Takeaways from the Webinar on Small Cells

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Main takeaways

#1 – Drivers for small cell deployments: improving network coverage indoors, outdoors and across vertical industries; enhancing spectrum efficiency; improving network capacity; meeting aesthetic requirements; lowering energy requirements.

#2 – A broader set of stakeholders and a bigger market: A broader set of deployment scenarios across enterprise, rural and urban scenarios, as well as the growing importance of vertical rollouts, neutral hosts and edge compute nodes will bring in new stakeholders and expand the market. Data from the Small Cells Forum indicates that:

  • New deployers and neutral hosts will address the wide variety of requirements in 2020s.
  • The greater variety of deployers includes open networks and agreed splits across the industry.
  • Automation is key to improving ROI while open networks and RANs are vital for industry scale.
  • Intelligent automation will improve the economics of planning and management. The use of ML/AI is on the rise, as testified by the joint publication by the Small Cells Forum and 5G Americas on precision planning. In this respect, it is important to build on SON work towards automation across the network, spanning precision location planning, maximising small cell performance also during the lifecycle to cope with changes in traffic.

#3 – Barriers and challenges: The broader set of stakeholders brings the need for access to spectrum and other key elements. The Small Cell Forum puts together Work Items aimed at tackling challenges around small cell deployments, including potentially conflicting interests, such as the need for NMOs to meet increasing consumer demand for AR, gaming, videos; dealing with regulatory red tape in city deployments; the use and sharing of street furniture; device security in enterprise usage and public concerns about health and safety. Overcoming poor indoor penetration for voice and data raises questions about costs and complexity.

Open specs and monetisation models will drive the edge and cellular advantage. However, barriers span immature standards, lack of interoperability and uncertainty around new developments. Early movers are important in driving deployment and filling market gaps. Other barriers include uncertain business cases around neutral hosts and enterprise deployments with gaps between end-user needs and operator offers, as well as understanding the best business cases.

#4 Deployment success factors: The Global5G.org white paper explores success factors for small cell deployments, primarily the pilot test case in Amsterdam, a city with a significant architectural heritage calling for very low visual impacts when it comes to small cell deployments. The case in question is part of Vodafone’s deployment of 200 small cells with some out-of-the-box thinking through a new partnership with the JCDecaux outdoor advertising company and its vast assets of street furniture (e.g. lampposts, bus shelters). In addition, long-standing agreements with local authorities helped streamline the bureaucratic process. Installing small cells on a JCDecaux-equipped bus shelter was vastly simplified by ready availability of power sources and future-proofed high-speed backhaul capable of supporting upgrades to 5G. For Vodafone, this means superior deployment capability, and for JCDecaux this means a new customer (small cell provider).

#5 Critical actions for stakeholders: The transition to 5G therefore brings the need for new wireless strategies, new partnerships and a lightweight regulatory regime that lowers barriers to deployments. Chief among the enablers are simple, clear rules for operators and site approvals, where lessons can be learned from Japan.

Communication with municipalities and evidence-based lobbying has now become critical to achieve:

  • Minimal bureaucracy.
  • Cheap backhaul.
  • Low or zero attachments.

Depending on the success rates for each element, the results could be quite dramatic, especially in Europe where there are more risks but also more upsides.

Panel discussions highlighted the following priorities and opportunities:

  • Increased sharing of small cell infrastructure or enabling several operators to ride on the network would reduce the overall cost burden. Municipalities also have a role to play by mandating the sharing of deployment sites. On the technology side, network  slicing enables multi-tenancy of different operators on a common infrastructure.
  • Municipalities are well placed to serve as neutral hosts with their extensive portfolios of buildings and street furniture. This could offer an attractive revenue stream also for private networks. Moreover, a good dense mobile network sits well with smart city ambitions. 5G City, a project funded under Europe’s 5G PPP programme, is one example of city councils serving as neutral hosts.
  • Lightweight regulatory regimes. Small cells are central to Europe’s 5G Action Plan due to the higher spectrum bands that will be used. In response to this, the European Electronic Communications Code (especially Art. 57) sets out measures to lower barriers for small cell deployments, also referred to as Small Area Wireless Access Points (SAWAP).
  • Complex and challenging 5G rollouts are likely to come from highly regulated market sectors like transport. Drones are posing such regulatory conundrums. On the upside, drones can also be used to deliver small cells rapidly for temporary use, making a compelling case for lowering barriers.

Clearly, the dialogue on small cells needs to extend to vertical industries to find practical ways of dealing with the issues, including very sensitive security and privacy issues.

Watch the webinar here


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