4G World: the deployment of microcellular networks

As many service providers begin to deploy 4G networks, specifically in urban environments, operators are experiencing bottlenecks in their macrocell networks due to a lack of capacity and an increase in data usage.  But, it seems there may soon be a solution in the form of microcell networks.  Last week at 4G World in Chicago, Illinois, companies were showing off their microcell products, which they believed could solve the 4G capacity problem.

Unlike macrocell networks, which have a lower capacity over a larger area, microcell networks deliver a high capacity at a short distance.  When it comes to cell density, for every one macrocell, there could be anywhere from five to 25 microcells covering that same area, increasing capacity per usage. Microcells are also located outside, which provides better street level coverage in urban environments, as well as better building penetration.

“Microcells essentially split spectrum up into small pieces,” says Greg Friesen, vice president of Product Management for DragonWave (Ottawa, Canada).  “This brings it closer to the user.”

DragonWave, one of the exhibitors at 4G World, demonstrated its “Avenue Site” made specifically for microcell networks.  Designed to be mounted on street lamps, traffic-lights, and buildings, the Avenue Site acts as a small cell site and provides three microwave links, power supply, battery backup, cooling system, Ethernet switching, and can work with 3G and 4G microcellular RAN access units.  The unit weighs 100 pounds.

Another 4G World exhibitor, Siklu (Petach Tikva, Israel), who recently announced its expansion into the United States, released its own microcell product last year.  The EtherHaul system, which has already been deployed in Europe, has reduced prices by 80% compared to equivalent E-band radio systems, due to its all-silicon design.  Just days before 4G World, Siklu announced it had secured $19 million in funding from three new U.S. investors including Qualcomm Incorporated (San Diego, Calif., U.S.A.). 

During an interview at the show, Gabriel Junowicz, vice president of business development and marketing at Siklu, spoke about the importance of microcellular networks, citing that 70,000 microcells need to be deployed in London by 2015.  Although, many people, including the mayor of London, worry that not having the microcell network complete by the time of the 2012 Olympic Games will cause the current 3G macrocell network  to overload and fail, due to the expected massive increase in data usage.

Ceragon Networks (Paramus, N.J., U.S.A.), another 4G World exhibitor, released its own wireless backhaul microcell, the FibeAir IP-10Q, which can provide up to 4 Gbps of traffic and support up to four carriers in a single unit. 

According to Udi Gordon, executive vice president of marketing and business development at Ceragon, there are still many issues to work out with microcell networks.  One of these potential roadblocks involves access to mounting areas, which must meet city-zoning requirements.  Another roadblock relates to power issues, for example, lampposts may only generate power at certain times of the day.

Despite these potential obstacles, there is a general consensus that there is a promising future for microcell networks.

“At the end of the day there will be small cells,” says Gordon.  “I don’t know when or for how much, but there will be small cells.”

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