Small Cells World Summit round-up

What Qualcomm gets out of bed for, and other Small Cell World Summit stories.

This week Avren Events’ Small Cells World Summit, held in association with the Small Cell Forum, confirmed a growing maturity in the market with attendance up 50% and a steady flow of senior networks personnel from operators across the USA, Europe and Asia Pacific, in particular. In fact, the word summit is probably a misnomer, as this market is nowhere near its peak.

A few companies also took the opportunity to launch small cell specific products or announce partnerships. Here’s a few stories from the event.

Qualcomm Atheros announced its lowest power small chip, the 28nm FSM99xx. Based on technology brought in a year ago with its acquisition of DesignArt, the chipset allows WiFi to be attached as a peripheral to the chip, and integrates Qualcomm’s SON technology.

An interesting quote from Stuart Strickland, Director, Product Strategy Networking Business Unit, Qualcomm Atheros, to me was his line, “Not many people in Qualcomm get out of bed for a 100,000 unit sale”. What Strickland was saying was that although outdoor small cell deployments are beginning to have some large numbers put against them, for Qualcomm, markets need to be in the millions to get the economics to work. “The margins are interesting but not part of our overall growth model. We’re talking about millions rather than tens of thousands.”

That is why the company is pushing its Neighbourhood Small Cell idea, which is a concept of residential femtocells that are also public access, as with FON WiFi hotspots for instance. A residential market offers much greater volume.

Another interesting point was the Strickland felt that operators are less concerned about SON for public access small cells than they are interference management with the macro network.

Another interesting quote: some of the technologies Qualcomm integrates, like SON, can be seen as a way of “priming the pump” rather than integral to Qualcomm’s future. “Even now there is tension between UltraSON and what the partners of our customers want to develop,” Strickland said, meaning that Qualcomm’s customers’ customers have their own SON developments ongoing. “In the end we are a silicon and IP licensing company. So the other things we offer allows us to be an enabler of that core business.”

Cisco’s message is that with WiFi and licensed spectrum small cells, centralised SON from Intucell and Policy smarts from BroadHop, as long as subscriber gateways from Cariden, it has a wrap-around package for small cell deployments. The company announced that it had integrated Ubiquisys’ small cells into its access point portfolio, giving the products the name Universal Small Cells.

“When we looked at overall what needed to be done in the small cells space, our sense was that in order to stitch together an end-to-end solution, including the ability to provide apps and services, we needed some heavy lifting,” Partho Mishra, VP and GM, Small Cell Technology Group, Cisco, told the Conference.

Additionally, the company announced it was forming a small cells backhaul partnership with a clutch of providers across different backhaul technologies. Cisco is working with Blinq, Fastback, Radwin, Dragonwave, NEC, and Siklu. Mishra said, “The idea is that with we are providing an interoperable end-to-end solution from an architecture standpoint addressing not just interoperability but problems of link management and optimisation. Working with these companies we’ve developed a lot of network management capabilities to deal with problems.” Mishra introduced the term Universal MPLS Network Management to explain the thinking behind the vendor’s backhaul partnership programme.

TMN readers will know this company’s software enables byte-level caching at the network edge. An Intel partner, Altobridge this year was demonstrating caching on the mobile device itself, using the Motorola Razr I – one of the few smartphones based on an Intel platform. The company, which also enables caching in the core and at the base station called the tiered caching approach Hierarchical Network Caching.

You will be familiar with the concept of a desktop device caching content. Until now, CTO Richard Lord, said, nobody has attempted this on a mobile, although he thinks they should be – users often return to and access the same content, he claimed. TMN was shown a demo where the phone downloaded a PDF from a website over the air. Subsequent hits on the website download button “delivered” the PDF from a cache in the phone, with trace data showing that the data downloaded over the air was virtually eliminated.

The application, for Altobridge, could be very user friendly in reducing data usage – keeping a user within volume limits. Operators see a reduction in delivery of that content across their network. Does it require a great amount of on-device storage? Altobridge has its software set up to store a certain number of records which are progressively deleted once they fall out of use or out of data.

What’s the small cell link? Well, with small cells sited in areas of high demand, and with backhaul optimisation a key consideration, a smarter approach to content delivery could help with the economics of small cell deployments.

E-RAN networks, with soft handoff, were found to have an average voice call set-up success rates of 99.5.

NEC/ SpiderCloud:
It was interesting to see NEC’s Martin Guthrie present the benefits of a large scale enterprise deployment using SpiderCloud’s E-RAN (Radio Node plus on site controller/services node) architecture.

Guthrie called the space between small enterprises and very large scale deployments The DAS Gap, which is a nice bit of marketing that demonstrates the potential sweet spot for this technology pretty nicely.

NEC and SpiderCloud announced that they would form a strategic partnership last year so it was slightly strange that Guthrie never mentioned or referenced SpiderCloud once during his presentation*, at least as far as I could hear. Perhaps he assumed that his knowledgeable audience would know the connection. Still, he outlined the benefits in terms of services integration and operator differentiation very well.

One outstanding item, this time raised by Disruptive Analysis’ Dean Bubley but one that I have raised with the SpiderCloud guys most times we’ve met, is that the single operator focus of the E-RAN seems to run contrary to the BYOD/Bring your own Operator trend in large enterprises. In other words, if your building has an E-RAN deployed by Verizon, and half your employees are buying devices with AT&T SIMs in them, then half your employees are not getting the ideal service.

SpiderCloud told me once that in one instance BYOD users began migrating to the operator running the in-building network, when they saw how much better quality their colleagues, who were with the host operator,were getting.

So, in other words, there’s a double benefit for operators in attracting corporate contracts but also, by word of mouth, perhaps acquiring the customers in the building who are subscribers of other operators.

Incidentally, to prove those claims of better service quality, SpiderCloud was touting some stats showing call drop rates and other KPIs from 18 months of live deployments.

It said that its E-RAN networks, with soft handoff, were found to have an average voice call set-up success rates of 99.5% and an average call drop rate of less than 0.8%. The benchmark testing found that the best E-RAN deployment achieved a call setup success rate of 99.8% and a call drop rate below 0.4%. In comparison, SpiderCloud said, individual or “mesh” small cells using hard handoff experienced voice call drop rates of 5% or more.

For macro cellular networks, mobile operators demand voice call set-up success rate (CSSR) to be higher than 98% and voice call drop rate (CDR) to be less than 0.8%.

* The two companies were more closely aligned at the Small Cell Forum Awards, where they jointly scooped an award for their work together.

PureWave Networks (Also Texas Instruments):
PureWave Networks announced two new small cells, the Lyra 200 and Lyra 400, which join the in its Contellation family.

The Lyra 400 is WiFi/WCDMA/LTE small cell called the Lyra 400, can support up to 128 active users, with transmit power options as high as 250mW per antenna, up to 4 antennas, and support for up to 2 simultaneous bands. The Lyra 200 is a single band product.

Like other small cells from PureWave Constellation family, Lyra small cells are built on Texas Instruments chipset designs PureWave also stated that it is collaborating with TI to offer a solution platform based on TI’s new TCI6630K2L SoC and AFE7500 analog front end transceiver to OEM customers.

Small Cell Forum:
Speaking to Gordon Mansfield (Chair) and Graham Wright (CEO), it’s clear that there is a real desire to put some programmes in place that really benefit from increased engagement of the Forum’s members with its outputs and activities. One public sign of this is the Forum’s release schedule, with the enterprise focussed Release Two due to be published in December, with Release Three, focused on urban small cells, scheduled for release at Mobile World Congress 2014. The Forum has also formed a Special Interest Group to look at deployment.