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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Tuesday, 29 October 2019

SK Telecom's In-building 5G NR Repeaters and 'Layer Splitter'


In-building coverage is the new battleground in South Korea. According to this report by Korea Times back in August

SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus, which have been in cutthroat competition to improve the quality of their fifth-generation (5G) network services, are now in a race to boost 5G data speeds inside buildings.

Their move comes amid growing complaints over disappointing 5G network coverage since the next-generation mobile network services were launched in early April.

SK Telecom said Wednesday it has completed the development of the "5GX In-building Solution" that is capable of doubling the speed of 5G data transfer inside buildings and effectively dispersing data traffic to prevent overload on base stations in crowded areas such as shopping malls and subway stations.

The nation's top mobile carrier said the new technology will be applied to its commercial 5G networks after the third quarter of the year.

"We expect 80 percent of data traffic to be from inside buildings in the 5G era," said Park Jong-kwan, who heads 5GX Labs at SK Telecom. "We will continue to give efforts to provide users with seamless, high-quality 5G services inside buildings and in crowded areas."

The company said its new system features "Active Antenna" technology that allows 5G small cells, which refer to small indoor base stations, to be equipped with eight transmission and reception antennas.

This will double the speed of 5G data transfer as existing indoor base stations are capable of operating four transmission and reception antennas.

KT has also been working hard to expand 5G coverage inside buildings.

In May, the nation's largest broadband service provider and second-largest mobile carrier interlocked 5G repeaters with commercial 5G networks in cooperation with small and medium business partners.

Installed inside buildings where radio waves from base stations can hardly reach, the device helps improve the quality of 5G services.

KT is in charge of expanding 5G coverage in 95 large buildings out of 119 nationwide, such as airports and KTX stations, in a joint project by the three mobile carriers.

LG Uplus, the smallest player, also has been active in installing repeaters in small and medium buildings and underground parking lots to expand 5G coverage.

The company is planning to expand the application of beam-forming and multi-user MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) technologies to its 5G networks nationwide.

Back in May, SK Telecom won SCF Small Cell Awards 2019 in the category of “Commercial Small Cell Design and Technology” for commercializing the world’s first 5G NR RF repeater. According to the press release:

SK Telecom won this year’s SCF Small Cell Awards for developing and commercializing, for the first time in the world, two different types of 5G NR RF repeaters operating in the 3.5GHz band in 2018. 5G RF repeaters, which amplify 5G radio signals to allow them to travel greater distances, are used to enhance 5G service quality by improving coverage for in-building areas.

SK Telecom’s RF repeater is built with 5G NR standard-based Time Division Duplex (TDD) Synchronization detection technology, which enables a more efficient use of limited frequency resources. In addition, the 5G repeater provides wide bandwidth support and operational optimization features.

Going back to the Small Cells World back in May, SK Telecom presented their solution but the presentation was not shared. Here are some relevant pictures from their presentation:


Source: Phil Kendall

As can be seen in the picture (click to enlarge), depending on the use case and location, the InBuilding solution would change from Small cells to AAU and Repeaters.

Source: Dean Bubley

As you can see in the picture above, the 3.5/28 GHz layer split solution improves capacity of the building by creating multiple layers to improve the capacity. There is a new press release on this topic, which is covered in the post later on.

Source: Dean Bubley

The Speed Repeater above and the RF Repeater below is backhauling on the existing macro, similar to the In-band backhauling (IBBH) I have described earlier or Sprint/Airspan MagicBox.

Source: Dean Bubley

In a recent press release, SK Telecom announced that they have expanded the 'Layer Splitter', a dedicated equipment for 5G inbuildings, to 1,000 buildings, starting with WeWork Seolleung Branch (Gangnam-gu, Seoul). SK Telecom customers will be able to use 5G services twice as fast as existing in-building equipment in major domestic buildings such as shopping malls and department stores.

'Layer Splitter' is the equipment based on '5GX In-building Solution' developed by SK Telecom in the world in August. If existing indoor equipment is equipped with two antennas for data transmission and reception, 'Layer Splitter' is a four-integrated antenna equipment that can process more data simultaneously in the same frequency band.

It also integrates several signal conversion devices * that go through for communications services. The integrated device is half the size of the device as before, and data transfer rates are faster with fewer signal conversion steps. In addition, the integrated device is placed forward in the base station and only the antenna is installed inside the building, enabling quick action in the event of a problem without visiting the building.

