AT&T will test small cells later this year
Will add small base stations to its macro network, adding to its existing femtocell strategy, as new-look RAN nears reality
Published: 1 March, 2012
AT&T has been a major deployer of femtocells, and aims to move ahead with small cells in its public network from later this year. It will trial this approach within its macro network from late 2012, according to Kris Rinner, SVP of architectures, though she did not reveal details of vendors or precise topologies.
She said AT&T now had "several hundred thousand" indoor femtocells in its network, providing superior indoor coverage and data offload from the macro system. Those devices are from Cisco. Sprint has also been a major users of femtocells, and has about 250,000 in play, though many are for 2G. It expects to have one million within the next few years.
Verizon has been more conservative about indoor femtocells, but has been talking about plans to deploy small cell base stations for its LTE network, to create high capacity zones to complement its broad 700MHz roll-out. Tapping into the huge buzz around small cell architectures at Mobile World Congress, other operators have been talking up their plans, including Korea's SKT, outlining an advanced strategy based on 3G/4G/Wi-Fi compact base stations, moving towards a full HetNet.
The other voguish approach to deploying 4G networks in a new, more efficient manner is Cloud-RAN and China Mobile is set to be an early mover in this, as well as small cells. In both respects it is working with various vendors, but especially Alcatel-Lucent. The partner announced a pact to intensify their existing trials of ALU's lightRadio platform, signing a co-creation agreement which will involve joint R&D and testing at ALU#'s lab in Stuttgart.
This will accelerate the introduction of lightRadio, now expected in the second half of this year, with the tiny cube-shaped base stations tailored for Mobile's TDD networks. The original lightRadio cube was an integrated antenna/radio unit linked by fiber to a centralized baseband processing resource. This year, a full compact base station has been added to the platform, as well as support for Wi-Fi. ALU and its key operator partner will work together on projects such as baseband unit pooling for Cloud-RAN, and redefining the radio architecture.
Mobile was also discussing another C-RAN initiative it is conducting with Intel, ZTE, IBM and Huawei, looking at using standardized data processors for the cloud servers and also for new-style, low power base stations.