#3 – Small cells
The ‘small cell debate’ is ended by LTE roll-out (with some support from Wi-Fi)
Global LTE rollouts have sparked discussion about the rapid take up of small cells to extend high speed data coverage to public venues, enterprises and homes. However, Northstream believes that LTE roll-out will actually result in operators requiring less small cells than before.
Obviously, the pure macro network, even with the combination of best spectrum assets, does not serve all indoor broadband needs sufficiently; including coverage, QoS and capacity. Allocated LTE spectrum includes a combination of sub 1GHz (700, 800 and 900 MHz) and higher bands. Building LTE networks that combine sub 1GHz and higher spectrum assets actually helps to improve mobile broadband experience indoors.
However, heavy traffic generators like tablets and data modems will require further enhancements to improve indoor coverage. Operators will need to find economically viable solutions to cater for these devices. Non-licenced spectrum will be of assistance, and Wi-Fi has been established as a feasible option for indoor coverage. Wi-Fi has numerous benefits – including harmonised global spectrum, low cost, and easily deployable hotspots. The available (2.4 and 5GHz) Wi-Fi bands provide capacity and throughput that few operators can allocate for indoor use. Most offloading today is user driven. This is mostly because end-users are looking to get better coverage, an improved connection or simply trying to avoid using their mobile data quota.
Northstream believes that as mobile broadband matures, and LTE penetration increases, so will the complementary use of Wi-Fi indoors. As a result, operators will also develop a stronger role in directing traffic, as opposed to leaving that decision to the end-user. But this will require strong authentication solutions, as end-users need an easy and smooth experience, regardless of the type of connectivity.
In 2012 we saw operator controlled Wi-Fi solutions – mainly for public areas. At Northstream, we believe these deployments will increase in number throughout 2013. Though, we should not forget that the cost of fibre backhaul will be somewhat of an impediment. From an operator’s perspective, the true benefit of Wi-Fi is the fact that they don’t need to finance rollout, backhaul nor manage the majority of Wi-Fi small cells. With the support of device vendors, application development and network equipment vendors, operators will ensure that Wi-Fi use is much easier for end-users.