New SoftBank Test Builds on Trial Focused on 28 GHz

Japanese mobile telephony operator SoftBank plans to work with Ericsson to conduct a joint trial of 5G in the 4.5 GHz band in dense, urban areas of Tokyo. The two companies said this 5G trial will involve two new radios, virtualized radio access network and evolved packet core RAN, beamforming, massive multiple input multiple output (MIMO) functionality and support services.

In March, SoftBank and Ericsson teamed up for a 5G trial in the 28 GHz millimeter wave band, which followed earlier tests in the 4.5 GHz and 15 GHz bands in Tokyo in 2016.

SoftBank also recently announced plans to deploy Ericsson’s Radio Dot system across Japan to improve indoor coverage in high-density urban areas. Softbank has been testing the technology since 2015.

Hidebumi Kitahara, senior director of mobile netowrk planning at SoftBank, said in December 2016 during a media briefing in Tokyo, that a total of 100 cell sites, mostly in Tokyo, had already been upgraded with the technology. Kitahara also said the technology would be deployed in “a few thousand sites” across Japan next year, with equipment provided by ZTE and Huawei.


  • SoftBank, Ericsson to test 5G in Tokyo.
  • SoftBank believes MIMO technology will represent a key part of the firm’s 5G strategy.
  • Ericsson said that the trial is set to commence once the Japanese telco obtains an experimental 5G license.

“The newly developed lower latency technology is expected to facilitate the development of diverse real-time services such as autonomous driving, and augmented and virtual services – which will become widespread in the 5G era, SK Telecom said.”

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Small Cells Are the Great Enabler

The unprecedented growth of demand for wireless data is radically reshaping the telecommunications landscape. The extraordinary thing is that despite this explosion, the likelihood is that even more dramatic growth lies ahead.

Currently, advanced forms of LTE are being deployed. These will be followed by 5G, which is moving from carrier and vendor labs to field tests. Indeed, 5G is running ahead of schedule. Demand has sparked the development ecosystem and commercial deployments will start before the initial 2020 target.

Optimized-Small-Cell-DASA more basic first step underlies all this, however. These developments depend upon the creation of a far deeper physical infrastructure than has sufficed in the past. Macro base stations must be supplemented by a far more sophisticated and deeper infrastructure.

Many types of small cells will be used to “densify” networks. That’s an awkward word, but a good description of the goal, which is to use small cells and other equipment to add capacity to the network that is already in place.


  • Small cells are a key to fulfilling the new requirements.
  • 5G will feature higher frequency approaches than previously used.
  • At this point, a good deal of the focus is on using 5G for fixed wireless applications.

“The signs seem to be good for the sector. Some, however, say that it has not yet taken off. To date, according to Paul Hanna, the vice president of Global Marketing for Casa Systems, shipments have been a bit disappointing.”

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There’s More to In-building Wireless Than DAS and Small Cells

In-building wireless is a red hot market, particularly given the shift from carrier subsidized deployments to enterprise- or neutral-host led financing models. To better enable enterprise buyers, equipment vendors are looking for ways to take cost and complexity out of DAS and small cells, the two solutions that get the majority of the mindshare when considering the in-building space. But there are more tools in the kit.

Warner Sievers, CEO of Nextivity, said during an interview at the recent DAS and Small Cells Congress event that many companies are “trying to bring the price point down to $1-per-square-foot. We’re operating at half that price point today.” They do that through a hybrid approach that, as the company describes it, “combines the best of active DAS and smart booster technologies,” for in-building wireless coverage in venues up to 200,000-square-feet.

In an off-air application, Sievers said the company has seen lots of international attention, particularly from South America, as it relates to Cel-Fi Quatra. “In this environment, there’s a lot of off-air connectivity. We’re able to really optimize signals to improve the indoor experience of a moderate outdoor signal.”


  • From a product perspective, that’s accomplished by Cel-Fi Quatra, which supports either an off-air application, or deployment in conjunction with a small cell.
  • Nextivity’s network unit can attach to a small cell, then feed the signal to up to four coverage units supplying RF and power over Ethernet cabling.
  • The fear with operators around the world is if you say anyone can hang things off-air, you get these heavily-laden systems that create noise and interference for the base stations that serve them.

