The wireless industry is always changing. With 4G capability well underway and 5G in sight, the industry is already evolving to the next generation of wireless networks. Ben Cardwell senior vice president and segment leader of CommScope Mobility Solutions believes there are three primary trends coming in 2016 in the evolution of outdoor RAN architecture and cell sites, namely densification, virtualization and optimization.
As total monthly mobile data traffic is predicted to increase at an annual growth rate of 45% from 2015-2021, in 2016 and onward wireless operators will need to add increasing network capacity to meet demand.
Despite the expectation that small cell deployment would be the leading network densification tool, small cell deployment outdoors presents operators with substantial challenges such as:
As a solution, more macro network solutions may be deployed in 2016 than small cells. One way to add capacity to the macro network is through vector splitting; eg turning a three sector site into a six sector one. As this is a more cost effective solution, it is likely to gain focus.
Cloud RAN architecture looks to improve network performance with centralised capacity that can be dynamically adjusted to meet actual usage. As such it is a long-term goal of many network operators, and a goal expected to move closer in 2016.
While it will not be achieved this year, the next phase of Cloud RAN architecture is likely to be outdoors, with more cell sites with baseband processing moving to centralized data center locations. Some operators are alreading making this change; tackling the ever present site acquisition, backhaul and power challenges that run alongside.
Regardless of RAN evolution, maintaining best capacity from existing networks is always a priority. In order to optimize RAN architecture, it is key to have the best signal to noise ratio; ensuring that desired signals are loud, with everything else quiet.
Passive Intermodulation (PIM) is the largest source of interference in LTE networks and can result in dropped calls, reduced data throughput and degraded voice quality. As just a one decibel reduction in uplink sensitivity (as a result of PIM) can shrink a wireless coverage area by over 10%, it’s important for network operators to continue to resolve PIM in 2016.
As we move through 2016, the beginnings of what will be 5G will also grow and develop, leading to what should be an interesting year. Supported by more sites with greater virtualisation and best optimization, we can look forward and aim towards more efficient, greater capacity networks as the year progresses.