With the Small Cells Global Congress coming later this month, it got me thinking; small cells are such a hot topic nowadays. But are they really new?
Since the birth of the first cellular networks, network operators have known that the way to increase the capacity of a network is to divide the coverage area into an even larger number of smaller cells. Decreasing the cell size to allow more cells in a certain area increases the capacity, but it also increases the risk of interference between cells and increases the cost of ownership.
There is no easy way out of the dilemma of insufficient capacity. Operators that introduce LTE today often promise download rates that are approaching the theoretical limit of what LTE base stations are capable of delivering. To be able to get 80 Mbps download speed from your LTE dongle, you should really be the only user in that cell sector! So, the only way to meet customer expectations is to get more sites available. Offloading users to available WiFi networks is one solution, but it does not always help to solve the capacity problem.
Operators are facing an enormous task of finding and securing all these new base station sites in urban areas, let alone paying the cost associated with renting premium sites. The competition is fierce, and the battle for the best antenna and equipment spots is getting tougher.
In some countries, operators are starting to build shared networks in urban hot-spot areas where many mobile phone users turn up. The best cellular sites are selected jointly by the operators and a fibre-fed cellular remote unit is installed with antennas at the site for all operators. This forms one node (subcell) of a shared Distributed Antenna System (DAS) for the operators. The fibre from each individual subcell is then fed to a central site where all the base stations for all operators are installed. The central base station site is commonly called a ‘base station hotel’.
This approach has been successfully implemented in what is probably the world´s largest DAS as well as the world´s largest base station hotel, covering the Olympic Park and other stadiums used during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Axell supplied the fibre-fed remote units for all cellular operators as well as the public safety network. The performance of the system has really proven the concept. Watch this space for a more detailed case study video on this deployment coming in the next few weeks…
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