“In this scenario, Sievers said Cel-Fi Quatra can cover up to a 50,000-square-foot space, and, in a bid to further make the offering appeal to the enterprise, can generally be installed by IT staff with no specific RF experience.”

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A New Approach to Indoor LTE Coverage

Commercial Mobile Networks have been around for over thirty years.  They began as simple voice networks but have evolved to sophisticated data networks where voice is but one of the many applications supported by the network.  Those early voice networks were analog based: AMPS in North America, TACS/ETACS/JTACS in Europe and Japan, and NMT in the Nordic countries.  As mobile voice networks picked up popularity, digital voice networks replaced these analog networks.  The digital networks were based on a variety of different standards, however most deployments worldwide were based on standards being developed by two global initiatives.  The Third-Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) developed the GSM family which evolved to HSPA and eventually LTE.  GSM based networks were deployed all over the world and were the basis of the largest percentage of mobile networks deployed worldwide.  In a parallel effort, separate but similar affiliated groups, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and later The Third-Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2) developed the CDMA family which evolved to EVDO.  CDMA based networks made up the second largest percentage of mobile networks deployed worldwide.

Mobile networks continued to evolve and the 3GPP, 3GPP2 and a new entrant in the broadband mobile network space, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) who developed the standards for Wi-Fi, competed to develop and gain adoption of new 4G network standards.

Generation Standards Organization Technology
ITU cdmaOne
3GPP2 CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev 0
4G 3GPP LTE Advanced

Mobile Network Progression

The 3GPP2, which included standards bodies from around the globe representing CDMA networks, developed a 4G network standard called Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) or EV-DO Rev C.  UMB was based on an IP connected core with a next generation radio network using advanced techniques such as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) and Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) to obtain peak data rates up to 280 Mbps. Due to lack of interest by the major CDMA network operators, UMB development was abandoned and no commercial networks were ever deployed.

IEEE an organization whose standards attained worldwide adoption for the deployment of WLANs developed a 4G WAN standard called WiMAX.  WiMAX was intended to leverage the popularity of Wi-Fi as a complementary standard.  WiMAX was designed such that Wi-Fi devices would connect to WiMAX subscriber nodes therefore enabling the use of existing Wi-Fi devices and making it easy for user adoption.  WiMAX was deployed in a few countries with moderate early success however lost momentum after a short period of time.

The 3GPP developed a standard called Long Term Evolution or more commonly known as LTE.  The initial definition did not meet the IMT-Advanced requirements of a 4G network, however the 3GPP developed enhancements called LTE Advanced which make LTE a true 4G network standard.   LTE shares several similarities to the 3GPP2 UMB standard such as OFDM and MIMO and were both thought to prevail as a widely adopted 4G network standard.  However, both standards required the introduction of new network components requiring significant investments for mobile network operators.  Due to the overwhelmingly larger eco-system around the 3GPP GSM family of networks, mobile network operators around the globe began committing to LTE to avoid the disadvantage of having a higher network deployment cost resulting from a smaller scale.  LTE is the most commonly adopted 4G network standard and has been deployed almost exclusively in mobile networks around the world.  With most mobile networks worldwide based on LTE, this is the first time when essentially the entire mobile industry is focused around one standard.

One globally adopted mobile network standard has a lot of advantages.  The most obvious is the basis of interoperability between mobile network operators.  Should mobile operators choose to establish connectivity between their networks, the capability exists to allow uninterrupted service between networks.  Other advantages include the accelerated development of enhancement features, the more efficient manufacturing of chipsets and the rapid development of network deployment tools.  Collectively these advantages along with the entire 4G LTE ecosystem have allowed mobile network operators, device manufacturers and network equipment manufacturers to provide feature rich 4G network services to users at a faster pace and lower cost.      

In fact, 4G networks are growing so fast, mobile network operators are constantly adding spectrum – upgrading their networks to implement capacity enhancing features and densifying their networks.  The demands to continually add network capacity are so intense that many mobile network operators have had to prioritize capacity enhancements over coverage expansions especially in indoor applications where strain on network resources aren’t being caused by a lack of indoor coverage.  Solutions for indoor coverage often consist of distributed antenna systems and small cell solutions.  These indoor solutions are often costly and almost always require the mobile network operators to participate in some capacity.  If a solution were to exist allowing private enterprise to take advantage of the 4G LTE ecosystem and to build and deploy sharable LTE networks, it could rapidly improve indoor wireless coverage in a shared cost model acceptable to mobile network operators and private enterprise alike.

