SCWS 2016: Orange eyes the indoor coverage gap between DAS and residential femtocells

Mobile operator says there is clearly a need to boost indoor coverage with small cells for enterprises and venues that cannot justify investing in DAS, but Orange is struggling to identify the commercial justification. James Atkinson reports

SCWS 2016: Orange eyes the indoor coverage gap between DAS and residential femtocells

Benoit Graves, Head of RAN Strategy at Orange, kicked off a Huawei-sponsored seminar at Small Cells World Summit 2016 by mapping the available small cell solutions onto various market segments.

He observed that large buildings and venues are well served by multi-operator Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), while low cost, single operator femtocells meet the needs of the residential market (although he questioned whether there is really a market for 4G femtos).

But there is a gap in between the two in terms of building size that needs to be addressed – but can it be done cost-effectively by mobile operators? DAS is prohibitively expensive for medium-sized enterprises, while the drawback of distributed small cells such as Huawei’s LampSite and Ericsson’s Radio Dot is that they are limited to one operator.

Graves said: ‘For offices and venues if you increase the scale a bit you can deploy picocells. It is a high-end solution that serves the needs of a number of markets. What is more complex here is the backhaul. Lease line for these enterprise customers is not cost effective. It needs to be secure IP, but for us that has an impact on the architecture; it can be done though.’

He warned that scaling beyond 10 different cells made deployments more technically complex. ‘Increasing scalability from single to multiple transmitters is a challenge in terms of design, optimisation and SON. It has to be designed by someone and you can only do it once or you start to kill the business case.’

He added that if the customer wants a multi-operator solution they might go for DAS, but the enterprise then still needs to plug into the mobile networks. ‘So, we are facing a market that it not being driven by us. Either it’s DAS for multi-operator or small cells move towards a multi-operator play,’ said Graves.

Graves was blunt as to why Orange has not deployed many indoor small cells. ‘We are looking at 4G for the enterprise, but we are lagging behind the macro deployment, not because of the technology, but because the process is longer. Why have we not done small cells? We are trying to find the justification for it commercially.’

Reviewing Orange’s indoor coverage strategy, Graves said that 4G for indoor venues is required to complement the macro network, but that 3G is still needed for legacy devices and CSFB. He added that multi-technology 3GPP+Wi-Fi solutions are of interest, but still complex to deploy.

‘We’ve not done it,’ he said. ‘In reality it falls apart: even within Orange we have one unit that sells small cells and another that cells Wi-Fi, but enterprises can fit their own Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi has different vendors with different habits and the worst of it is you need to be flexible.

‘You also need more Wi-Fi APs than small cells (approximately one small cell to every four Wi-Fi APs) but maybe in the future there is a place for a unified approach, but we’ve not seen it yet.’

He added that LAA was of interest to boost indoor capacity and that Voice over Wi-Fi in the enterprise may be an alternative to 3GPP solutions. ‘It is likely to be adopted more easily for SoHo and residential spaces first, but it requires WLAN optimisation though to work efficiently for larger offices,’ said Graves.

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