Densification may be an unwieldy and overused word, but it lies at the heart of many mobile operators’ plans to upgrade their networks and services over the next few years. It’s therefore the topic at the heart of Small Cell Forum’s first ever Partners’ Day, in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 26.
Small cells are central to improving the economics of delivering high quality mobile broadband and voice. They can target dense capacity just where it is needed, and also extend coverage to hard-to-reach places.
But the various members of this industry need to work together to make this possible for every operator. Early adopters are sharing large numbers: Softbank is deploying 150 small cells per square kilometer in Tokyo; Reliance Jio is carrying 350 terabytes of data on several thousand urban small cells; Sprint achieved density equivalent to 1,000 cells per square kilometer in a trial at the Phoenix International Raceway.
Matching this sort of activity may sound daunting for many operators, but these levels of densification will be achievable for everyone if a few key challenges are overcome. The aim, in short, should be to make small cell networks automated, flexible and cost-effective – and the technologies that can enable large-scale densification are the topic of the first of four sessions to be held at Small Cell Forum’s first ever Partners’ Day, in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 26.
Creating the framework to deploy at massive scale cannot be done by just one organization; there are too many technologies, stakeholders and use cases to consider. A collaborative effort will be required to hit the operators’ tough commercial deadlines, avoid duplication of effort and develop a harmonized solution – one that can be harnessed in the near term, while laying the basis for 5G in the future.
The urgency of this issue is reflected in the huge response to this sold-out event, both from partners and delegates. SCF has been building a wide network of alliances over the years. The aim has been to ensure that SCF work can support related efforts elsewhere, and that it gets the maximum exposure to the wider industry.
Nine of these partners will be in Atlanta, with high-level representatives from 3GPP, CBRS Alliance, CTIA, ETSI, GSMA, NGMN, ONAP, TIA and the xRAN Foundation. In the Technologies for Densification session, three will be in the spotlight. The xRAN Foundation will discuss network infrastructure and virtualization; the CBRS Alliance will focus on multi-operator models and spectrum sharing; and ONAP (Open Network Automation Protocol) will examine its new orchestration and automation platforms.
These partners will provide Forum members with unique insights and updates into their progress on key enablers of densification. Then they will take part in in-depth discussions to identify the most important priorities for all involved, and to outline the next steps for collaboration.
Those conclusions will be integrated into the work plans for SCF’s workgroups, which will take part in a plenary meeting on July 27. This will ensure that the ideas shared on the previous day will be turned quickly into concrete action points, enriching the roadmap to make densification a process that is achievable by every operator.
On the agenda are many key enablers of hyperdense networks – such as self-optimizing networks (SON) and orchestration – which will enable networks to be automated, greatly reducing their cost of ownership. We also intend to highlight infrastructure challenges, multi-operator platforms and models, and the potential for spectrum sharing, especially in the US’s CBRS band.
The three other topics for the Partners’ Day will also be important for the wider picture of densification. Their focus will be on standards and interoperability; operations, regulation and policy; and business models, including the right timing to move towards 5G.
This is an opportunity to work on issues both with fellow members and with industry partners. In turn this cooperation will result in a harmonized approach that will give SCF a new level of support for its densification roadmap.