This blog is by Ajit Kahaduwe at Nokia Solutions and Networks.
Location, Location, Location… Being able to determine the best location for a small cell site based on where users are active and the amount of data being consumed can greatly improve an operator’s return on assets (ROA).
The emerging site placement problem
Wireless operators spend anywhere from $90 – $290,000 in CAPEX on average per base station according to McKinsey & Company in its report: Transition to digital in high-growth markets. The cost versus return on assets, though important, has not traditionally been a major issue for macro cells, as cell site placement is based on coverage needs and cells are split when capacity exceeds the site’s capabilities. Precise placement of macro sites hasn’t been considered necessary because they’re typically spaced over 250 meters apart and naturally have wide coverage.
Meanwhile, macro cell networks have matured to provide complete umbrella coverage, along with the expectation that networks need to support 1 GB per user per day by 2020. So operators are now looking to deploy small cells for targeted high capacity, especially in urban areas. Small cell systems like NSN’s unique full-featured Flexi Zone base station are by definition “small” with lower power (< 5 watts), cover small areas (less than 100 meters) and are compact in size compared to their macro brothers. In the past, the operator’s network planning department would place small cells at street intersections or coffee shops ─ very much a hit or miss proposition without knowing if there is sufficient customer traffic. So how does an operator find and fully capture these urban hot spots and hot zones*?
Discovering exactly where users are active is now possible thanks to one of NSN’s latest innovations that leverages big data and takes advantage of all those GPS-enabled phones out there that are connected to social media sites.
Modern smartphones have GPS, WiFi, and Bluetooth, which – together with smart operating systems like Android and iOS – allow the phones to accurately determine (within 5-50 meters) where it is relative to its surroundings. On its own, however, positioning information from 100 users or even 1,000 users is not enough to determine if a location is a hotspot due to inaccuracies in positioning, time of day, special events, weather and other variables.
In order to gather sufficient data points and reliably identify a specific hot spot or hot zone, a method to aggregate user location over longer time periods is required. Social media applications such as Twitter, Flickr and Foursquare, give network planners access to millions of geo-located points of user presence. When these are normalized for accuracy, time, date and other variables, it creates a map of wireless usage based on real user locations with the level of precision needed to accurately place small cells.
By using geo-located social media, network planners can clearly see where to match capacity with demand by offloading overloaded macro cells to small cells. Operators benefit from maximizing the return on the investment in sites and equipment, while users benefit from stronger signal strengths, higher data throughput, and better overall quality from networks built where they are actually used.
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* A hot zone refers to a larger “high use” area comprised of multiple hot spots.