The Changing Face of HetNet

By Ramakrishna Akella, Director, Research & Development, Nextivity Inc.

February 4, 2016 – Mobile subscribers expect ubiquitous wireless connectivity. The way in which this is delivered doesn’t matter to them – as long as service quality is high. Heterogeneous Networks (HetNets) are playing a critical role in delivering connectivity by including wireless wide area networks (WWAN), wireless local networks (WLAN), and the standards that each are based on. This inclusive approach has been driven, in part, by current trends and compelling business and technical reasons.

Efforts are underway to bring these traditionally disparate communities, standards, solutions, business models, and mindsets together. As a result, more and more solutions now fall under the HetNet umbrella. But before we get into too much detail, let’s consider how the definition of HetNet has evolved.

Three years ago, it was not uncommon to understand HetNets in the narrow context of cellular networks trying to get macro cells and small cells (in their various forms) to work together. HetNet discussions focused on topics such as deployment (provisioning, configuration, optimization and management), interference management (for co-frequency deployment of the two layers), and mobility management (for deployment of macro and small cells in different frequencies and handing in and out as needed). The conversation was centered on SON, ICIC/eICIC/feICIC, mobility optimization, and the cellular infrastructure needed to support this multi-layer framework (such as X2 networks, etc.).

Today, HetNets have evolved to acknowledge the rightful place of many standards, technologies, and solutions that provide services to end users. Specifically, Wi-Fi, LTE, and increasingly merged air interfaces in the form of LTE-U/LAA/LWA each have their strengths. When properly used, the sum of these interfaces is better than the parts. These merged interfaces enable solution vendors to consider and adopt technologies – such as DAS and Smart Signal Boosters® – and business models that were previously not available to them.

Carriers, OEMs, and IT teams now have more tools available to them to solve their diverse indoor coverage challenges and deployment scenarios, with the legitimacy offered by regulators, standards bodies, and industry forums. We are already seeing this in models that encompass third-party VAR, cellular enterprise deployments that properly acknowledge the role of IT (as Wi-Fi has historically done), and service QoS (as cellular technologies have historically done). This expanded toolbox also positions them to capitalize on C-RAN, C-EPC, network virtualization, and other critical trends that will continue to drive the market forward.

At Nextivity, we continue to innovate and expand the capabilities of our proprietary family of Cel-Fi Smart Signal Boosters, which are now authorized by more than 178 leading global carriers in 98 countries for use on their networks. Growing acceptance by international regulators (1) and industry forums (2) make our network-safe boosters an affordable and viable part of the HetNet ecosystem, providing a combination of both coverage and capacity gains. They also complement macro, micro, metro, and femto cells, as well as DAS systems and Wi-Fi access points.

As the reach of WWAN and WLAN technologies increases to accommodate the diversity of end markets (broadband, industrial and consumer IoT, etc.) the number of solutions that fall within the HetNet umbrella will also grow. Nextivity will continue to do its part, emphasizing the inclusiveness of technologies that will benefit end users today and for years to come.

(1) USA, Australia, UK among many others
(2) Small Cell Forum 067 – “Enterprise Small Cell Network Architectures”