Virtual plenary: SCF sets out an even more ambitious agenda for the coming year

Small Cell Forum’s usual round of face-to-face events may not be possible this year, but we still managed to hold an extremely successful plenary in virtual form. It was clear that Zoom fatigue has not set in among our members – enthusiasm and participation has been on a high all year, despite the challenges, and this was reflected in the strong engagement and lively debate throughout the plenary sessions.

Working group sessions were spread over the course of a week, allowing each topic on SCF’s crowded work agenda to be discussed in detail. There was a brief moment, in the opening session, to congratulate ourselves on the achievements of the past year, before diving straight into the priorities for 2020-2021, which as always, are firmly based on the inputs and requirements of SCF members.

Those members have become more numerous and more diverse in the past year. Small cells are at the heart of the key trends driving 4G and 5G growth right now, from 5G densification to a significant rise in enterprise and in-building deployments. These trends require a wider variety of service providers and small cell form factors than in the past, to meet the needs of many different industries, and that is reflected in the membership of the Forum, and its activities. Neutral hosts, system integrators and fiber providers, among others, join traditional vendors and operators to cooperate on a rich programme of cross-industry work items.

In the year just gone, 14 major specifications or reports were published, all with significant industry impact. They included the 5G specs in the FAPI and nFAPI families, which will be critical in establishing open, interoperable platforms at chip and network levels. Other work items focused on automation, precision planning, in-building deployments, edge computing and private networks, and there was a major report outlining the technical capabilities of different variations of small cell.

The discussions in the virtual plenary often focused on taking these keystone pieces of work forward, while expanding the work programme still further. After an opening kick-off in which we were delighted to hear that Prabhakar Chitrapu was confirmed in a second year as SCF chair, the subsequent sessions drilled deeply into many aspects of four important topics in particular – FAPI and nFAPI milestones and roadmaps; small cell management and automation; the evolution of small cell technologies in the 5G era; and neutral host models, including an update on the UK’s JOTS (Joint Operator Technical Specification) initiative, which is working on an in-building neutral host platform.

In addition, the Forum’s latest market research and forecasts were shared and discussed, and the new Ports Initiative was launched, marking SCF’s latest engagement with a vertical industry in which dense cellular connectivity is becoming increasingly business critical. The event ended with a session by the Marketing group on commercialization and promotion of SCF’s work, and with a final wrap-up session to tie all the many themes together and look ahead to 2021’s projects, priorities and events.

To bring all those activities together within a logical framework, SCF will take a three-tiered approach in 2020-2021. This will focus on the needs and challenges of three groups:

  • Enterprises or vertical industries, which may be deterred from deploying cellular networks, despite their need for mobile broadband connectivity, by lack of knowledge of technology or processes.
  • Network deployers, especially new kinds of operator which are expanding the small cell business model beyond that of the traditional MNOs.
  • Technology providers, which need common frameworks in which to innovate in areas such as open RAN.