Wireless network operators are under increasing pressure to provide more capacity, coverage and quality – all without increasing end-user rates. The key to managing this successfully in 2015 is efficiency.
Operators will modernize their networks and upgrade to LTE while working on more efficient future architectures. They will further increase capacity in their networks through cell splitting, the creation of a metro layer, and continued focus on deploying the indoor coverage layer. Where there is quality, there is capacity.
Here’s a summary of the key trends and big issues mobile operators will face in 2015:
- Network modernization: critical
LTE is the latest evolution of commercial cellular systems and boasts the greatest spectral efficiency to date. Efficiency improvements, however, are not limited to spectrum, but benefit the ecosystem as a whole. To service customers with more data for the same price, each and every portion of the infrastructure must be evaluated, negotiated, calculated and optimized. When operators modernize their networks, they seek to do so across all aspects of their ecosystem.
- Cloud architectures: debate and discussion
In the pursuit of efficiency, there are both near and far term goals. One of the biggest long term benefits may come from Cloud RAN (C-RAN) or Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), as it is also known. Efficiency comes from the utilization of standardized off-the-shelf hardware and the virtualization of software. Depending on how far virtualization is pushed into the network, some (if not all) of the call processing can be moved to today’s special purpose-made hardware. This change in equipment as it gets further in the RAN out toward the tower, subsuming the current eNode-B, will require fewer products at the bottom of the tower and more integration at the top of the tower, thus creating gains in space and power efficiency.
- Spectral re-use still matters
Improving spectrum usage isn't limited to changes in standards. Capacity on a cellular network comes from the re-use of spectrum as well as efficiency. Spectrum is re-used through sector splitting or adding more cell sites. A sector split has long been considered the most cost-effective way to add capacity. Initial cellular systems were all omni-sector, but when capacity was needed, many split into three-sector sites. Sites that require additional capacity in 3G and 4G networks are now being split into six sectors. High density, special purpose solutions can include antennas that have up to 27 beams (or sectors) at a single site.
- The metro layer matters more
Another way to add capacity, and one that continues to gain popularity, is the creation of a metro layer. These are new cells that are lower to the ground, placed not for initial coverage but rather to add capacity to the system. Metro cells require new site acquisition, backhaul, and power, and are more expensive on a per-user-served basis. For efficiency’s sake, it's critical to make the mounting of cellular infrastructure easier and more cost effective. Utilizing existing street poles and furniture helps in addressing metro layer deployment challenges.