Today, LTE networks are almost exclusively deployed in licensed spectrum by mobile network operators who pay billions of dollars to lease spectrum from government spectrum regulators.  Although there has been movement with LTE-U and LTE-AA to utilize unlicensed spectrum it has been targeted for mobile operators as a feature to extend the capacity of their existing licensed based networks.  But this could soon change. The MulteFire Alliance completed Release 1 of their specification for an LTE-based technology operating in unlicensed spectrum.  Utilizing MulteFire technology non-mobile operators will have opportunities to deploy LTE networks in unlicensed spectrum.

In addition, in April 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), spectrum regulatory body of the United States, issued a Report and Order establishing the creation of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).  And with the creation of CBRS established rules allowing the spectrum to be shared among multiple users such as mobile network operators and non-mobile network operators seeking to utilize the spectrum for private industry needs.  What makes CBRS unique is that it opens the use of 3.5 GHz spectrum in the US, spectrum anticipated to be available in many other countries soon, for LTE. In the US, the spectrum will be shared among exclusive licensees, priority licensees and general authorized access users. It is unknown how the spectrum will be used in other countries.

With the expected global availability of the 3.5 GHz spectrum, a group of wireless technology companies have formed the CBRS Alliance to promote the development of LTE-Based solutions, including multi-operator solutions, utilizing this spectrum.  The CBRS Alliance began with six companies (Access Technologies (Alphabet), Federated Wireless, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ruckus Wireless (now part of Brocade)) but has now expanded to over 40 companies including some of the largest mobile network operators.  

In prompting the development of LTE-Based solutions in the 3.5 GHz band, the CBRS Alliance is working in cooperation with the Wireless Infrastructure Forum to develop technology and standards which will not only allow LTE networks to utilize the 3.5 GHz spectrum but also to share the spectrum and prevent interference with incumbent government systems. Among the technology being developed are the Spectrum Access System (SAS), Environmental Sensing Capability sensors (ESC) and Citizen Broadband Radio Service Devices (CBSDs).  In addition, development is being focused on building LTE core components of the appropriate size and scale for enterprise applications versus mobile operator networks.

As the key components of a CBRS or MulteFire solution become available along with devices, the creation of private LTE networks becomes a viable solution for private building owners to build and manage wireless coverage within their buildings, and for mobile network operators to access these private networks as Neutral Host Network Providers.

Private LTE NetworksFigure 1

Private LTE networks have the potential to redefine the approach to indoor coverage.  Today, building owners and managers commonly deploy Wi-Fi at the building owner or manager’s expense to allow employees, tenants or customers to access public internet or private network services.  This is largely because Wi-Fi is common in most user devices, the spectrum is accessible without a license and the service is recognized as an essential business requirement.  However, use of Wi-Fi still requires awkward authentication protocols which deter or prevent some users from accessing the available Wi-Fi networks.  For those users they continue to use mobile operator networks which can lack sufficient coverage or capacity within indoor spaces.  

These barriers or biases which have prevented the deployment of Private LTE Networks in the past are being address.  Private LTE networks will simplify authentication prompting users to utilize the Private LTE network rather than the mobile operator networks and will offer similar features and functionality.  As standards are defined around the use of LTE within CBRS and MulteFire, gaps in interoperability will be addressed.  Within the next few years it is expected that building owners, managers or non-mobile network operators will have access to spectrum and devices to launch their networks.  Given the large eco-system around 4G LTE, the technology development with CBRS and MulteFire, Private LTE networks will soon offer the needed coverage and capacity within indoor spaces and as well as a transparent experience for users.


MulteFire Releases Version 1 of Its Specification

MulteFire Alliance released version 1.0 of its specification, according to the consortium’s press release, is based on Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) releases 13 and 14.

Release 1.0 enables LTE to operate in unlicensed, shared spectrum. Essentially, as I wrote last week, there are two kinds of spectrum: licensed and unlicensed. The capacity and cost advantages of unlicensed spectrum have led powerful cellular companies and their ecosystems to try to solve the sticky issues that were a barrier to their use of the bandwidth. MulteFire is one such effort.

