Small cells are a big hit with the mobile operators, cable companies, OEMs, venue owners and other companies. Thanks to the wildly soaring demand for mobile data services — and the long lead times required to free up and allocate more spectrum — small cell technologies are the go-to solutions for expanding wireless capacity and coverage.
Yet despite overall industry buy-in, small cell programs can stall in even the most committed adopters, regardless of company size and background. From tier 1 operators to shopping mall owners, an overwhelming number of unexpected considerations can derail a small cell project. So how do you get a project back on track? And how do you keep it on track and ensure your company meets its overall business and technology objectives? Based on our small cell engagements, we at Nexius advise our customers to take the steps below.
- Define your objective. What do you hope to achieve with small cell? Is it simply to improve coverage and/or capacity? Or seeking a related but distinctly different goal, such as improved user experience, longer battery life for their devices, or cost savings for your company? Set a clear, measurable goal so you know when you’ve reached it.
- Determine your technologies. Operators typically deliver their wireless services using a broad array of technologies and spectrums that includes GSM, UMTS, HSDPA, LTE and WiFi as well as 800 MHz, 1900 MHz, 700 MHz, AWS and 2.4/5.8 UL. That variety makes it imperative a) to identify which technologies and spectrums your small cell initiative will support and b) to create a clear strategy for uniquely leveraging each technology and spectrum to achieve your small cell goals.
- Take the users’ perspective. If one of your small cell objectives is to improve the user experience, take the users’ perspective and get crystal clear about what needs to be improved. Efforts to boost data speeds are going to look a lot different than those to improve the quality of voice calls or reduce dropped calls and handoffs between networks or between the individual small cells.
- Plan the architecture and policy. Operators need a well-defined and documented architecture for implementing small cell technologies for the foreseeable future. In addition to interworking, backhaul, security and other architectural concerns, you should take into account policy considerations such as ANDSF, bandwidth, black list, white lists and authentication. Cost issues, for instance, may dictate a policy that forces mobile phones to WiFi as they move through small cell sites.
- Align vendors with the roadmap. Your small cell roadmap will dictate your vendor selection. A comprehensive roadmap reflects your technology and architecture decisions and the features and capabilities your vendors and vendor products must be able to support. Use RFPs to create a shortlist of vendors from the sea of LTE, picocell, DAS, SON and OSS/Performance candidates — making sure they align with the objectives, technologies, architecture and other small cell considerations defined by your roadmap.
- Consider your capital. How are you going to pay for the small cell program? While it may not make a difference to your suppliers, it often makes a big difference to your company. The pressure for accelerated success grows in proportion to how far removed your company is from the funds it will be using. Using available funds and revenues mitigates the pressure for the immediate success that is often expected by investors and frequently by partners and customers, too.
- Build the business case. The small cell arena looks strikingly different depending on the business case you build for small cell. Established, mature technologies often stand out when the case is made for rapid ROI and payback. Newer technologies may offer a more strategic or competitive advantage. The business case usually helps to refine decisions made as a result of your objective.
- Lock in on location and deployment. Location is all about putting the small cells in the right places. First of all, how many small cells will be deployed? Will they be deployed indoors or outdoors? In public or private locations? Will they be deployed at a neutral host or at a site you build? Regardless, a primary goal will be to maximize the coverage, capacity or user experience for each small cell. Per call data measurement and other analysis tools and techniques can help optimize location and deployment plans.
Clearly, small cells raise big questions. Answering those questions early and precisely can get small cell projects off to a smooth start — and jumpstart projects that may have stalled.
Article published in OSP Magazine