processes were able to provide coverage and dominance while reducing the number of sites required from 185 to just 111. This reduction provided significant savings while additionally creating optimized coverage.

The paper also examines why measurements of network quality, signal strength and quality, traffic patterns, and other topographical considerations are important for maximizing a network operators’ return on capital investment, and demonstrates how including AI and ML models in small cell design and siting efforts can provide optimal coverage and throughput with the most efficient capital investment.

The report details recommended best practices for precision planning including:
  • For maximum return on investment, small cells should be placed as close as possible to demand peaks; best practice is within 20-40m.
  • Network operators would like equipment that estimates location of usage and quality reports to adopt smarter algorithms such as the machine learning approach demonstrated. Median locate errors less than 20m are expected for small cell planning purposes.
  • Machine learning models should be part of any small cell design effort. Different inputs and assumptions will be factors in the resulting models that are generated.
In addition, the aggregation of very large data sets are important to provide algorithms with sufficient test data to inform results. These data sets provide algorithms with information on factors such as power and backhaul availability, signal-to-interference ratio, spectral efficiency, line of sight, traffic estimates, overlapping cell coverage, agreement requirements with site owners, and numerous other considerations.

The paper is available for free download on the 5G Americas website, as well as the Small Cell Forum Release site. Blog posts by 5G Americas and Small Cell Forum are also available, along with presentation slides.

People interested in this topic can also check out the video by Small Cell Forum Chief Strategy Officer (CSO), Julius Robson below.

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