Unlicensed spectrum is as available to mobile cellular companies as it is to anyone else. The challenge is that their technology was developed in a landscape in which an individual cellular company plunked down a lot of money and got exclusive rights to a portion of bandwidth. For this reason, technology enabling cellular systems to share spectrum – a huge requirement in the fractious world of unlicensed spectrum – was not needed and never developed.

That is not wholly a technical question. There is a lot of money in unlicensed spectrum. The politics of how cellular access is written into networks using unlicensed spectrum is tricky and controversial. The issue is even more of a wildcard as a new administration – and one with a very different philosophical orientation – takes the reins.


  •  There are two kinds of spectrum: licensed and unlicensed.
  • The question now is the fairest system way to give cellular carriers that capability.
  • The full specification will initially be available to consortium members, with outsiders gaining access mid-year.

“The spec implements “Listen-Before-Talk for fair coexistence with technologies using the same spectrum such as Wi-Fi and LAA, as well as co-existence between different MulteFire networks.””


2017 Predictions: LTE for Public Safety, Evolution of In-Building and NB-IoT

During 2017, the public safety industry will continue to work towards making LTE the long-term answer for emergency services communication. The U.S. has already begun planning for the introduction of LTE to deliver public safety applications, recognizing the success the technology has had for business and consumer communication.

FirstNet has been tasked with delivering a nationwide LTE public safety service across the country, with reports that AT&T will likely be selected to build the network.

We can expect a lot of interesting announcements relating to the nationwide network to be made in the next year, including a formal decision about who will be building the network in March. Although there will not be an operational LTE public safety network in place in 2017, it is likely that a lot of the standards and regulations will be implemented in advance of a possible 2018 deployment.

Other countries will follow in the footsteps of the U.S., leveraging LTE to deliver critical communications applications such as facial recognition capabilities to aid police officers in finding out if someone has a criminal record. One major consideration is that operators will not want to give up their valuable LTE spectrum, which is needed for data hungry business and consumer customers.


  • In the U.S. and United Arab Emirates, the 700 MHz and 800 MHz spectrum bands are being earmarked for public safety communications.
  • Until vital decisions are made, terrestrial trunked radio will continue to be used as a short-term solution, due to its proven ability to deliver reliable communication services.
  • Venues have to install mobile coverage themselves in order to provide the connectivity that is demanded of them.

“The neutral host model has already proven popular in the U.S. and the trend is likely to take off in other parts of the world next year as venues look to benefit from high-quality indoor coverage.”

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Cable Operators Projected To Offer Mobile Phone Service by 2018

Cable operators will claim 10% of the U.S. wireless market by 2020, New Street Research predicted, stealing most of those customers from the biggest wireless carriers.

T-Mobile and Sprint have increased their share of the U.S. mobile market in recent quarters, New Street analysts observed in a research note this week, even as growth in the industry has slowed to a crawl. And while the market has seen some aggressive promotions, the smaller operators haven’t had to engage in an all-out price war to poach customers from Verizon and AT&T.

The two companies—and perhaps other cable operators—will combine to capture 23 million wireless customers by 2020, New Street said. T-Mobile and Sprint are “relatively insulated” from those newcomers, according to the analysts, and may actually benefit from increased competition. But the nation’s two largest mobile network operators are vulnerable.


  • The cable operator will market mobile services within its existing footprint rather than launching a nationwide offering, bundling wireless with its existing TV, internet and landline phone services.
  • The incumbents may bear even more of the losses given their dominance at the high end of the market where cable companies will be focused.
  • Verizon is working to add Yahoo to a portfolio that includes AOL and its own Go90 video offering, while AT&T hopes to acquire Time Warner for $85 billion after pocketing DirecTV last year.

“Comcast will be marketing an offer by the middle of next year; we expect Charter to be a couple of quarters behind,” the analysts wrote.

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AT&T Flying COWs

Flying Cow

AT&T Flying COWs

In October of 2016 RCR reported FCC approval allowing Qualcomm and AT&T to test the deployment and use of drones for specific use cases.   Well last month AT&T provided an update on these trials and announced the addition of “flying COWs” to their barnyard.  COWs in the cellular industry often refer to “Cell on Wheels”.  In this case however COW stands for “Cell on Wings” and the wings are actually drones.  Drones packed with cellular technology are being trialed as solutions to provide temporary coverage during natural disasters and special events.