※ Previously, it had to go through four-step signal conversion (digital signal → optical signal → base signal (IF) → optical signal → wireless signal (RF)), but 'layer splitter' Combined 'matcher' and 'donor', a device that converts the base signal (IF) into an optical signal

SK Telecom plans to expand in-building coverage centered on 'layer splitters' in buildings with a large number of floating populations such as large shopping malls and department stores. 

Wework, the first construction site, is a shared office where several ICT-related companies collaborate and expect various business models based on Korea's best 5G infrastructure. In particular, SK Telecom and Wework have been working together since last year's strategic partnership, including building 5G infrastructure.

Chang-Kwon Chung, head of infrastructure engineering group at SK Telecom, said, SKT customers can experience differentiated communication quality with the only equipment dedicated to 5G in-building. “In-building will be able to efficiently accommodate in-building traffic that will continue to increase in the 5G era. "We will continue to advance our proprietary solutions."

Hopefully we will learn more about this solution in near future.


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Wednesday, 2 October 2019

4G LTE Man In The Middle Attacks With A Hacked Small Cells


Here is an interesting talk from recent HITBSecConf by Xiaodong Zou. HITBSecConf or the Hack In The Box Security Conference is an annual must attend event in the calendars of security researchers and professionals around the world. Held annually in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Amsterdam in The Netherlands, HITBSecConf is a platform for the discussion and dissemination of next generation computer security issues.

From the talk narrative:

Femtocells offer a user the ability to have a small base station located within their house or other area. These small base stations provide access to the core telecom network where poor reception from an eNodeB would normally prevent consistent coverage. Femtocells has been standardized in LTE since release 8, and is referred as Home eNodeB, or HeNB. HeNBs are mandated to have an IPsec connection back to a security gateway (SeGW) to protect traffic flowing into and out of a Mobile Network Operator (MNO)’s core network.

If the HeNB is within the physical possession of an attacker, this provides unlimited time to identify a flaw on the HeNB. A compromised HeNB can be used in a manner similar to a rogue base station, but will also provide the attacker access to clear text traffic before it is sent back to the core network. There are more than ten different types of HeNBs deployed in China. Ericsson ENC-nRBS01B40 is one of them – a TD-LTE base station working on band B40.

In this talk, we will cover:

1.) How to root a 4G LTE femtocell.
2.) How to make the femtocell portable.
3.) How to perform man-in-the-middle attack with the femtocell.
4.) Show the prototype of Hacking Box of S1 Interface (HBoS)

Slides and video embedded below:






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Thursday, 12 September 2019

Airspan Small Cells and Macrocells Portfolio, including 5G


Back in April, a presentation from Airspan showed that they have shipped nearly 500k small cells. Sprint has nearly 300k MagicBoxes while Jio has around 120k small cells.


As you can see above, Airspan has a range of outdoor small cells and as shown below, a wide range of indoor small cells.


Airspan recently announced that it has partnered with Rakuten, the newest MNO in Japan, to bring comprehensive 4G and 5G solutions to the world’s first fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network. The announcement said:

Airspan’s Air5G OpenRange28 mmWave platform in 28GHz will deliver ultra-high capacity to Rakuten Mobile with record time-to-market, enabling unprecedented monetization opportunities. Airspan’s open RAN platforms will provide Rakuten Mobile the flexibility to disrupt the economics of traditional network operators and lay the foundation for transformational 5G architectures. With over half a million systems deployed globally, Airspan brings its proven disruptive economics to the fully virtualized Rakuten Mobile network.


Airspan’s mmWave virtualized Air5G OpenRange28 platform utilizes Qualcomm’s FSM100xx 5G chipset and supports open RAN architectures, seamlessly connecting to Rakuten Mobile’s virtualized BBU to deliver the world’s most advanced open interface virtualized RAN solution.  The OpenRange28 mmWave platform supports multiple functional splits for the widest possible set of deployment options, ensuring Rakuten Mobile customers benefit from the highest level of efficiency and the best user experience in Japan.

Airspan's 5G products can be viewed here.

With so many innovators working with Rakuten, it would be interesting to see their 4G & 5G network rollout. Looking forward to some big announcements at MWC next year.

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Monday, 2 September 2019

5G Small Cells on 'Smart Poles' in Denver


There was a good report in FierceWireless about Verizon installing 5G in Denver using special ‘smart poles’. We have covered this topic of smart lampposts and poles extensively for many different countries including India, UK, Portugal, China and even Japan.

