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Small Cell Challenges

and Opportunities
Understanding a key strategy
for avoiding spectrum congestion
By Sergey Batalin and Ryan Ray
Introduction
Carriers today find themselves in an untenable
situation when it comes to providing coverage and
capacity to their customers. The most prevalent
way of adding capacity is to buy more spectrum,
especially as deployment of mobile wireless devices
grows and their demand for increases accordingly.
Mobile Future, a coalition made up of mobile
vendors and consumers, notes in a recent report that
smartphones consume 24 times more data than old-
school cell phones, and tablets consume 120 times
more data than smartphones.

Use of these devices is only increasing. In strong options available, both readily
2011, according to the CTIA, the number of achievable. First, they can offer service
mobile devices in use in the U.S. exceeded over the unlicensed spectrum, using widely
the number of people. Not only are there available and reliable Wi-Fi technology.
more devices, but theyre being used in Second, they can utilize existing licensed
more places outside the home, when users spectrum more effectively by leveraging
are on the go. small cell technologies to improve coverage
in previously inaccessible areas and provide
Unfortunately, obtaining spectrum additional capacity.
is an expensive and lengthy process,
complicated by the collective agendas of These strategies only take carriers so far,
government agencies, rural carriers, and however. While these are highly viable,
those who already have the spectrum carriers must consider all the associated
and are loath to get in the hands of opportunities and challenges they face
potential competitors. In the United in their desire to improve capacity and
States alone, recent studies suggest that coverage in the short-term. They need to
at least 25 percent of mobile voice and think about network economics and how
data traffic will need to be diverted from to best offer and manage Wi-Fi services.
the primary networks to meet demand. The potential payoff for navigating
these possibilities: improved competitive
What can carriers do in the short-term advantage and increased customer loyalty.
to solve this problem, and still be able to
offer coverage to customers? Its not an
impossible challenge. Carriers have two

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The Opportunities for Carriers
Where are the opportunities for carriers when it
comes to deploying a mix of access technologies,
such as small cells or Wi-Fi hotspots? Lets start
with the what, and then move onto where and how.

For Wi-Fi hotspots, one technology is Corporate campus Stores


common and straightforward: wireless
access points (APs) offer coverage in As increasing numbers of companies Starbucks Corporation has made consumers
limited areas. The more APs, the wider allow employees to use their own devices, come to expect Wi-Fi coverage in coffee
the area of coverage. They use unlicensed subsidizing voice and data plans, they shops, retail stores, and cafs. But
spectrum devoted to that technology can reduce networking expenses. By customers who can get Internet access
to accommodate access for and deliver installing small cells or hotspots on a are more likely to stay longer, spend more
capacity to smartphones, laptops and corporate campus, an enterprise could money, and return more frequently.
tablets equipped with wireless antennas. get multiple benefits. It could not only
offload data from its corporate network How can carriers use these technologies
Another increasingly popular option is small
to a wireless network, but it could to serve these venues? There is no single
cells and picocells (as well as microcells).
also provide a wireless alternative that answer. In fact, one of the big opportunities
These are generally about the size of a pizza
would not impact its data plans. for carriers is the ability to deploy what
box, but differ in their range. A typical
are known as heterogeneous networks, or
macro cell can cover several miles, and so
hetnets, to serve customers. These consist
are best for larger venues; the range of a Public venues of a mix of access technologies hotspots,
microcell is much smaller. (These are not As social networking becomes more cells and others all working together
to be confused with femtocells, which are prevalent, consumers are increasingly to improve a carriers network efficiency,
even smaller; some carriers offer these texting, posting, and tweeting from event capacity and range.
to homeowners to boost coverage to venues, such as stadiums and auditoriums.
wireless peripherals within a home office.) By increasing coverage in these locations,
carriers can help customers enhance
Within a particular location, these
their feelings of participation without
technologies let customers who are using
frustration. That kind of seamless access to
mobile devices get a stronger signal for
social networking sites supports customer
faster Internet access and downloads.
engagement. Other public areas for potential
Which locations? Carriers have multiple
coverage are tunnels, so that customers
target options.
on public transportation dont lose their
connection heading to or from work.

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The Challenges for Carriers
The opportunities are there, but so are considerable
challenges. Below the clear benefits of small cells
and hotspots are complexities relating to the
products, their deployment, and their management.