AT&T isn’t the only wireless service provider looking to use drones.  Verizon announced similar trials last year and recently acquired Sykward, a drone services company.

In addition to temporary coverage solutions, the wireless service providers are also using drones to perform tower inspections and assess network infrastructure damage following extreme weather events.

AT&T’s Flying COW is expected to “reshape AT&T’s network by enhancing coverage in any area it is deployed”.  And since the Flying COW is tethered to a vehicle-based ground station supplying power, the enhanced coverage can potentially exist for an extended period of time.  


  • AT&T plans on using them to restore communications in areas affected by natural disasters and to provide extra coverage at popular venues like concerts and sporting events, where the sheer number of people can cause headaches.
  • After months of work, the company performed its initial test flight outside Atlanta.
  • According to AT&T, a single one of the flying cell towers can provide coverage for 40 square miles.

“However, before you go dreaming of a world where these fancy drones fill in all the patchy coverage anomalies in your neighborhood you should know that these powerful cell boosters are likely to be deployed in only the most crucial cases of network downtime.”
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Analyst Angle: The 5G Versus Wi-Fi False Debate

As that 5G standards are close, people must be careful about defining terms when we make an argument about 5G. When talking about the actual radio standard, it seems pretty certain 5G will be a continuation of 4G, i.e. technology purely from the cellular community.

Despite some recent overtures, Wi-Fi seems to have lost its chance to contribute to fundamental standards and the two technologies will continue on their separate tracks at least for another generation. Eventually we could assume there will be convergence of the fundamental standards as there eventually was between 802.16 and 4G, but that will be with “5.5G” or “6G.”

In the current generation, there will be plenty of organizations that will find Wi-Fi more available or more useful to them than cellular.

The big difference from 4G will be the availability of cellular 5G in unlicensed and shared spectrum, not just in licensed, which will make it available to far more stakeholders and make it a more realistic alternative to Wi-Fi for non-mobile network operators.


  • Wi-Fi extensions like 802.11ax will have some of the characteristics of a 5G network, but will not be part of the main standards.
  • It will depend on use cases, but cellular will address more use cases, especially at the high value end (high availability, etc.).
  • A virtualized, multitechnology, dynamically reconfigurable network will have a far more transformative effect on wireless business cases and applications than a new radio, whether that comes from the IEEE or 3GPP – and in that flexible network the barriers between Wi-Fi and 4G/5G, and between unlicensed and licensed spectrum breaks down anyway.

“There is a growing number of “5G” skeptics engaging in a 5G vs Wi-Fi false debate concluding that 5G is not needed as Wi-Fi is available now and provides all that is needed.”

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The Case for Multi-operator Small Cells in the Enterprise

Pierson-WirelessThe Small Cell Forum makes the case for using sharing models to enable enterprises to take advantage of small cells. The key to multi-operator small cells, according to the industry advocacy group, is virtualization – separating the network functions from the radio and moving management and optimization to the cloud.

“The benefits to the mobile industry of virtualization are clear, with a range of major advantages including cost reduction, scalability and the ability to offer a broad range of new services,” said David Orloff, chair of Small Cell Forum. “However, as with many new technologies the threat of fragmentation is very real.”

Given the bring-your-own-device trend, most enterprises need a multi-operator solution. The report says: “In BYOD environments, the opportunity for an in-building enterprise solution to offer coverage and capacity from a plurality of network operators can be seen as beneficial as it is able to support the widest range of devices and associated subscriptions.”

For a nationwide enterprise, employees “may find themselves operating in markets that are preferentially covered by one particular operator and in other markets where the spectrum allocations favor another operator.”

The paper further covers the challenges and opportunities associated with multi-operator small cells, including 3GPP-defined network sharing techniques, WLAN architectures, the role of distributed antenna systems and operational aspects of sharing physical network functions.


  • Having a choice of operators is a boon to business.
  • In the case of an enterprise that uses temporary employees or contractors, multi-operator access is needed.
  • Virtualization enables for multitenant small cells.

“Specific to physical network functions, carriers can share baseband processing, digital front-end and radio transceiver functions. This requires management based on agreed terms, Small Cell Forum suggests.”

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