Two of the most promising growth opportunities for small cells, over the next few years, are private wireless networks and automotive connectivity. However, in both cases, enterprises and other key stakeholders usually have limited experience of deploying or running cellular technology. Lack of expertise and confidence could significantly delay adoption or reduce scale, with negative impacts for the whole industry.
Blueprints are a way to reduce complexity, and provide enterprises with a trusted set of components and processes that align with their requirements. They can buy products and services with confidence, since they will be certified to conform to a set of open specs and to be interoperable with those of other vendors.
Small Cell Forum is proposing a series of technical and deployment blueprints to achieve these goals and accelerate enterprise adoption of 4G and 5G. These blueprints will provide common reference designs for vendors, to reduce their time to market and enable them to design affordable products that are aligned with enterprise requirements, rather than those of complex MNO networks. They will also describe common deployment processes to reduce the time, cost and risk to roll out connectivity.
While based on standard specifications, the blueprints will be specific to scenarios that are not currently well addressed by other organizations, and so SCF’s work will complement blueprints in other parts of the cellular industry.
SCF’s first focus will be on private wireless networks, and this work will then be adapted for cellular vehicle-to-everything (CV2X) applications and later for Industry 4.0 use cases. These priorities have been set in line with the findings of SCF and other research, that indicates the main growth drivers for small cells in the next five years.
The most recent SCF Market Forecast 2021 revealed that the fastest growing area of small cell deployment will be in private enterprise networks (see Figure 1). Within the enterprise small cell forecast, automotive and manufacturing/Industry 4.0 were two of the top five sectors in terms of scale of deployments by 2026, and growth.
(Figure 1. Deployments of small cells in private wireless enterprise networks 2019-2026)
However, such projections will only be fully realized if barriers are removed as quickly as possible. 36% of enterprise-focused deployers said they would roll out more quickly if more plug-and-play deployment were enabled, for instance, something that would be addressed by interoperability certification and by simplified equipment enabled by common reference designs.
The blueprints will not only address specific use cases, but also specific service offerings where considerable growth is expected. These will initially be infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), network functions-as-a-service (NFaaS), network management-as-a-service (MaaS), systems integration and test frameworks.
The blueprints will contain reference designs that will incorporate the bare standard specs into an actual product design that pre-defines, pre-integrates and tests the basic elements of a small cell in order to lower barriers to development and encourage a broad, competitive ecosystem. They will also include common guidelines, based on real world experience, for deployment in specific scenarios and industries, with the findings of early tests, trials and deployments in similar scenarios.
Using blueprints, suppliers of components, modules, software and platforms can design within the framework and have their products certified as compliant and interoperable. This will reduce cost and time to develop products and also make it easier for vendors to sell to new customers with limited knowledge of cellular technology. Meanwhile, the enterprises, or their integrators, benefit from reduced cost, risk and time to deploy, and a set of features that are geared to their particular requirements, rather than the very different needs of an MNO.
SCF aims to deliver the first blueprint in the first quarter of 2022, focused on enterprise 5G private networks that are deployed in isolation from the public network. That will be followed by a blueprint for private networks that are MNO-supported, with a deadline of Q1 2023. Blueprints for CV2X and, later, for Industry 4.0 use cases, will be developed based on these private networks blueprints.
Figure 2 summarizes the proposed approach that SCF will take to establishing broadly accepted reference designs and blueprints at three levels – component, module and use case.