Oi’s plans for small cells in Brazil

As Small Cells Americas opens, Keith Dyer talks to one of the event's speakers, Alberto Boaventura, Technology Consultant, Oi, about the Brazilian operator's plans for small cells.

Boaventura works as a senior manager within Oi’s technology area, providing a long term technical vision for the operator. It’s a position that demands he keeps up with regulatory matters, as well as technical developments coming from suppliers and others.

KD: How do you view the role of small cells for Oi?

I see that small cells have three main positions. First, to extend and improve coverage – mainly related to indoor. Oi doesn’t have spectrum below 1GHz and small cells are therefore a very interesting way to increase coverage and caacity. We did some trials and launched an RFP in some of the areas, and now we are trying small cells in specific areas, like indoor shopping centres. Another strategy is to relieve traffic overload in general. The third area is for convergent services. Oi is fixed and mobile operator so a small cell means we can go inside the home or do something like a home zone tariff, doing a little trick on our IN platform to allow customers to use the mobile phone as a cordless phone.

These are the three main strategems: indoor coverage, for relieving overload and for convergence.

KD: Do you see small cells as an important part of your LTE rollout?

For LTE we are using Band 7, at 2600MHz, so that’s the same situation as I mentioned before for indoor coverage, so we see indoor small cells being very important for improving coverage.

Then we have a sort of small cells two phase: where we are considering deploying in Band 3 at 1800MHz. That is because for 3GPP improvements in terms of intercell interference coordination, (eICIC and CoMP) – key functionalities that should help interference management in this HetNet environment – I think in terms of state-of-the-art these will only be available one or two years from now. Until we have that environment we are considering 1800 spectrum so as to not interfere in the macro coverage environment.

In terms of the vendor environment, with something like the X2 interface for handover interoperability between vendors, this is something that is the next step for the HetNet in general, that I think can be a mature solution in 1-2 years from now.

KD: What is the regulatory and commercial environment like in Brazil – for example things like site acquisition for small cells?

Until recently any base station deployed in Brazil required the operator to pay a fee to government per year and also once off fee. The annual fee was round $300 per year per base station, independent of the power of the base station. If you are considering small cells for residential users that could have a severe effect, so that’s the reason that small cells did not soar till now. Recently that was changed and in a new regulation they are considering another tax for small cells or femtocells of around $10-20. So I believe that based on this we have next year more and more small cell deployments around Brazil.

In order to comply in general in Brazil we have a lot of municipal laws that don’t allow us to create a new site: we can’t for instance create a new site near to a church, school or hospital. Some places here in Brazil need a signature from at least 300 inhabitants to allow us to deploy a new base station, This kind of situation is very complex, and Brazil is creating a federal law that states what the relationship of operators in the community and society should be.

Although small cells have very low power and radiation levels, one problem is visual pollution. The boxes need to have a nice skin, to look good. That is something the industry must have.

KD: So what do you think we will see in terms of small cells in Brazil in 2014?

AB: Some operators are considering a lot of small cells outdoor to increase coverage, like Vivo (Telefonica) and ourselves. I believe that in one year from now, small cells will be integrated as a network solution, not be a specific vertical. I believe that small cells will eventually replace DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems), but in general we are looking at the benefits of small cells and considering them another just another part of the solutions we have.

At the moment we are assessing and co-ordinating trials for various aspects of small cell deployment, and see progress on the residential side, and outdoors in step with standards.

Portugal Telecom are also doing some trials and we are in touch with those guys to make sure they have the same movement.

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