Vodafone to have hundreds of LTE small cells in Netherlands in 2014

Small cell providers will not include macro-provider Ericsson. Operator does not see need for SON to support deployment. Areas will be called Performance Zones.

Vodafone Netherlands is in live trials of public access LTE small cells in the centre of Amsterdam, and will have 200 sites commercially active within the next six months in the city. The operator will have “hundreds” more cells actively deployed in four other cities in The Netherlands within the same time frame.

Matthias Sauder, Head of Network, Vodafone Netherlands (VFNL) told a “Het Nets and WiFi Offload” conference track at LTE World Summit that the small cells will be used to create what the operator will call Performance Zones – areas of high capacity in urban hotspots.

Sauder said the operator was still in “vendor selection” for the deployment, but confirmed that the operator will be using a different vendor (or vendors) for the deployment than its macro LTE provider Ericsson. It will be using fibre backhaul wholesaled from KPN and Colt.

The cells themselves will operate at about 200-300 metres in radius, Sauder said, which appears to suggest the cells in the trial are likely to be micro cells, in the 5W of output power range. They will be sited on lampposts and street furniture, he confirmed. (See grainy picture below for the actual products VFNL is using. Do you recognise them?)

Vodafone is not using SON to support its deployment so far, and will manage the small cells as a separate layer from the macro layer, which will be used to provide underlying coverage. (The operator was at one time working at Group level on developing a SON strategy it calls OneSON, with Huawei as its chief partner. Huawei said recently to TMN that the project was still live)

VFNL has 2×10 MHz at 1800MHz and 10MHz at 2.6GHz and will use both for the small cells. Where there is interference at 1800MHz the operator will use 2.6GHz for its small cells, Sauder said. “Yes we are using 1800 MHz and 2.6GHz for our small cell deployment,” Sauder said.

The trials had shown up “no big issues” Sauder said. “We were really surprised at how well it was working.” If the carrier does move to SON, it will be dedicated within only the small cell layer, he said. “When you look at interworking it’s really about performance management and we will have that in place to make sure both [macro and small cell layers] are working properly together,” he added.

“Performance-wise, interworking [SON] even in the same frequency band is not a big help. You know at the beginning I would have thought operating small cells in the same frequency band would not fly, but in the end if you make sure there is a certain distance between the macro cells and the small cells it will fly. And otherwise it’s good if you have a second frequency spectrum as we have with 2.6 GHz.”

VFNL also has basic coverage at 800MHz, with 10MHz of spectrum. “Later on”, Sauder added, the operator will also combine the 800 and 1800 MHz frequencies using Carrier Aggregation features.