OnQ Blog

Small Cells: Enhancing coverage, capacity and experiences with shared/unlicensed spectrum

Small Cells are a critical enabler for emerging technologies, such as LAA and 3.5 GHz CBRS, on the path to 5G.

Feb 22, 2017

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona (Feb 27 – March 2) is less than a week away and we want to share with you some innovative small cell advancements that support the evolution toward 5G, as well as some proof-points you can expect to see leading up to, and during, the tradeshow.

While small cells largely got their start with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) deploying residential small cells to individual customers on a case-by-case basis, small cells have turned a corner as 4G LTE small cells and are now also being deployed at scale in homes, offices, stadiums, airports and other large venues, as well as in densely populated indoor/outdoor urban areas. As 5G approaches, small cells will be a crucial tool for enabling high-performance coverage and next-generation capacity via better utilization of licensed spectrum and providing access to additional shared and unlicensed spectrum.

On to what Qualcomm is doing, specifically…

At Mobile World Congress 2017, Qualcomm will be showing some of the latest advancements in small cell technologies such as enablement of LTE-LAA and 3.5 GHz CBRS.

Enterprise-grade LAA small cells with 3x carrier aggregation

Qualcomm Technologies will showcase its ongoing LTE Unlicensed leadership with a demonstration of LAA readiness on its flagship FSM small cell chipset (FSM99xx) - expect to see deployments of LAA-enabled small cells in 2017. LAA with 3x carrier aggregation means that mobile operators are able to maintain the robustness of service that licensed spectrum provides, while augmenting it with two additional carriers on the 5 GHz unlicensed band for an unparalleled indoor user experience. This product also meets the criteria for indoor enterprise deployments with optimizations for cost, size and power (Power over Ethernet support).

Aggregating three carriers on a 28nm SoC and being able to meet the power profile requirements to be powered via Ethernet is a major feat of engineering. FSM is the first and, as far as I know, only small cell solution able to accomplish this.

Our MWC demonstration also underscores our ongoing commitment to fair sharing of spectrum with Wi-Fi by enabling on-chip support for both Listen Before Talk (LBT) and Preamble Detection, exceeding 3GPP R13 requirements for LAA products.

At MWC, Samsung will also be showcasing an LAA Small Cell that utilizes Qualcomm FSM.

See also previous LTE Unlicensed Small Cell announcements with Samsung here and SpiderCloud here.

3.5 GHz CBRS-enabled small cells

Particularly in the U.S., 3.5 GHz CBRS technology holds a lot of promise when deployed using small cells. Similar to LAA, 3.5 GHz gives mobile operators yet another tool to augment their licensed services. Additionally, given the attractive shared spectrum licensing regime, 3.5 GHz CBRS products can also empower enterprises and venue owners to take control of their LTE network more directly, and provide enhanced user experiences on their property and enable new use cases such as private IoT networks for industrial automation.

At Qualcomm Technologies, we have seen a lot of interest with 3.5 GHz CBRS technology and support it on our FSM platform. At MWC 2017, we will showcase several of our key customers’ products that utilize our FSM platform to enable 3.5 GHz CBRS features. Expect to see commercial deployments in 2017.

In addition to having a unit on display at the Qualcomm booth, Cisco will be showing off a functional 3.5 GHz CBRS small cell at MWC that utilizes Qualcomm FSM.

SpiderCloud will also have a 3.5 GHz demonstration for select customers at the show. See here for more information how we are working with SpiderCloud to bring 3.5 GHz CBRS small cells to market.

The role of small cells in tomorrow’s networks

Technologies such as LAA and 3.5GHz CBRS are building blocks for future 5G networks that will take connected experiences beyond what is foreseeable today. As recent history has shown, “good enough” connectivity does not stay good enough for long. A time when 3G was good enough to meet my mobile expectations is still a recent memory, but those days are over and my appetite for bandwidth continually outgrows what is available, especially in crowded locations. I am looking forward to the new immersive experiences that 5G will bring, such as augmented and virtual reality. In order to satisfy these evolving connectivity experiences and increased expectations, networks need to evolve – this will require hyper-densification via small cells.

The pattern of mobile operators taking advantage of small cells to proliferate 4G LTE networks will become even more pronounced as LAA, 3.5 GHz CBRS and ultimately 5G networks roll out, since these technologies are uniquely well suited for small cell deployments. 5G will also bring support for mmWave spectrum bands, which will be naturally deployed using small cells. Residential, enterprise, urban and rural and remote small cells will all work seamlessly with an operator’s macro network delivering a true 5G experience.

It's worth pointing out that Qualcomm Technologies is not only delivering on small cells, but is enabling LAA and 3.5GHz CBRS commercialization with end-to-end solutions. See yesterday’s Snapdragon X20 LTE modem announcement to see how we are using LAA and 3.5GHz to drive new connectivity experiences across the mobile ecosystem.

The evolution and deployment of systems enabling unlicensed and shared spectrum will be a critical building block of the 5G networks of tomorrow. Expect to see small cells become a prolific, albeit invisible, piece of how you connect your mobile device on a daily basis.