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Sep 24 2015

Small cell deployments: you don’t have to learn the hard way

This blog is by Stephane Daeuble at Nokia Networks.Twitter: @stephanedaeuble

This is the first in a mini-series of blogs that looks at the challenges of small cell deployment and how to solve them. Imagine this. You’re a radio network planner for a mobile operator facing growing traffic demand in the center of a city. You need to figure out how to meet that demand by deploying small cells to provide the right capacity, in the right places, at the right cost.

There are more than 20,000 street poles that provide possible deployment locations across the city center. Now you’re probably thinking that’s plenty to choose from. But consider this... Of the 20,000 street poles, the local municipality blocks the use of any that already support police or traffic light cameras. Furthermore, city regulations require that, before a base station can be installed, poles without a ‘mast arm’ type of construction must be replaced, which is too costly. This restriction alone eliminates at least 50 percent of the available poles. Even then, the cost of renting individual poles can vary wildly, anything from US$ 50 to US$ 1,000 per month.

You also have to factor in the availability of both power and backhaul to the sites. Only 20% of countries have decent fiber penetration in cities and of those, the fiber rarely runs to street furniture. So perhaps you have to provide backhaul to the site, either fiber or microwave, as well as a power line. The civil works needed to dig a trench and subsequently repair the road surface which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Even if backhaul is already available, the rental costs can range from around US$ 500 to US$ 2,000 per month.

Public safety

A site may not be as good as it looks

Even then you haven’t finished because you need to know which of the sites you’re left with will deliver the performance you need. For example, does a location have direct line of sight to a nearby macro base station? If so, the small cell’s coverage could be restricted by interference. Simply moving the small cell base station a few meters to a non-line of sight location could more than double its coverage.

Now, think that you have to take all this into account for every small cell you want to deploy.

We haven’t just imagined all this. These figures and examples are based on deployment projects all over the world. In a worst case scenario, of 20,000 potential sites identified at the beginning, fewer than 100 could be left after all the radio planning, civil works assessments, and power and backhaul connectivity costings are completed.

This case, as extreme as it is, vividly reveals the many variables and complexities in predicting the costs of deploying small cells.

First come, first serve

There’s another consideration too, one that may encourage you to pick up the pace of your rollout planning. Any urban area will have a finite number of sites available and if you are late to the party you may find the best ones have gone, leaving you with higher costs to deploy on the remaining, less suitable sites.

Taking everything into account, it’s of little surprise that up to 90% of the total cost of ownership of a small cell is due to its deployment costs. The complexities have been discussed in general for several years, but it’s only recently that the actual costs and difficulties, which vary by country and location, have been pinned down accurately as operators and their vendors get onto the street and start deploying small cells.

Top 4 small cell concerns

Analyst research reveals these as the top 4 operator concerns about small cells:

* Finding the best locations for small cells * Outdoor site acquisition and municipality acceptance * Backhaul * Deployment cost

So, what’s to be done?

Using our on-the-street experience, Nokia Networks has developed innovative ways of not just identifying the costs involved, but reducing them substantially – while increasing the performance and return on investment of small cell deployments. We are publishing a series of blogs to tell you about these solutions, beginning with a new and comprehensive way to rate potential locations according to their deployment costs versus their network performance for a quick way to pick the best sites upfront and avoid going down blind alleys.

Watch for our next blog on this topic coming October 1, 2015 – Small cell deployments: Nokia brings predictability to site planning.

And to request our new White Paper "Four key factors affecting indoor small cells planning", contact your local Nokia account manager. Refer to our Small Cells webpage with a Small Cells infographic and Services for HetNets infographic.

Please share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – and join the discussion with @nokianetworks on Twitter using #NetworksPerform #mobilebroadband #smallcell #HetNets #Services.

About Stephane Daeuble

Stephane is responsible for Small Cells and Flexi Zone global product marketing at Nokia. A self professed IT geek and gadget guy, he knows firsthand the value of high speed connectivity that Small Cells provide, and has been an active industry advocate on the role they will play in future HetNets and Ultra-Broadband. Connect with Stephane on LinkedIn