FCC moves forward with small cell plans despite backlash

The FCC has officially given new small cell deployment rules the thumbs up, despite protest from municipal leagues and local governments.

Earlier this month the FCC outlined plans to remove barriers for small cell deployment. The new rules focused on reducing fees the authority or government can charge telcos applying for permission to deploy the small cells, and secondly, reducing the ‘shot clocks’ for small wireless facilities, being the time in which the organization has to either approve or deny the application.

Following the proposals from the FCC, a number of local authorities and governments protested the rules, declaring too much of a burden was being placed on the public service. While it is understandable for employees to kick up a fuss over increased workloads, these are the same organizations which will complain over poor connectivity and the telcos ignoring smaller communities.

“New physical infrastructure is vital for success here,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “That’s because 5G networks will depend less on a few large towers and more on numerous small cell deployments – deployments that for the most part don’t exist today.

“But installing small cells isn’t easy, too often because of regulations. There are layers of (sometimes unnecessary and unreasonable) rules that can prevent widespread deployment. At the federal level, we acted earlier this year to modernize our regulations and make our own review process for wireless infrastructure 5G fast. And many states and localities have similarly taken positive steps to reform their own laws and increase the likelihood that their citizens will be able to benefit from 5G networks. But as this Order makes clear, there are outliers that are unreasonably standing in the way of wireless infrastructure deployment.”

Pai is condemning the attitudes of some of the local governments, and has even gone as far as to suggest these authorities were actively seeking to maximise revenues from the telcos. With the telcos being held accountable to deployment timetables and connectivity commitments, in some cases they would be forced to pay what some would call unreasonable fees. This is an conflict which we have also seen in the UK, though the new Electronic Communications Code is supposed to remove these hurdles as well.

Of course, what is worth noting is the majority of local authorities are working effectively with the telcos and the federal government to remove administrative hurdles and smooth the road to deployment. These new rules, which limit the power and influence of the local governments, are only directed at the troublemakers who demonstrate short-sighted ambitions in laying out a troublesome path for the telcos.

KPN launches 5G trials alongside 3.5 GHz moan

KPN has announced the launch of four new 5G trials in the Netherlands, while also giving the government a bit of a nudge to grant access to the 3.5 GHz frequency band.

Although the 3.5 GHz frequency has been marked as a priority for 5G by the European Commission, Dutch regulators have not included the band in any spectrum auctions to date, or the auction scheduled for 2019. This has been a point of frustration for the telcos, who seem to be taking it in turn to urge regulators to rethink plans. While this is seemingly KPN’s turn, VodafoneZiggo made a similar plea towards the end of 2017 which fell on deaf ears.

“Where 4G connects people, 5G will connect the whole society. It is therefore very important that we, together with customers and technology partners, investigate how 5G can optimize business processes and improve the customer experience,” said Jacob Groote, Director of Product Management Business Market at KPN.

Right now the band being used for defence and intelligence at a satellite monitoring station in the north of the Netherlands, and closed broadband networks elsewhere. Regulators have said the issue will be cleared up in time for the 2019 auction, but there has seemingly been little progress to date, much to the frustration of the telcos.

Despite the confusion, KPN has also confirmed it will begin four new 5G trials focusing on Massive MIMO in urban areas with Nokia (Amsterdam), connection of drones for precision agriculture (a farm in Drenthe), virtual reality in industry (Rotterdam Harbour) and self-driving vehicles (motorways near Helmond).

In terms of the applications in agriculture, the team will work with Wageningen University and ZTE, to test out various precision agriculture practises based on drones. The trio will also be using millimetre wave with the aim of generating speeds greater than 1 Gbps. Over in Rotterdam Harbour, network slicing is the focus of the trial. Working with Huawei, the aim is to effectively demonstrate network slicing techniques for business critical applications using virtual reality.

Arqiva and O2 kick start small cell mission

Arqiva and O2 have announced a new project to deliver 300 small cell sites across some of London’s busiest boroughs to increase connectivity and begin walking the 5G trail.

14 borough have been identified, making use of some of Arqiva’s concession contracts, with work set to begin in the summer, running through to 2020. The 300 small cells will be installed on various bits of street furniture in areas where mobile data demand is particularly high, such as outside train stations or shopping centres.

“New types of mobile infrastructure are now required to meet the needs of the mobile network operators and their customers,” said David Crawford, MD of Telecoms & M2M at Arqiva. “As demand for data continues to increase, the requirement for network densification will grow and use of street furniture and small cells will play a critical role in delivering the mobile networks of the future.”

“National 5G infrastructure – when it arrives in a few years’ time – will not only have a crucial impact on our economy, it will change the way we live our lives,” said Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at O2. “Our partnership with Arqiva reflects this belief and demonstrates our commitment to exploring opportunities to provide the increased capacity and denser coverage our customers deserve in the areas they need it most. Only by working together, with industry partners, regulators, and government policy makers, will we be able to continue delivering the best for our customers and to help the UK maintain the digital leadership we have all worked so hard to establish.”

The announcement might come as a welcome relief for O2 customers, who could get frustrated at the level of service from the telco. According to Opensignal, O2 is consistently the worst performer when ranked against the other MNOs in the UK. London is an area which has notably suffered, though the additional infrastructure might go some way to help. The question which remains is how much.

What hasn’t been said are any specifics to the technology being used. 300 might sounds like a big number to some, or it might sound minor, it all depends on the scale. Depending on the specific products being used, the range could vary from a couple of metres to a few kilometres. 300 might be a useless number or perhaps overkill. As O2 is yet to respond to requests for more information on the tech, who knows.

Perhaps this is part of the big O2 plan; the telco has seems to enjoy playing the connectivity guessing game with its customers, maybe this is just a continuation.

