Monday, 15 July 2019

Small Cell Forum Releases 5G FAPI API Specifications

SCF has announced the release of 5G FAPI: PHY API Specifications. In the press release titled 'Small Cell Forum Publishes Specification to Drive Unified 5G Open RAN', SCF announced:

5G FAPI Release provides common APIs to support interoperability between 5G small cell hardware components and software layers enabling interoperability and preventing fragmentation.

Small Cell Forum (SCF), the telecoms organization making mobile infrastructure solutions available to all, has published the PHY API for 5G to stimulate a competitive ecosystem for vendors of 5G small cell hardware, software and equipment. The PHY API provides an open and interoperable interface between the physical layer and the MAC layer. 3G and LTE versions are already used in most small cells today.

The specification has been developed through a successful collaboration of companies from across the small cell eco-system, including; Intel, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., Airspan Networks and Picocom Technology.

5G FAPI is an initiative within the small cell industry to encourage competition and innovation among suppliers of platform hardware, platform software and application software by providing a common API around which suppliers of each component can compete. By doing this, SCF provides an interchangeability of parts ensuring that the system vendors can take advantage of the latest innovations in silicon and software with minimum barriers to entry, and the least amount of custom re-engineering.

Operators are looking for a radically different cost model for 5G networks, one that relies on interoperability and an open, competitive ecosystem. As networks are disaggregated, a critical interface is the fronthaul between a distributed unit (DU) for radio functions and a centralised unit (CU) for protocol stacks and baseband functions. Open specifications such as SCF’s FAPI will enable operators to mix and match protocol stacks, basebands and radios from different vendors, and realize the benefits of deploying disaggregated, virtualized RAN (vRAN) networks.

The Forum also maintains the widely adopted FAPI specifications for 3G and LTE, as well as networked FAPI (nFAPI) for LTE supporting a MAC/PHY functional split, a key enabler for virtualisation of higher layer base station functions. In 5G this split point was also identified by 3GPP and called split option 6.

The Forum’s motivation for defining nFAPI in LTE was to establish a scalable ecosystem with a converged approach to virtualization across multiple suppliers, and the continued adoption of NFV/SDN make this is even more crucial for 5G. As such, the Forum plans to expand 5G FAPI to operate across split option 6 as 5G nFAPI.

A video of presentation by Clare Somerville, Intel & 5G FAPI lead from Small Cells World is embedded below:


In an interview in The Mobile Network last December, Prabhakar Chitrapu, who chairs SCF’s TECH Group said:

“Split RAN/Small Cell architectures have seven options, as identified by 3GPP. Of these, 3GPP has focused on Option-2 (RLC-PDCP) and ORAN on Option-7.2 (PHY-PHY). Option-6 (PHY-MAC) is not being addressed by any of these organisations. SCF seeks to fill this gap.”

“The PHY-MAC interface is important for the industry because it is an interface that has been highly successful in the 4G world, where it is called FAPI and nFAPI. It is therefore considered very important that we extend these interface specifications for 5G, as 5G-FAPI and 5G-nFAPI."

“FAPI helps Equipment Vendors to mix PHY & MAC Software from different suppliers via this open FAPI interface. So, FAPI is an 'internal' interface.”

“5G-nFAPI (network FAPI) is a 'network' interface and is between a Distributed Unit and Centralised Unit  of a Split RAN/Small Cell network solution. An open specification of this interface (nFAPI) will help network architects by allowing them to mix distributed and central units from different vendors.”

ShareTechNote also provides some details about FAPI and nFAPI as described by Small Cell Forim here.

Related Documents from SCF:

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

KT 5G Skyship Search and Rescue Platform


Last year I wrote about KT's Skyship platform. I thought it may be worth revisiting now that the vision is slowly turning into reality. There were some videos that were recorded at MWC and immediately following it. All of them are embedded in the playlist below. They will give an idea of what KT is going to use the Skyship platform for.



A presentation by Riku Jäntti, Aalto University on PriMO-5G - Virtual Presence in Moving Objects through 5G also added some more details on the 5G Skyship search and rescue application. The presentation is available here.


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Sunday, 16 June 2019

Turkcell's Small Cell Strategy

Turkcell is one of the industry’s leaders in extending the traditional MNO model into new services, illustrated how the business case is strengthened by diversity, with small cell roadmaps which span multiple spectrum bands, form factors, vendors and deployment environments.

During Small Cells World Summit, Turkcell presented their Small cell strategy and case study.