Products Carriers have options in terms of spectrum Other options include working with new
allocation, with access to multiple bands antenna technologies. For instance using
Its not always clear which product is in certain frequencies. However they must advanced technology known as adaptive
most appropriate for the best coverage rationalize their spectrum holdings across antenna array, carriers can configure the use
and capacity. Carriers can deploy small different products and market initiatives. of radio frequencies based on demand. There
cells as an adjunct to a traditional macro How much of the spectrum is being used are also advancements in antenna design
network, or where the radio signal from the and by which devices? that combine as many as ten radio antennas
macrocells wouldnt be powerful enough in the space previously available for one.
to penetrate walls. Advances in antenna
technology mean that carriers can combine New technologies
different technologies, such as Wi-Fi and Carries have a variety of technology options Management
Long-Term Evolution (LTE) in the same to choose from to enable a successful As with any new technology, the question
access point. But discerning the mix-and- hetnet implementation. These include arises as to how best to manage it. That
match capabilities can be confusing. looking at technology for connections remains a significant challenge for carriers,
between the cell site and the core especially as it relates to hetnets. They
Deployment network that is, taking radio traffic and need to take into account a variety of
transferring onto the IP network for faster issues, ranging from dealing with potential
Providing Wi-Fi service in high-density transmission and offloading of the wireless interference with other increasingly Wi-Fi
areas is not as simple as it looks, especially network. These backhaul solutions include networks to Wi-Fi roaming agreements
when it comes to ensuring customer microwave technology, among others. (covered by the new 802.11u standard).
satisfaction. Beyond the increasingly That means for Wi-Fi transmission to
difficult challenges of dealing with Carriers should also investigate new work smoothly, carriers have to make
municipalities or building owners seeking technology known as self-optimizing arrangements with other carriers, with Wi-
to limit installation of what they consider networks (SON). This helps carriers optimize Fi aggregators (such as Boingo Wireless, Inc.
to be unsightly antennas, theres also connections within a particular region and others), and with owners of venues such
the deployment challenge of providing using technology that makes other cell sites as airports and convention centers.
the right amount of coverage without aware of every other cell site, as well as
overprovisioning or creating interference. the network. Traditionally, engineers would Simply because of the significant increase
Legacy hot spot installations are using have to manually conduct this optimization in the number and variety of base stations
a best-effort wireless access point, but procedure, but with SONs self-awareness, deployed in hetnets, network management
if another user in the immediate area is the cell sites themselves reconfigure traffic challenges abound. Its not yet clear
downloading a large file, that person will as necessary. whether current network management
impact the performance of everyone using tools and operational processes are flexible
that access point; life was easier when Other technology advancements include and scalable enough to support small
people only downloaded e-mail rather incremental work on LTE networks, which cell and Wi-Fi rollouts. Current tools will
than video files. Adding access points is a allow carriers to use new and wider spectrum be challenged by a large number of new
possibility but requires engineering savvy to deliver higher data rates, lower latency and network elements that are expected to
to ensure effective utilization of multiple a flat, IP-based architecture. Whats known grow into the thousands. Carriers must
channels across frequencies. as LTE Advanced-based Heterogeneous also determine whether their management
Networks focuses on improving spectrum framework is robust enough to grow with it.
efficiency in any given area by using a mix
of macro, pico, femto cell sites. The result
is a heterogeneous network that enables
flexible and low-cost deployments using the
most appropriate technology for the site, and
providing a reliable broadband experience
throughout the network.
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Challenges aside, carriers should
nevertheless start thinking about small
cell deployment and Wi-Fi offloads.
Although each market and region has its
own unique considerations, incorporating
these technologies could have a positive
impact on many operators overall network
capabilities. But equally important is the
question of network economics, especially
when it comes to comparing cellular
wireless to Wi-Fi. The marginal cost of
managing a Wi-Fi access point is nowhere
near the marginal cost of managing a cell
tower. Access points are not as complex
as cell towers, and Wi-Fi services can be
provided for free. Communications service
providers (CSPs) should look at marginal
profit as a critical metric to make the proper
comparisons. Overall, the lower the cost of
managing the access point, the better the
economics are for the CSP.

Simply put, these technologies can bring


increased coverage and capacity at lower
cost than spectrum acquisition. Increased
coverage and capacity are the foundation
of increasing customer satisfaction and
reducing churn, the bane of carriers.

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Finding the Right Partners
To ensure their Wi-Fi/small-cell strategy pays off,
carriers should consider how third parties can help
them fill in the gaps in their capabilities, coverage,
and even experience. For instance, they can work
with utility companies that have access to poles and
other venues for cell site deployment.

Another option: working with a service- Within network management, Accentures


enabling partner such as Accenture. engineers have a strong understanding of
Accenture has extensive expertise and both existing network management tools
experience in the telecommunications and what new capabilities upcoming tools
field, especially in the cutting-edge should incorporate. Accenture can provide
technologies used in Wi-Fi and small- low-cost management capabilities through
cell rollouts. Its already been working its global delivery network. That helps CSPs
with multiple leading carriers on minimize costs of managing its extensive
implementations of small-cell and Wi-Fi networks of access points around the world.
technology. As a result, Accenture already They can take advantage of our vast delivery
has begun assessing the portfolio of hetnet network and leverage our less-expensive
products, piloting the latest generation offshore delivery models to save money
of Wi-Fi solutions, such as 802.11u, as and keep costs down.
well as new antenna technologies.
Overall, Accenture can help carriers
Accenture also has a broad background understand the ramifications of both
in network deployment and network small cell technology and hetnets and find
management. It can help carriers be more ways for them to serve customers without
effective in its deployment strategy and overloading current budgets or resources.
apply analytics tools to gauge network
usage and most likely candidates for
locations of new Wi-Fi hotspots, small
cells, and hetnets. It can also help carriers
analyze its existing spectrum and license
assets to harness their value.

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visit www.accenture.com/network-services. 266,000 people serving clients in more
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About the Authors Accenture helps Communications industry
experience, comprehensive capabilities
across all industries and business functions,
Sergey Batalin is a Managing Director clients face the challenges to connect with
and extensive research on the worlds
with Accenture Infrastructure Consulting the digital consumer, increase revenues,
most successful companies, Accenture
Wireless Practice. He can be reached at develop and launch innovative products
collaborates with clients to help them
Sergey.Batalin@accenture.com. and services quickly and optimize network
become high-performance businesses and
performance while reducing costs. The
governments. The company generated
Ryan Ray is a Manager within Accentures combination of our consulting, technology
net revenues of US$27.9 billion for the
Communications, Media, and Technology and outsourcing experience, paired with our
fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2012. Its
group, specializing in wireless networks. He deep industry knowledge, helps us verify that
home page is www.accenture.com.
can be reached at Ryan.Ray@accenture.com. we bring the right solutions and resources
to enable our clients to unlock profitable
growth, improve operations and achieve high
performance. Follow @AccentureComms or
visit www.accenture.com/communications.

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