Small Cell Forum members gathered in London last week for a highly successful and hard-working plenary meeting. Operators, vendors and other stakeholders from many locations round the world were able to engage in debate about key issues facing the sector, and contribute to pushing forward the Forum’s packed work agenda.
By the end of the two-day event, it was clear that a huge amount had been achieved, and the momentum will be maintained during a series of working group calls leading up to the next plenary, in Pittsburgh, USA in December.
The opening session in London started with the announcement of a new chair. After three years, David Orloff will stand down, to be succeeded by Prabhakar Chitrapu, also of AT&T. David will be greatly missed, though he will continue to be involved in the SCF – among other achievements, his chairmanship has seen the Forum initiate or expand its activities in important areas such as Open RAN, edge computing and the Enterprise Advisory Council, all topics which featured prominently on the agenda last week.
Prabhakar is well known to SCF as the passionate leader of the TECH working group and will be equally inspiring in his new wider role. Together with the Forum’s chief strategy officer, Julius Robson, he set out a rich agenda for the working groups both at the plenary and for the rest of the year. Prominent subjects of discussion and debate included the FAPI and nFAPI interfaces, neutral hosting models, advanced planning approaches, edge computing, and the health concerns that some are raising about dense 5G networks.
Good discussion and real concrete progress was made in all these areas, and more. An important debate was held, jointly between the TECH and Marketing working groups, about how to align SCF’s nFAPI technologies – one of its most critical contributions to the 5G landscape – with work being done by partners including 3GPP and ORAN Alliance. The aim was to ensure that the functional splits supported by different sets of specifications are complementary, and that the terminology is consistent, to avoid any confusion in the market.
Neutral host models and private networks, increasingly including edge computing, are seen as a significant way to accelerate deployment of small cells by enabling lower cost models and new entrants. The plenary heard a very interesting presentation from Dave Morris, from the UK’s Joint Operator Technical Specification (JOTS) forum, which has been developing a neutral host gateway design for shared indoor networks. This aims to provide an affordable, uniform reference design to lower the cost of extending cellular coverage deep indoors while supporting multiple operators. With partners like BT, JOTS is also looking ahead to pragmatic solutions for virtualised indoor networks, and other deployment options which marry very closely to SCF’s areas of work.
Two new papers were launched at the event, addressing different aspects of improved planning and operations for large-scale dense networks. Jointly with 5G Americas, SCF has produced a high impact white paper on increased location accuracy to enable very precise planning of small cells, and the two groups will now draw up common requirements and promote these to the wider industry through their memberships.
The second paper, the latest from the prolific TECH working group, focuses on self-optimizing network (SON) technologies as a key element of full automation. Both papers will be important to provide practical recommendations for deployers, as well as kicking off the next stage of work in these areas, with 5G in mind.
These are just a few highlights of a busy, productive and fun couple of days, in which the Forum’s work programme, set out at the Small Cells World Summit event in May this year, was validated and refined, and next steps agreed. And in two short months, the next gathering will take place, so do mark your calendars now for the USA plenary, to be held on December 4-5 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.