As the tweet above says, they have 3 separate use cases for small cells:

  • VIP/business complaints & retention
  • General in building / enterprise
  • Outdoor capacity & coverage enhancement


Their strategy is to work with multiple vendors for different use cases. The strategy has clearly paid off as different small cells are working seamlessly with the macrocells indoors and outdoors.


Indoor Femtocell Trials with Airspan and Nokia has significantly improved user experience and throughput indoors.




Various deployments with Huawei Micro has been done to improve coverage and capacity outdoors, for voice and data.


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Tuesday, 4 June 2019

The Big Small Cell Update by iGR

iGR Wireless Research presented this webinar recently. The brief from the webinar says:

Small cells are becoming an increasingly important part of the 4G and 5G infrastructure, despite the issues with deployment. iGR is continually updating its extensive research on the small cell opportunity, including total addressable market, actual deployments and TCO.

This webinar provides an update on iGR’s view of the indoor, outdoor, CBRS, mmWave and sub 2.5 GHz small cells


There is a lot of useful information but I should mention this is very USA specific.

There is no direct link but you can register to watch the webinar recording here

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Synchronization for 5G - Requirements, Solutions & Architecture

Couple of months back, Oscilloquartz, an ADVA company, announced that BT is leveraging its high-capacity, future-proof Oscilloquartz synchronization technology to bring 4G coverage to previously underserved areas and begin the rollout of 5G services across the UK. Prior to this deployment, BT’s timing network was based purely on frequency synchronization. With the new solution, it can now distribute stable and accurate phase and time-of-day information, enabling BT to dramatically improve the use of its spectrum. The new synchronization network is built on the OSA 5430 and OSA 5440 and integrated with ADVA’s network management solution. The technology provides the sub-microsecond accuracy required for next-generation mobile applications together with hardware redundancy for unbeatable resilience.

At the Small Cell World Summit held earlier this month, Gil Biran's presentation outlined the key synchronization requirements and solutions for mobile networks in the era of 5G. Check out the slide deck embedded below to discover how longest holdover and highest precision can be achieved with the "industry's most comprehensive timing technology portfolio".



This video of OSA 5430, the first high-capacity grandmaster clock available on the market to support PTP, NTP and SyncE over multiple 10Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces is also worth a watch. It's also the first device of its kind to provide redundancy and protection.



Tuesday, 14 May 2019

T-Mobile USA's Indoor CellSpot (a.k.a. Femtocells)

Sometime back I saw this tweet by T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray


I started wondering if T-Mo had femtocells and voila!

Pic Source: Dane Powell

According to the T-Mobile website, there are 4 types of devices:

  1. 4G LTE CellSpot V1 
  2. 4G LTE CellSpot V2 
  3. 4G LTE Signal Booster 
  4. 4G LTE Signal Booster Duo
The product comparison chart can be seen below
Now let's look at the Functionality comparison chart
As you can see, the cellspots require an ethernet connection as they create a small coverage bubble while the Signal boosters are just repeaters.

You can get detailed specifications here on 4G LTE CellSpot V1 and 4G LTE CellSpot V2.

Detailed specifications here on 4G LTE Signal Booster and 4G LTE Signal Booster Duo.

In Addition, T-Mobile also supports Wi-Fi calling and also sells T-Mobile 'Wi-Fi CellSpot AC1900 Gigabit Router'

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Impact of Small Cells on Key Enterprise Markets


I missed the last CW (Cambridge Wireless) Small Cells event 'Are small cells ready for private LTE primetime in the lead-up to 5G?'.


From the CW website:

The limited progress towards excellent in-building cellular coverage is well-attested, and in many enterprise and industrial sectors, this is not just frustrating, but has a tangible impact on productivity and agility. In a wide range of industries, from transport to logistics to healthcare, there is pent-up demand for highly reliable, highly secure cellular connectivity, which often needs linking with localised applications and data.

That demand is only growing even more with the advent of IoT applications and edge computing. This is a huge opportunity for small cells, even before 5G, but these sectors cannot all be served by one generic network. Each has its own particular requirements, which need to be well understood by suppliers and partners, so that the deployment can be carefully aligned to business and performance objectives.

Excellent mobile connectivity indoors and out is the baseline requirement – each sector has its own additional needs, which will help to make the business case add up. For some, low latency may be important, for others, massive device density or enhanced security. All of these can be delivered optimally by small cells, but the design of the network, and the business model to deploy it – e.g. neutral host or private network – must be tailored to the enterprise, if users and suppliers are both to achieve the best ROI.

This event focuses on the real-world issues needed for the success of small cells in the emerging private LTE market.

The presentations are available for a limited time for non-CW members here.