Ericsson Dots down for some 5G noise

If we’re not complaining about poor signal in the middle of a farmers field, it’s the disastrous indoor coverage, but Ericsson is moving to soothe the masses.

One of the problems is with modern buildings. Modern building materials can block outdoor radio signals, therefore indoor coverage problems cannot be addressed by increasing outdoor radio deployments. Ericsson’s solution is to bring additional products to the market, in this case it’s the 5G Radio Dot, a small cell radio designed to improve coverage indoor ahead of the influx of the tsunami of 4K/8K video streaming, VR/AR, and immersive media which 5G promises.

“Adding small cell solutions to our 5G portfolio is a natural part of the network evolution. Enterprises have been asking for first-rate connectivity indoors, as well as higher speeds and capacity to serve advanced use cases that cannot be addressed by traditional indoor systems,” said Nishant Batra, Head of Product Area Network Infrastructure at Ericsson. “Our 5G portfolio, bolstered by small cells, will enable operators to meet these demands.”

Ericsson claims the 5G Radio Dot takes less than half the time to install compared to other indoor solutions, while it will support the new 5G mid-bands (3-6GHz) with speeds up to 2Gbps. The Radio Dot products are already in the market for customers trying to improve indoor 4G coverage, but now it has a 5G sticker on it.

The newly configured products can just replace what customers have in place now, using the same cabling infrastructure, same network architecture and dot locations. In theory, it should be a simple change over once the 5G dream is here. Trials will be taking place across 2018, and the Dot should hit the shelves in 2019.

DT and Facebook TIP the scales for mmWave

Deutsche Telekom and Facebook has jointly announced a new working group, Millimetre Wave (mmWave) Networks Project Group, to address the growing demand for bandwidth in dense, highly-populated cities.

Nestled in the wider Telecom Infra Project, the objective here is to make use of the much heralded millimetre wave spectrum, airwaves which have been billed as the saviour of 5G. The news will be welcomed by operators such as AT&T and Verizon, as well as urbanites who might struggle for connectivity in coming years, as data trends continue to spiral upwards.

“The mmWave group will focus on advancing networking solutions that use the 60 GHz frequency band, which many governments are allocating for 5G and other high-bandwidth applications,” said Andreas Gladisch of Deutsche Telekom, and Salil Sawhney of Facebook, (the project groups co-chairs) in a blog entry.

“This large slice of unlicensed spectrum can support the bandwidth required by virtual reality, augmented reality, 4K video streaming, smart city sensors and other emerging bandwidth-intensive applications.”

For those who want a bit of a recap. TIP is an open-source telco project, aimed at reducing the price point of operating mobile networks. It has been led from the beginning by Facebook, who might have thought it was about time to get back into the good books of the operators. There is only so long Facebook and other over-the-top content providers can use their infrastructures at no cost, without receiving passive aggressive digs.

On the business side of things, Facebook does need networks to get better as well. Video has been targeted as a massive growth area for the social media giant, but if the networks aren’t there to support the experience for the user, it is hardly going to be a successful venture. Finding cost effective solutions for the operators to roll out more advanced and cost effective infrastructure is very much in the interest of Zuckerberg and co.

TIP

The focus of this group will primarily be the design of nodes that combine radio transmitters and receivers, which make use of a mesh configuration, with traffic hopping from node to node to reach the reception point. Think of the signal bouncing around off nodes on utility poles, street lamps and the sides of buildings, before hitting a Wi-Fi access point, small cell or a building.

Using this method coverage could be provided to a pretty large area, but with a small number of nodes hooked up to the fibre infrastructure. In a perfect world, it is considerably more cost effective, much quicker to deploy and more flexible. Think about it this way, the less fibre which is going into the ground, the happier operators (and their investors) will be. Whether you’re talking about smart city applications, or mobile backhaul, there are certainly use cases for the group to target.

In terms of the work points for the group, this will be split into four areas. Firstly, a cost economics model, which will help operators determine whether the strategy is one which is orientated towards cost savings or revenue generation. We would assume this decision would have been made beforehand, but validation to build a business case for sign-off is always a useful tool to have.

Secondly, there will be a test and measurement module. You need to know whether the performance and capabilities of 60 GHz networking is actually worth it of course. There will also be network planning tools to help optimize the deployment of the nodes. And finally, best practise papers which range from obtaining spectrum covering permits and rules for attaching nodes to utility poles.

Nokia joins the 5G upgrade party

No sooner does Ericsson make a 5G kit announcement than its Finnish competitor follows suit.

Nokia’s announcement had a suspiciously familiar ring to it, which may or may not be a coincidence. The headline development is the addition of some new FDD and TDD radios to its AirScale Remote Radio Head portfolio that support 4×4 MIMO and 8×4 beamforming. Inevitably these are being positioned as stepping stones to the full 5G experience.

To be fair Nokia has also deviated from the script with a bunch of small cell announcements too. It has augmented its Flexi Zone and femtocell portfolios with some whizzy new self-organising tech and souped-up its CBRS (citizens band radio service)-specific small cells with neutral-hiost capabilities.

“Nokia is committed to providing the most effective and cost-efficient path to 5G for our customers through evolutionary enhancements to their networks,” said Harold Graham, head of the 5G business line at Nokia. “We truly understand how changes in each area of a network will affect the network as a whole, and as we evolve our end-to-end portfolio of technologies and services we are working closely with customers to ensure they are always ahead of their customers’ needs and expectations.”

There is increasing evidence of divergence in the strategies of the big kit vendors. Ericsson seems to be the most purely focused on 5G macro tech, while Nokia is equally focused on small cells and software. Huawei is making far fewer 5G announcements, preferring instead to focus on the cloud. All have their merits but as Ericsson has historically discovered to its cost, diversification can be to the detriment of your core business.