This blog is by Roberta Lima at Nokia Networks.
Nokia Networks’ Insight magazine journalists were fortunate enough recently to break into the busy schedules of two leading industry figures – Ed Gubbins, Senior Analyst for Mobile Access Infrastructure at Current Analysis, and Gordon Mansfield, Chairman of Small Cell Forum. They wanted to find out how these two experts saw the fast-growing small cells market and the challenges facing operators.
Here’s what they said about Nokia’s work on small cells:
“Nokia has been a leader in the small cells ecosystem from the start. In the early days of the Femto Forum (now renamed to Small Cells Forum), Nokia was clearly a pioneer and instrumental in supporting the work of the Forum,” comments Mansfield.
According to Gubbins, “Nokia’s Flexi Zone is novel and stands out because it can create a lot of value for the indoor enterprise environment, especially with the addition of Liquid Applications to offer enterprise services. Nokia was early in probing the kind of hub and spoke architecture that Flexi Zone uses and which now vendors broadly acknowledge as offering scalability and real value.”
Both cite Nokia as a leader in small cells but here, I want to focus on three key reasons why – on the “what makes Nokia stand out”.
Expanding hot spots into hot zones
Mansfield puts his finger on a key issue facing operators as traffic continues to rise in dense urban areas: “Small cell technology is critical as operators have to find ways to densify their networks cost effectively. Alternative technologies will be required as hot spots grow into wider hot zones.”
That’s where Nokia Flexi Zone fits in. Flexi Zone is a small cell cluster solution for indoor and outdoor hot zones, implementing a novel architecture that simplifies the complex deployment and operation of a large number of small cells. The architecture also boosts performance and significantly reduces the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of small cells by up to 50% compared to stand-alone small cells.
“It’s clear that Flexi Zone is a differentiated solution in an area where differentiation is not easy due to cost pressures,” Gubbins says.
Making use of Wi-Fi
The second issue concerns the integration of Wi-Fi as an essential technology for delivering more indoor coverage and capacity. Gubbins points to this as a priority for operators, utilizing technologies like Access Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF).
ANDSF is a 3GPP standard function that enables mobile devices to discover and use non-3GPP access networks, such as Wi-Fi, for data traffic. With ANDSF, a subscriber’s device tells the network about Wi-Fi access points in range and then receives instructions back about whether or not it should connect to Wi-Fi.
Addressing the practicalities of deployment
Getting the right technology is vital, but equally important is how small cells are actually deployed – a major topic addressed by both Gubbins and Mansfield.
The challenges relating to outdoor small cell deployment, says Gubbins, revolve around the need to roll out large numbers of small cells, far more than for macro networks. “Street level deployment is unfamiliar to operators so the first time they do it, the costs may be high,” he says.
Mansfield offers a similar view: “Operators need to refine their deployment processes to get the economics right. They have solid processes in place, but now we can see that those processes are geared to macro sites instead of small cells. Operators need to assess which parts of those processes apply to small cells and which do not. This can be difficult.”
Gubbins adds: “This is an area in which the expert services of vendors can be of real help. Vendors understand their products and how best to roll them out and optimize them. There are a few spheres of expertise needed and vendors can pull these together.”
To help operators, Nokia Networks offers Services for HetNets to reduce the cost of deploying small cells while ensuring they are best placed to capture traffic. Using proprietary tools, proven processes, and best practices gained from more than 1,400 planning and optimization projects per year, Services for HetNets helps operators maximize the return on their investment. With high-resolution 3-D maps combined with advanced propagation modeling, the solution can improve the accuracy of coverage and interference forecasts, reducing the need for expensive and time-consuming site surveys and drive tests.
The approach has helped one US operator reduce its TCO by 20% while, by planning small cells closer to demand, 21% more subscribers are able to access the highest data speeds.
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