Vodafone has a post today on its Sandbox blog about its relay node element, made by Huawei, that it calls Crowdcell.
A relay node acts as a small cell towards a user, but instead of using DSL or some other internet-based backhaul connection it has a direct link to a host macro base station, using the macrocell for backhaul. Obviously the key limitation is that the macro cell itself must have capacity to backhaul numbers of relay nodes within its area of coverage. The node itself can transmit to the user on the same Band as the macro host, or on a separate band.
Vodafone’s version recently won a Small Cell Forum award in the Backhaul category, a section that was Chaired by your writer, and it certainly displays some innovation. However, it is perhaps not quite as Bluesky in its origins as the blog makes out. Relay nodes from Airspan are being commercially deployed by Sprint, for example. ZTE is another major vendor also marketing the technology, and has trialled the product in suburban deployments. Vodafone’s CrowdCell is manufactured by Huawei.
However, Vodafone describes its CrowdCell as slightly moving away from the Relay as strictly specified by 3GPP. That’s because it says a standards-based approach would would have required upgrades in its macro network.
Antonio Oliver, New Technologies & Innovation Manager, Vodafone Group’s Networks Centre of Excellence, told TMN, “What Vodafone has done is make the relay easier, faster and cheaper to deploy. A CrowdCell is simply a relay that uses our macro radio network to backhaul an open access small cell. To any customer device, the CrowdCell looks and behaves like another base station. To a macro base station, however, the CrowdCell just looks like another device, meaning that no macro RAN upgrades are required. An embedded SIM in the CrowdCell is used to identify it to the network, providing additional security.” Vofafone also deploys a relay node controller to control groups of nodes based within one area, to avoid interference.
One are that is interesting is the uses that Vodafone is considering for the CrowdCell – which go beyond the residential or small business use casescommonly associated with relay nodes.
Although Vodafone is running trials in Spain and Turkey where CrowdCells are used by businesses to improve indoor coverage, Oliver said to TMN, “We have also worked with BMW on a demonstration of a vehicular CrowdCell. When a car is being driven, CrowdCell could provide enhanced coverage inside the vehicle. When parked, the device would then improve coverage in the area surrounding the car.”
“ We are also field testing a flying CrowdCell in Spain, by attaching the technology to a drone. This could improve coverage during emergency situations or events.”
“ Finally, consumer devices could use CrowdCell technology in future with the permission of our customers. Doing that would enable users to get better mobile coverage by securely connecting to other CrowdCell users who are closer to the nearest base station at that time.”
Embedding relay technology within user devices would, in effect, start to form an ad-hoc device-to-device network – one sitting under the macro layer but also extending beyond its possible range.