MWC 2012 – Day four: Small cells are big
Posted on March 2, 2012
3 min read
The last day of Mobile World Congress has dawned and the crowds of jet lagged, hung over executives have thinned out noticeably. Perhaps last night’s party was just too much.
I started the day at the Alcatel-Lucent booth where they were again showing off the LightRadio cubes they unveiled last year. The difference is that they have considerably accelerated their commercialisation and the first generation is now ready for deployment. In fact, they had them operating at the Fira site delivering Telefonica’s 2.6GHz LTE service. The demos were impressive with some neat ways of showing the beam steering capabilities of antennas created from the cube.
LightRadios are just one way of creating what the industry is now calling “small cells” (femtocell is no longer a vogue term since carriers have started to realise the considerable limitations of a user-deployed cell). Certainly femtocells continue to be pushed and Ubiquisys showed me a 3G femtocell the size of a cigarette packet. I was more excited by Huawei’s WiFi access point which was even smaller but could use either the built-in Ethernet port or a 3G dongle plugged into a USB port as backhaul – great for connecting the multiple devices that you want to use with WiFi when you are staying at one of those hotels that charges you a ridiculous price per device for Internet access.
Carrier deployed small cells are becoming a necessary part of a cellular network deployment and the advent of femtocells is good in that it is driving the cost of the technology down. One option that seems to be gaining favour is to create a combined WiFi and cellular small cell. The incremental cost of putting WiFi in the base station is minimal and it can share the same backhaul as the cellular system. However, I am not convinced that if the cellular network is congested, the WiFi cells will be much better. I was discussing this with a colleague at lunch today when the guy opposite me at the table (the Congress is way too crowded to get your own table) confessed to be from a vendor of such equipment and told me that the theory is that the large swathe of WiFi spectrum at 5.8GHz will enable the WiFi network to carry much more traffic than the cellular system. This may be valid in open air sites where there is line of site to the base station, but I am sceptical about other applications.
Finally NFC took up a considerable part of my time at Mobile World Congress and I think the jury is still out as to whether carrier-based solutions will prevail or whether the OTT players will succeed with alternative models. What is clear is that handsets will increasingly be delivered with NFC and by this time next year, most of the upper end phones will come with it. However, who delivers the wallet and what services will be available to consumer is still not clear.
So, as I drag my weary self onto the delayed flight to London (also a predictable part of the Mobile World Congress experience), and reflect on the “vibe” at Barcelona, it is clear that the mobile industry is vibrant despite the general financial gloom, innovation continues at an accelerating pace across all sectors of the industry and the technology has a greater and greater impact on all aspects our lives. I think that one day we shall reflect back on this time that “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive”.