NSN intros small cells with Het Net ambitions

NSN tells a Het Net story with new Flexi Zone base stations.

Nokia Solutions and Networks has released details of a new base station it will be bringing to market in early 2014.

Its Flexi Zone LTE microcells and picocells will have output power of up to 5W and are about 5kg in weight. They will also include GPS and 1588v2 support for timing and synchronisation.

NSN is positioning these small cells as being tightly integrated with the systems that control the macro layer, rather than seeing them as a discreet small cell layer.

To achieve that NSN has said that the cells are equipped with customised system on chip technology that gives the cells the same processing capability as macro cells, meaning they can run the same software as macro cells.

This makes them easier to integrate into a Het Net, NSN says. To back up the Het Net message, NSN is also beefing up its Het Net planning and design capability with an expanded analysis and planning tool that can optimise the deployment of base stations for multi-layer hot spots.

It’s interesting to note some of NSN’s language here. One of its chosen quotes states that “Small cells have conventionally been cut down versions of macro base stations with reduced performance. In contrast, Flexi Zone microcell and picocell base stations use the latest System on a Chip technologies to deliver the same processing power as a macro base station.”

That “cut down” product may be true of other macro vendors’ approaches to small cells, but plays down the capabilities of purpose-built small cells from other vendors. It also makes no direct mention of the remote radio, integrated antenna approach that vendors (including NSN with its Liquid Radio) have proposed for Cloud RAN installations. These would be much lower power units, connected by fibre (in most cases) to centralised baseband processing pools.

The message here is, first, “accept no limitations in performance from your small cells”. Second, the message is that to achieve the benefits of a Het Net operators need to look at tight integration between layers, or else co-ordination will be lacking. Third, it attempts to give operators peace of mind that they can deploy these cells as hotspot solutions, but still be able to upgrade them to denser deployments as demand intensifies.

In other words, operators can deploy small cells without having to have “small cell strategy”, with all the palaver around backhaul, power, access rights and interference co-ordination that entails.

NSN’s Flexi Zone small cell approach proposed clusters of small cells controlled by a local controller node that acted as a gateway to the macro network.

Today’s release makes note that these new units could also be migrated to be integrated into that Flexi Zone architecture, if necessary, but also holds out the prospect of individual cells being managed as part of an operators’ overall management platform.