The article states:

The Boulder, Colorado-based company Comptek Technologies has designed stand-alone poles to house wireless small cell equipment that is completely hidden within the poles. The City of Denver has approved the design of these Comptek City Poles, and Verizon is now deploying them in Denver for 4G and 5G small cell equipment.

In addition to Verizon, Comptek is also working in different parts of the country with all the other major wireless carriers either directly or through their deployment partners. For instance, Comptek is working closely with its customer Xcel Energy, which has an eight-state footprint. Xcel is helping carriers to deploy their small cells on the utility’s existing vertical infrastructure. And in some cases, Xcel is taking down existing light poles and replacing them with Comptek poles that combine small cell equipment along with a streetlight.

The company has a national agreement with Verizon. Besides Denver, Comptek is working with Verizon in other cities including Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio; Anaheim, San Diego and Los Angeles, California; as well as Salt Lake City. In the Denver/Front Range area, the company has about 350 poles under contract. And across the U.S. it’s got contracts to erect about 1,000 poles by the end of 2019.

CityPoles' website here isn't updated with the latest info but the earlier press release stated 300 small cells in Denver.


Continuing from the article:

The poles are designed in modular sections. There’s a foundation, base cabinet, shroud, upper pole and top antenna section. They’re custom-designed to incorporate various wireless equipment configurations, cabling, power supplies and antennas. In addition to the physical pole itself, Comptek also provides electronics and environmental controls. The poles can support single or multiple carriers.

Jim Lockwood, CEO of Comptek said that for 5G, Ericsson’s mmWave equipment is mounted in a tri-sector format, meaning that the radios and antennas are integrated with each other and they’re mounted at the top of the pole in three panels that face in different directions. Representatives from Ericsson and Verizon could not verify the "tri-sector format" or provide any additional information about it.

Related info:

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Friday, 30 August 2019

Deutsche Telekom, Huber+Suhner are jointly developing 5G small cell antennas

According to Telekom press release:

Deutsche Telekom, Huber+Suhner are jointly developing 5G small cell antennas

Deutsche Telekom is now also preparing its network for the use of 5G small cell antennas. To do so, it is collaborating with Huber+Suhner, the specialist for electrical and optical connectivity. The Swiss company has developed five small cell antennas for Deutsche Telekom that support 4G and 5G frequencies. The Sencity Urban antennas cover the range of frequencies from 1.7 to 4.2 GHz. Small cells are small amplifiers for the mobile network. The data throughput can thus be systematically expanded in areas where many customers are on the move or surfing.

The new small cell antennas first operate in Deutsche Telekom’s 4G network. They can be upgraded to 5G in just a few simple steps. Sencity Urban antennas will be used for the first time in Kiel, Lüneburg, Osnabrück, Munich, Mülheim and other cities.

Small cells will play an increasingly important role in Deutsche Telekom’s network in the future. They are creating a significant increase in data capacity in their coverage area. This is currently up to an additional 150 MBit/s. The new types of Huber+Suhner antenna make it possible to increase quality further with what is referred to as the MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology. Using this technology, several antennas provide higher data throughput – both at the transmitters and in the receiver.

“Small cell antennas are an important component of our expansion strategy. We can systematically cover squares and streets with the new antennas. This helps us create more capacity in the downtown areas and thus further optimize our network,” states Walter Goldenits, Telekom Deutschland’s CTO. “A big added value of our Swiss partner’s antennas is their flexible handling: we can convert the supply to 5G in a few easy steps.”

The small cell antennas made by Huber+Suhner will be installed on public telephone boxes, bus and streetcar shelters, walls, or on LED furniture. There are various types of antennas and housing, adapted to the various requirements. Omnidirectional antennas are used for market squares, for example, and directional antennas for narrow streets.

Small cells will be required in the future to provide urban areas with 4G and 5G. Combined with the conventional locations, the network can thus provide the necessary coverage and capacity to supply more and more wireless devices. The Sencity Urban antennas are very compact and can be easily installed in existing infrastructures. This saves space and enables future networks to perform at their best.

The press release is also available on Huber+Suhner site here.

Back in May, Huber+Suhner had already announced outdoor MIMO antennas for 5G Urban Deployments:

HUBER+SUHNER has developed small omnidirectional and directional antennas to maximise performance. The new SENCITY Urban 100 and 200 outdoor MIMO antennas cover both 4G and 5G high frequency ranges and are as compact as possible for discreet installation in different types of street furniture, such as bus shelters, poles or walls, depending on the location, thanks to various bracket mounting options.

Further details:



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