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UK pioneers stretch small cell's remit

Ip.access works with InterDigital on Wi-Fi/LTE integration while Ubiquisys and Quortus look to replace company PBX


Published: 13 February, 2013

READ MORE: UK | Infrastructure | VoIP | Femtocell | LTE | Wi-Fi

UK small cell pioneer ip.access has showed off dynamic integration of Wi-Fi and LTE, with calls and data being switched between the two within an integrated cell, according to user need. The firm's CTO, Nick Johnson, said it had worked with InterDigital to "demonstrate Wi-Fi and LTE within a single small cell, with operator controlled dynamic switching between the two signals - even potentially mid-data or video stream".

This capability is at demonstration stage for now, but indicates how much more closely carriers will look to integrate Wi-Fi and cellular networks in future. They will move well beyond simple offload, and aim to harness unlicensed and licensed spectrum as a single pool of network capacity, to be used as required by different users and traffic types. Increasingly, operators are thinking about more than just keeping up with the rise of mobile data, but of enhancing the overall user experience to attract and retain subscribers.

"Put simply, if a customer with an LTE-capable handset was using a Wi-Fi network that became congested, the network could be configured to dynamically switch that customer to LTE to maintain the required quality of the service to that user, and the performance of the network for all users," Johnson said in a statement. This would require no manual intervention from the customer, nor special technology in the handset, but would be controlled by the integrated small cell, which would detect performance issues and switch the device to a different signal.

The approach also shows how no single spectrum band or network will be sufficient to meet mobile data needs in congested areas. While most operators talk about offloading 3G data to less crowded Wi-Fi, the ip.access work focuses on situations where WLans become overloaded and need to offload in turn to LTE.

The demonstration will combine the vendor's LTE small cell, which has been shipping to operators since the middle of last year, with InterDigital's policy-based bandwidth management technology. Ip.access says it is seeking feedback from carriers before putting the dynamic switching feature into its commercial roadmap, which already includes integration of Wi-Fi with LTE and 3G.

InterDigital recently refocused its R&D efforts on four key technology areas, where it will seek licensing revenues, consulting and commercial product partnerships. All four relate to the evolution of the 'network of networks' in which there is seamless connectivity between huge numbers of different protocols, device types and spectrum bands, right out to the internet of things. They are bandwidth management and smart access; dynamic spectrum management; M2M; and advanced video research.

Meanwhile, the enterprise has proven fertile ground for small cells as BYOD (bring your own device) strategies take hold and employees use their mobile phones for most of their communications. That has increased demands for high quality coverage and capacity inside buildings, and solutions like Spidercloud's go beyond a simple indoor base station to offer a full enterprise RAN. Now small cell vendor Ubiquisys is promising to eliminate the deskphone altogether, via a partnership with Quortus, whose EdgeCentrix software implements a full mobile packet core on a small cell.

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