This year’s Mobile World Congress will be covering all the usual bases, from sexy handset announcements to apps and mobile payments. But one new-ish topic you’ll be hearing more of this year than you have in the past (besides the cloud, I mean) is small cells.
Technically that includes femtocells, which have been showcased at the last several MWC events. But the onset of LTE deployments around the world is putting emphasis on small cells and heterogeneous networks (hetnets), which can include everything from picocells and microcells using licensed spectrum to Wi-Fi hotspots for data offload.
Indeed, Wi-Fi – once the pariah of the mobile sector – is very much part of the small-cell discussion this year. Last week, Alcatel-Lucent previewed its lightRadio Wi-Fi solution, which builds on AlcaLu’s next-gen lightRadio architecture and promises cellcos a way to enable customers to “switch automatically from a cellular service to residential or public Wi-Fi networks and hotspots without having to login, worry about payments schemes, or even be aware of the shift.”
Also last week, Nokia Siemens Networks unveiled Flexi Zone
– based on its next-gen Liquid Radio architecture – in which multiple, inter-connected low-power small cells (which can be HSPA, LTE and Wi-Fi) use a common pool of resources managed flexibly by a “zone controller”. Result: local offloading of Internet traffic based on coverage and capacity needs, “saving up to 80% of transport and mobile packet core costs”, says NSN.
The “smart cell” modules – which sport second-generation Intel Core CPUs with data plane hardware accelerators – will serve as the platform for a number of small-cell apps that Ubiquisys is developing with third-party apps developers such as Intrinsyc and Edge Datacoms, including backhaul optimization, video optimization, fast upload and user security.
Intel’s involvement makes for an interesting wild card in the chipset side of the small-cell race, observes
Caroline Gabriel of Rethink Wireless:
Intel's network processors have some presence in the RAN but it aims to gain a far bigger position in wireless systems, adding specialized coprocessors to its standard server chips to make them suitable for routers, backbones and even base stations. It is also pushing that approach into Cloud-RAN trials, notably with China Mobile. But as well as those strategies, based around tweaked versions of big processors like Xeon, it also wants a role for its lower power Core and Atom chips.
Meanwhile, several vendors will be touting new backhaul solutions to cope with all these small cells.