SCF’s Partners’ Day report shows how modern networks must be defined

The modern mobile network has become such a complex beast that no single organization can address all its challenges.

Operators are grappling with the challenges of deploying huge numbers of base stations, as they densify their current networks and look towards 5G. Small Cell Forum has a pivotal role in smoothing that path, with unified specifications and deployment processes. It is also enriching the densification blueprint it offers to operators, by agreeing a series of strategic cooperations with other organizations that are focused on making the dense HetNet a commercial reality.

Small Cell Forum has published a groundbreaking report, detailing its agreements with no fewer than 10 significant standards bodies and industry alliances. This is the result of its first-ever Partners’ Day, a summit held in Atlanta in July. This brought together the key bodies which are contributing to the common goal of a standards-based, easily deployable, end-to-end HetNet, one that also paves the way for 5G.

The 10 partners are 3GPP, GSMA, NGMN, ETSI, CTIA, ONAP, X-RAN, CBRS, TIA and MEF. At the summit, each group explained its remit and work agenda in depth and, in discussion with the Forum’s working groups, areas of overlap and potential cooperation were identified. This has resulted in an enriched SCF work program, which now includes a number of joint developments with partners; these will help to simplify and accelerate the process of defining a full HetNet platform.

These outcomes are described in the report, which provides a clear picture of how all these bodies fit together, and the distinct role each plays.

In the space of the two days of the Atlanta event, an enormous amount was accomplished in terms of mutual understanding and plans to work together, as the report makes clear. An example of a significant new alliance, which was announced shortly after the summit, was a memorandum of understanding with the TIA, focused on practical deployment enablers (such as siting and wiring) for smart cities and smart communities.

The Forum is confident that further collaborations will ensue and that all the partners will continue to build on the momentum of the event, to ensure their efforts are focused in the most effective way on the common goal.

This level of interworking between many groups is unprecedented in the mobile industry and reflects the complexity of the network platform, and operators’ urgent requirement to have a non-fragmented, streamlined set of specifications to reduce the cost, risk and time required to deploy a dense HetNet in 4G or 5G.

The outcomes of Partners’ Day fall into several categories, which the Forum has defined as being the cornerstones of densification. In each of these categories at least one partner provided detailed input, and areas of cooperation were identified. Each of these is outlined in the report.

On the technology side, SCF knows standard interfaces will be essential to boost confidence in emerging approaches to densification, such as virtualized networks or shared spectrum. The technology topics, and the participating partners, were:

  • Virtualization, cloud and edge (ETSI NFV/MEC and XRAN Forum)
  • SON, management and orchestration (MANO) with ONAP
  • Shared spectrum and multi-operator (CBRS-Alliance)
  • RAN standards (3GPP)
  • Interoperability testing – including updates on SCF’s plugfest program.

Just as important as technology standards are operational and deployment requirements, including regulatory frameworks, backhaul and sites. In this area, the topics discussed were:

  • Deployment processes (NGMN)
  • Cabling and transport for x-Haul (TIA and MEF)
  • Influencing government and regulatory environments (GSMA and CTIA).

There were also wide-ranging brainstorm sessions on potential new business models to enhance the case for small cells, such as multi-operator or neutral host systems; and on how the Forum and its partners can help one another to expand their market engagement and communications with all stakeholders.

The Forum’s next event will be held on October 4-5 in Mumbai, India, where many of the outcomes of Partners’ Day will be discussed in the regional context, with one aim being to apply some of the plans and work items to the specific needs of this major market. This is a key aspect of the Forum’s work: to capture local as well as universal operator requirements, and to ensure that its developments and partnerships support globally harmonized platforms – but that they are also directly relevant to the needs of different regions. You can read the Partners’ Day report here.