The following presentations are available:

  • 'Is private LTE disruptive' by Ian Taylor, Quortus [PDF]
  • 'Small cells in private networks: An Overview' by Caroline Gabriel, Rethink Technology Research [PDF]
  • 'Bringing connectivity to a mechanical test centre' by Peter Stoker, AutoAir [PDF]
  • 'Private Networks for Critical Comms & IoT' by Tadhg Kenny, Druid Software Ltd [PDF]
  • 'Business ready applications, not the connectivity solution, will be the driver for private networks' by David Rose, Veea Systems Ltd [PDF]


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Saturday, 11 May 2019

AMN's Ultra-low cost sites


From an slightly old tweet by Erik Hersman: "AMN has started rolling out ultra-low cost small 10m towers to work in rural villages in Zambia, Cameroon and a couple other countries. Communities value them so much that they build their own fences and security."

Rural connectivity in the developing world is a big issue and this tweet just illustrates the point that when connectivity is available, people value it and make sure nobody takes it away.


In a earlier blog post on 3G4G, we saw the 10 key challenges listed by AMN for bringing connectivity to rural areas.

In a recent news, Vanu announced the expansion of its ongoing agreement with Africa Mobile Networks (AMN) to supply mobile network infrastructure in support of AMN’s mission to serve rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. With orders exceeding 2,500 systems this year, AMN has now placed orders for more than 3,000 Vanu systems over the last two years

“AMN and Vanu both view small-cell network architectures powered by solar energy to be the best way to extend service to the unconnected. We are privileged to be a technology supplier for AMN’s networks in Africa and we see a significant opportunity for our organizations to positively affect more communities in more countries in the months ahead.”

To efficiently cover villages, Vanu uses a combination of specialized equipment, tools and services, including low TCO (total cost of ownership) cell sites, mapping tools and network planning tools (to ensure sites are built in optimal locations), as well as monitoring, optimization and support services (to ensure maintenance resources are used efficiently).

Vanu’s equipment, tools and services enable MNOs and partners, such as AMN, to provide off-grid coverage profitably. In addition, Vanu’s unique high-resolution coverage mapping tool, VanuMaps, provide MNOs, their partners and potential investors with the high-resolution coverage and population data needed to more accurately and efficiently identify the return on investment afforded by serving previously uncovered villages.

The mission of AMN is to build mobile network base stations serving rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa which have no existing service, providing existing licensed mobile network operators with a capex-free route to add new subscribers and new revenues and with incremental costs which deliver guaranteed operating profits – and with sufficient population to deliver positive operating profits and cash flows for its shareholders.

More details are not available but will be added when available.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Altaeros’ Autonomous Tethered Aerial Cell Tower, SuperTower ST200

Couple of months back, Altaeros announced "world’s first commercial aerial cell tower". This is a contentious point as the UK MNO, EE has already claimed "World’s first commercial use of Helikite ‘air mast’ technology showcased with 360° live stream over 4G" back in 2017. While we can argue that EE's aerostat was a Helikite while this is something different, they are both aerial cell towers.

Their press release says:

The SuperTower uses a proven aerostat platform, combined with innovative automation and control software, to deploy radios and antennas over four times higher than traditional cell towers allowing carriers to efficiently cover substantially more area than traditional towers. The ST200 was tested with six high capacity Ericsson 4G LTE radios and three highgain Matsing lens antennas. During initial testing users were able to stream high-definition video at distances well beyond the reach of a typical cell site, even in the hills and forests of New England. Altaeros is initially deploying SuperTowers in partnership with carriers in the US, with plans to quickly expand internationally.

The website specifiesThe Altaeros SuperTower is designed to meet this challenge. Each SuperTower deploys radios and antennas over 800 feet above ground level. Greater height and flexibility mean a single SuperTower replaces fifteen regular cell towers at 60% lower cost, shifting the rural networks from a loss-making endeavor to a growth engine for carriers.

Mobile World Live provides some more details about it's trials:

Ben Glass, CEO and CTO of the company, told Mobile World Live (MWL) the company is testing the system with “some of the big carriers that are household names”, with a view to deploying it in the latter part of 2019 and early 2020.

The executive did not confirm which operators are testing the technology. However, applications filed with the Federal Communications Commission show it conducted FDD-LTE tests in PCS spectrum and more recently trialled TD-LTE at 2.5GHz.

A Sprint representative told MWL it allowed Altaeros to use some of its 2.5GHz spectrum for the latter testing, but did not confirm whether it is evaluating the technology for itself.

Verizon flat denied it is involved: AT&T and T-Mobile US had not responded at the time of publishing.

