Ericsson yesterday announced three new features within its small cell range, aimed at increasing ease of deployment indoor and out, and at aiding a multi-operator model in in-building small cell deployments.
There were three aspects to the announcement.
- A new multi-operator capability for the Radio Dot system.
- A new enclosure that can house multiple Dots in the same box
- A strand mount option for outdoor small cells that can host four radios
MULTI-OPERATOR DOTS THREE WAYS
Unlike, say, the Nokia FlexiZone or SpiderCloud E-RAN small cell designs, Radio Dots are not in themselves miniature base stations. Rather they are distributed radio heads attached to a centralised “feeder” baseband unit, mediated through an indoor remote unit (IRU).
What Ericsson has announced is the ability to support multi-operator service in three ways.
First – parallel deployments with each operator using its own dedicated baseband, IRU and Dots. These Dots can be housed in the same enclosures (the new enclosures known as the multi-dot bracket) to tidy things up a bit.
Secondly – a multi-operator deployment using a shared baseband and IRU, over the same network of distributed radio heads, using MORAN (Multi Operator Radio Access Network) or MOCN (Multi Operator Core Network) network sharing capabilities.
Thirdly, a multi-operator Dot solution where operators provide multiple RF sources to the same Dot system. They do this by feeding baseband capacity to a new access unit from Ericsson, the RF Access Unit (RAU). This new RAU can support three 2×2 MIMO RF inputs, and can be connected on the other side to four IRUs, which then feed the shared Dot remote radioheads.
In both the second and third options, one operator remains in overall control of the deployment.
An Ericsson spokesperson said to TMN: “In each of these instances, the physical Dots themselves are unchanged from the original design. However with the Multi-Operator Radio Dot System we have introduced a new element into the architecture to enable the RF-signal input – the RF Access Unit. The RF Access Unit has 3x RF inputs with 2x2MIMO, and is a 19” standard building practice with -48V or AC. The RF Access Unit is an integrated part of Ericsson Radio System: hardware and software and will be managed, installed and handled like other components in Ericsson Radio System.”
Ericsson already had a strand-mountable picocell product, something it inherited with its BelAir Networks acquisition. What this product does is add support for multiple radios (2-4), and within the mounting bracket operators can mount Ericsson’s 2203, 2205 (LAA) and 2208 (CBRS) products. Again, that’s an approach that could potentially enable a multi-operator outdoor small cell deployment.
TOWARDS A MULTI OPERATOR MODEL
It’s notable that there is a clear direction of travel towards multi-operator or neutral host models, both indoors and out, in the market.
Ericsson’s Dot was initially designed as a single operator system, as was SpiderCloud’s competitive E-RAN. Where once SpiderCloud once made a virtue of its single-operator necessity – stating that an operator would gain competitive advantage by being the “best” carrier within a given office block or campus, it has in the past couple of years taken steps to add multi-operator capability – by adding support for more carriers, LAA and CBRS models.
Another small cell vendor, ip.access, has also gone down the multi-operator, or neutral host route. Ip.access’ Viper platform combines multi operator access points with a gateway node that can be deployed as a virtual instance that links to separate operator core networks.
Huawei recently expanded band support for its LampSite product – probably the most similar product in terms of architectural design to the Radio Dot – and its aim was specifically to increase support for multi-operator deployments.
Although Ericsson claimed at launch that its dual band Dot could enable a multi-operator deployment, it clearly needed to take additional steps to really enable multi-operator models. One approach, as we have seen, is simply to make it a bit easier to deploy two or more instances of everything in the architecture. That seems like a hard model to scale economically, apart from in the biggest sites, perhaps. The other approaches either a) require the implementation of a new element (the RAU) or b) limits the number of multiple operators to two.
What seems clear is that vendors are being tasked to provide technical support for commercial models that make small cell deployments more economically accessible.