One of the ironies of the mobile broadband industry unifying behind LTE as the evolution path forward from 3G is that it hasn’t made that evolution any less complicated.
Indeed, the RAN isn’t the only thing that’s evolving – so is the consumer behavior driving the coming deluge of mobile data traffic. Smartphones, tablets and other connected devices are increasing in popularity, and users are relying more than ever on apps, video and cloud-based services – and expecting to stay connected to them everywhere, all the time, seamlessly. And they demand a consistent and satisfactory quality of experience.
Meeting those demands requires far more than simply upgrading cell sites to LTE. Ostensibly that means deploying smaller cells within the macro infrastructure to densify coverage in high-traffic areas to handle the load, but it also means a heterogeneous access network that could also include Wi-Fi in the mix.
That’s a good thing, especially considering the strain macro cellular networks are under as mobile data traffic grows – particularly in situations where macro sites are already dense in high-traffic urban hot spots, and must co-exist with large isolated indoor hot spots like enterprises, hotels and shopping malls, where coverage gaps and interference issues abound. Small cells deployed under a heterogeneous network strategy can make sense of that landscape and provide the capacity and coverage necessary to deliver high data throughput with very low latency.
But not only does it have to be done right, it has to be tailored to the cellco’s own mobile broadband services and existing network, as well as the broader market, technical and economic considerations in play. And it has to be flexible enough to handle future demand in the most cost- and spectrum-efficient way.
In other words, one size does not fit all, and cellcos have to put in the effort to make heterogeneous networks work for their specific situation. However, says Anders Wännström, radio access technology expert at Ericsson, that doesn’t mean there are no guidelines to help them plan their strategy.