Here is their video providing more details:


The website specifies potential applications for Altaeros’ technology include:

  • Cellular Networks
  • Industrial/Agricultural IOT
  • Fixed Wireless
  • Environmental Monitoring and Agribusiness
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Public Safety

Couple of important points from the FAQ's

What if a tether breaks loose?

The Altaeros SuperTower has three load-bearing tethers. If one of the tethers breaks loose, the remaining tethers will reel in the shell. In the very unlikely scenario that all three tethers break loose, an automatic vent will begin to release helium to allow the SuperTower to slowly descend to the ground. Similar safety features have been reliably demonstrated on hundreds of existing aerostats.

How fast can the SuperTower be deployed?

Once on site, the Altaeros SuperTower can be inflated and deployed in a few days. Our system does not require a crane or cement foundation for its installation.

In disaster recovery kinds of use case, air masts like these may need to be deployed for a few days to weeks. It is essential that they can reach their destination quickly. Having reached their destination, they also need to be deployed in a few hours. On the other hand there are many other scenarios where these kinds of air masts, as long as they can stay up for months, be useful for something or other. We look forward to hearing more about them in future.

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Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Vodafone UK improving coverage with Phone Boxes, Mini-masts & Manhole Covers


Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone UK wrote a post about how 'our cunningly imaginative network team has devised some ingenious ways of boosting mobile reception.' While readers of this blog will have already seen most of these innovations from around the world on our blog, it's nevertheless an important step to bring connectivity to users in rural and remote areas that suffer digital exclusion.

Late last year, Vodafone talked about how their mini masts (picture on top) are making huge differences to JCB Staffordshire quarries. Around half the height of a standard mast, the mini masts can be painted to fit in with the local surroundings. The masts also require less power and electronic equipment.  This means they are ideally suited to providing a mobile signal in hard-to-reach rural business locations, such as the two JCB sites, near its World Headquarters. The mini mast is developed in partnership with infrastructure technology company Commscope according to the PR.

Continuing from the original PR:


4G networks can easily become congested in densely populated cities. This is especially true for urban areas regularly visited by waves of tourists, such as London’s Covent Garden. Fitting a mini-mast to the underside of a manhole cover to increase mobile coverage may sound bizarre, but it makes perfect sense. Our incredibly fast fibre optic network runs beneath the streets of Covent Garden and provides the bandwidth muscle behind our manhole cover mini-masts. Each mini-mast isn’t designed to boost coverage for all of London or even the West End, but for specific stretches of Covent Garden where overwhelming demand for a strong and stable 4G signal would otherwise go unmet.

But manhole cover mini-masts won’t be appropriate or possible in every locality. For some places, such as Edinburgh’s historic Princes Street, mini-masts built into phone boxes make more sense. These converted phone boxes not only provide a boost to mobile reception on this bustling thoroughfare, but help preserve a much-loved icon of our national urban heritage.

In a post back in December, I wrote about Small Cells in Phone Boxes here.

In another press release yesterday, Vodafone said:

Picture source: ThinkSmallCell

Visitors to the popular seaside resorts of Polzeath and Sennen Cove in Cornwall this Easter can now receive fast mobile Internet and great voice reception along the beach after Vodafone installed the latest 4G technology in beachfront phone boxes.

Mobile coverage can often be difficult to provide in remote areas and coastal locations due to the local topography and the lack of power and fibre cables needed to link up masts. Vodafone is continually looking at new ways of providing customers with great coverage, including by installing 4G technology into traditional phone boxes, returning them to their roots.

Beach-goers will not only be able to use their smartphones on Vodafone’s ‘4G from a phone box’ service within approximately a 200-metre radius. They can also make use of Vodafone’s range of connected devices, including the V-Pet Tracker to help you pinpoint a dog that has wandered off.

Vodafone is working on a number of initiatives to help support the Government’s ambition of extending mobile coverage to 95% of UK landmass by 2022. In addition to drawing up industry-wide proposals to create a single rural network to cover not spots and partial not spots, last year, Vodafone achieved an industry first by installing the UK’s first mini mobile mast at Porthcurno in Cornwall.



The Cornish 4G-enabled phone boxes are equipped to cope with the increase in mobile usage over the Easter break and over the summer months. During the heatwave in 2018, our network in Cornwall carried nearly 90% more mobile Internet traffic than the previous year.

Vodafone is also testing 4G in phone boxes in busy shopping areas in Edinburgh, Oxford and soon in London. At its technology headquarters in Newbury, Berkshire, Vodafone is trialling housing 4G on the underside of manhole covers.

All pictures, unless mentioned are from Vodafone.

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