The mobile market will be vastly different 10 years from today. We will see two and a half billion more people connected to the internet, but also 50 billion more devices. Those devices are going to have a totally different consumption profile compared with the smartphone or dongle user that we have today. We will have a mobile market with mobile internet which has got to have flexibility in terms of how it supports the massive number of devices, signaling events, and bandwidth that will occur in the future.

To manage this exponential growth in mobile data, effective small cell networks need to take advantage of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Small cells help operators increase coverage, capacity, and services, effectively and have already proven to be vital element in mobile networks.  To better integrate licensed and unlicensed small cells, we have identified 5 fundamentals that are important to remember:

  1. Shift Towards a Venue-Centric Value Proposition
    Small cell operators engagements with venue owners needs to change from a coverage and capacity opportunity to leveraging small cell analytics to provide data to venue owners about indoor location, context, dwell times, etc –information that can be used to offer new services and generate revenue for both parties.
  2. Delivering a Converged Architecture
    A converged architectural approach matters because we don’t want to fragment the market, we don’t want to look at architectural wars with competing approaches. In terms of carrier Wi-Fi, SP Wi-Fi, we made the decision a number of years back to baseline that on the 3GPP architecture to enable carriers to integrate SP Wi-Fi as a small cell solution. That enables us to gives the carriers confidence that we have moved together as an industry in a multi-vendor fashion delivering consistent architectures. Delivering an integrated solution enables features such as rich policy and charging, LI integration, parental control and off-line/on-line charging to be applied across the small cell network.
  3. Licensed/Unlicensed Synergy
    Driving synergy between licensed and unlicensed technologies can help meet the challenge of graceful handover from the macro network to 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi small cells. Wi-Fi brings features to the architecture that can help facilitate handover operations.  SP Wi-Fi network provide precise geo-location of smartphone handsets, even indoors. This location information can be used to enhance the operation of the licensed small cell network, for example helping deliver scalable macro-to-small cell handovers capabilities.
  4. Enterprise Integration
    Over 80% of mobile data usage occurs indoors, and a large portion of this usage is in enterprises. With licensed/unlicensed integration in enterprises, there may be two different network management approaches, with the enterprise maintaining control over the Wi-Fi network and the licensed network controlled by the operator. Enterprise Wi-Fi often delivers traffic separation for guest and internal traffic and enterprises will look to securely extend such capabilities for the licensed small cell network.
  5. Heterogeneous Self-Organizing Networks (HetNet SON)
    SON is absolutely critical to small cell deployments. We can’t look at the manual configuration, the processes and tools that we had to deploy the macro network, and use those to deploy small cells. Tools and processes which worked for deploying 500 base-stations a week simply won’t scale if I’m interested in deploying 10,000 small cells a week.  In a mixed, licensed and unlicensed environment it is critical to manage the linkages between the macro and small cell layers, to enable the effective management of load across macro and small cells, between licensed and unlicensed small cell technologies and even between multi-vendor deployments.

Today, we ground out architecture at Cisco in the business rationale of our customers, incorporating functionality into common architecture that meets operators’ technology and revenue needs. To learn more from global mobile visionaries about the importance of Bringing Licensed and Unlicensed Technologies together and SON Networks, visit Cisco’s Big Thinkers in Small Cells.

Big Thinkers in Small Cells portal


Mark Grayson

Cisco Fellow

Cisco’s Emerging Technologies & Innovation Group