The roll out of public Wi-Fi in London by O2 announced on Monday (30 July 2012) not only provides a Wi-Fi service for the public, but it also marks the start of a land grab to secure sites for small cells.
Small cells will play a key part in the deployment of 4G LTE networks, which requires base stations sited nearer end users to provide the necessary capacity to meet the demand for mobile data in areas of high population density.
Ruckus Wireless SmartCell 8800s access points are being used for O2’s Wi-Fi service. These are capable of supporting LTE, so when O2 begins to deploy its 4G network (expected in late 2013 if the UK 4G spectrum auction goes to plan ) it will have a number of sites and small cells already in place.
The SmartCell 8800 packs a carrier grade, modular multi-radio system with an integrated adaptive antenna array inside a small form factor, which is easy to mount on lampposts or buildings. This allows it to support multiple licensed and unlicensed radio technologies including high speed dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, small cell 3G and 4G radios and a 5GHz radio for wireless backhaul.
Steven Glapa, senior director of marketing at Ruckus, told Wireless: ‘O2 was looking for a solution that gave it the required radio performance. Many people have had some fairly poor Wi-Fi experiences over the years, because networks underinvested as the business case for hotspots in the pre-smartphone era didn’t really stack up.
‘Our technology provides that radio performance, along with a seamless subscriber experience and it maintains a seamless experience for the guys running the network and plugging it into their packet core at the backend. So, it really is carrier class equipment.’
While Ruckus’s equipment is ready for both LTE and Wi-Fi 802.11ac (which operates in the 5GHz unlicensed band) when they arrive in the UK, O2 is not being too ambitious at this stage of development. In time, operators will be able to tie the Wi-Fi back into their authenticating, authorisation and accounting systems. For the moment, O2 is just supplying a fast Wi-Fi service.
‘I really think the operator community at large is taking the integration of Wi-Fi one step at a time,’ says Glapa. ‘The expectations are grand, but it is definitely worth doing this one step at a time. There are just two radios, so far, in our O2 access points, but it is a leading indicator of things to come.
‘It is very simple at the first stage - the complexity of tying things in at the back end of the network for Sim-based devices and non-Sim based devices (such as Wi-Fi only tablets) and then introducing Hotspot 2.0 (seamless roaming between Wi-Fi and cellular) will come later.’
O2 is working with a number of suppliers for its Wi-Fi network - the most significant being Cisco, Ruckus and Cambridge Broadband Networks, whose point-to-multipoint VectaStar microwave technology is being used as part of the backhaul solution.
O2 is also employing Ruckus Smart Mesh technology for backhaul, which uses self-organising network (SON) principles, Ruckus BeamFlex adaptive antenna arrays and its ChannelFly predictive channel management technique to create a high-speed wireless mesh backbone.
The nodes automatically adapt to changes in environmental conditions to ensure the signal provides a strong and consistent experience for the end user. Glapa explains that a cable only has to be run to one access point, which then wirelessly forms a mesh with four or five more access points.
‘We are seeing a combination of wireless and point-to-point and point-to-multipoint connections as well as fibre,’ he says. ‘You have to use a variety of techniques for small cells and backhaul for somewhere like London where you cannot get cable to every small cell.’
Glapa says that the next two years will see Wi-Fi 802.11 Release 2 (as it is being dubbed at the moment) which will bring multi-use, MIMO (multiple in multiple out) technology. ‘The benefit of that is that it will allow Wi-Fi to work like a cellular network,’ says Glapa.
‘That will provide a real hetnet (heterogeneous) network (one that uses a combination of multiple radio technologies seamlessly). There are a lot of things to sort out on hetnet architecture still, but in the meantime Wi-Fi is super useful right away,’ he says.
Cambridge Broadband Networks provides backhaul for O2’s small cell Wi-Fi network
Ruckus Wireless supplies small cells for Telefónica UK (O2) Wi-Fi in London
MWC 2012: Ruckus Wireless introduces multi-function HetNet small gateway to support Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G and backhaul