The first day of our virtual Small Cells World Summit 2021 has concluded, following the launch of the most content-rich agenda the Forum has ever put together for the annual event.
The conference kicked off with a set of keynotes, addressing some of the recent dramatic changes in the sector which has seen a flurry of development unhindered but in some ways shaped by the pandemic, and the impact of new and evolving technologies, suppliers and deployers which are reflected in this year’s event programme.
SCF Chief Strategy Officer, Julius Robson, delivered his keynote focusing on the importance of diversification market applications, deployers and technology of supply chain – and how it is a driving force behind SCF’s work as 5G matures.
As awareness of 5G grows, so vertical industries are beginning to examine what their specific requirements are and what they need from 5G. Many of these sectors are represented at SCWS, including Ports, Healthcare, Automotive and Industry 4.0 – and representatives from each of these will be discussing their specific requirements in the coming days.
Caroline Gabriel, SCF’s Content Directior, followed with a bullish prediction of the small cell market in years to come. Despite a slight pause in deployments as a result of the pandemic, medium term deployment forecasts have risen from 2026 onwards on the back of increased 5G investment, with more that 50% of deployed cells expected to be 5G from 2023. However, she also noted that this performance was contingent on key barriers being overcome, in particular a rapid evolution of management technologies fit to address granular demand from enterprises.
The opening session concluded with presentations from Picocom and Qualcomm, discussing both the history and near future of small cells and what drives their promulgation, and ‘pervasive 5G coverage’, which will be picked up and over many times over the 3 days of SCWS, whether addressing indoor, city, industrial or automotive coverage enabled by various types of small cells.
Next up was a wide-ranging session on policy, spectrum and regulation for telecoms diversification, featuring representatives from Ofcom, the FCC, 5G Americas and Asian towerco edotco. The session examined how the 5G debate has been instrumental in clarifying regulation and policy changes needed to facilitate small cell deployment and bring the societal and economic benefits of a connected society, looking at what progress is being made, and what policymakers and regulators are currently focusing on.
- Ofcom described how they are looking at different policy levers to reverse over a decade’s trend towards consolidation back towards diversification. The small cell ecosystem has always been more diverse than macro, and SCF can collaboratively find ways to bridge the gap and enable small cell vendors expand into macro cells.
- Qualcomm commented earlier on their infrastructure 2.0 chipsets which provide a horizontal for OEMS and ODMs to build to reference designs with a lower barrier to entry – chipsets and platforms are increasingly being made available for macro applications (as are FAPI features) so perhaps this can address technology aspects.
- Ofcoms’s main focus is the SONIC test lab which will ‘move fast’ and ‘make a lot of noise’ around multi-vendor interoperability being achieved with their Open RAN in test labs. Integration testing with mobile operators – previously likened to ‘climbing Everest’ – is a significant hurdle for the smaller infrastructure vendors which telecoms diversification policies wish to encourage. Ofcom hosted labs will reduce this cost can also help lower barriers to get new vendors into mobile networks.
- Spectrum was also a popular topic raised by several speakers, including the FCC, Ofcom, 5G Americas and later OnGo alliance. The US has benefitted from several initiatives in recent years, releasing mmWave early, CBRS coming online with ramped up network and device support, as well as mid-band 5G auctions and more 6GHz unlicensed spectrum to come. The FCC concluded that spectrum availability is no longer the main barrier to private networks and other shared spectrum deployments.
- Deployer diversification to complement MNOs with neutral hosting and private networks was a feature in all three sessions. Gayan of edotco raised the subject of regulatory barriers to small cell deployments and RAN sharing in their operating markets. In particular, regulators need to treat small cells more like Wi-Fi access points and less like macro towers to enable faster and lower cost rollout in lower ARPU markets. This in turn leads to streamlined siting processes for small cells now implemented in EU, UK and US regions where accelerated small cell deployments are demonstrating the benefits – as flagged by 5G Americas’ Chris Pearson. More work is though still needed to ensure LATAM and Asian markets recognise the societal benefit of connectivity, and associate that with the adoption of similar small cell policy frameworks.
- Small cells, Open RAN and infrastructure sharing were all cited as solutions to bringing down the cost of cellular coverage to address SME budgets for indoor and also lower ARPU markets. Maturity remains a concern for all, further emphasising need for openness around progress with testing and trials.
The final session of the day was a group presentation and discussion on US small cell network build outs. This focused on the current state of small cell rollout in the US, hearing from a variety of ecosystem deployers – from traditional MNOs to new and emerging deployers. A number of industry leaders from companies such as AT&T, Ericsson, OnGo Alliance, Geoverse and Lockheed Martin presented on and discussed urban and enterprise small cell deployments by MNOs, the status of the CBRS shared spectrum networks ecosystem, use cases by Private Networks Operators and go-to-market strategies.
- AT&T’s David Orloff highlighted the differentiated services their 5G network is supporting and demonstrated their spectrum maps across cell sites of all sizes from macro, micro, to pico and indoor. He confirmed that they are leveraging CBRS spectrum and connecting into neutrally hosted networks. Firstnet, meanwhile, is driving flexible and affordable indoor shared networks and edge is set to take centre stage, processing 75% enterprise data by 2025.
- Ericsson’s Paul Challoner announced new radio DOT products focused on 5G indoor and neutral host deployers. Ericsson predict the decline in DAS markets will be compensated for by an increase in small cells, significantly simplifying the head unit equipment footprints needed in venues. Private networks and hyperscalers will also be accommodated as new deployer types for small cells, all supported by harmonised cloud and Open RAN architectures with slicing. Tests have shown that indoor systems can deliver a great experience for users in the building- offloading the traffic previously inefficiently served by the outdoor macro benefits both.
- Dave Wright of OnGo outlined the steady growth and adoption of CBRS band networks in the US – with a range of use cases from FWA, capacity for MNOs and new sites for heavy MVNOs and MSOs. OnGo are helping fledgling deployers roll out these cellular networks with support around mobile issues like cell ID planning. 150k base stations have now been deployed and there is a growing register of approved devices and networks – all solid indicators of commercial progress for licence shared access spectrum in the US.
- Geoverse continued the CBRS story highlighting some extremely powerful neutral host and private network use cases which have picked up during the pandemic. Remote learning has by far seen the greatest use, where networks have been setup up to support free broadband and laptop use for less affluent households to maintain access to schooling. Cellular technologies have also played a role on construction sites, keeping teams connected with digital mapping – and providing security against a spate of ransomware attacks that have plagued the construction industry.
- Mark Khan of Lockheed Martin concluded by elaborating on how small cells and open 5G standards can be leveraged in military and high security applications. In particular, he highlighted SCF FAPI as potentially useful in combing the power of commodity commercial cellular software with the proprietary physical layers needed for secure communications.