As we discussed in our Small Cells World Summit roundup, there was a lot going on at the small cell industry’s annual confab last week – some of it old, some of it new. Yet, if one of the event’s themes was the nagging question of why deployments won’t ramp more quickly, we need to ask another question. What was missing from the event? What isn’t the industry talking about (or talking about enough) that may be important in helping it move forward?
From our perspective, two things stand out.
- Self-Optimizing Networks. Let’s be clear: discussion of SONs was not missing from this year’s Small Cells World Summit. It was mentioned in operator presentations. There was a panel on it. Amdocs referenced it as a part of deployment automation. Qualcomm made SON a central part of its new small cell silicon launch, and Airhop’s eSON software got integrated by Radisys and Broadcom. Okay, that makes it seem like SON was everywhere. But it wasn’t – conversations with the operators and vendors driving the market never included SON as more than a brief mention – a necessary, but unglamorous, part of any small cell solution. You might blame the current focus on indoor deployments where planning has taken a higher profile (though SON is just as important). No matter, as outdoor deployments scale and operators look to mitigate interference between indoor and outdoor domains, SON needs to be a bigger part of small cell discussions.
- Virtualization – Beyond the RAN. “Virtualization” means a lot of things to a lot of people. For the Small Cell Forum, the current focus – coming up at the tail end of the show – looks to be virtualization of the RAN. For some vendors, virtualization is an opportunity to link their backhaul work to the buzzword of the moment. For Intel, it was about NFV – based on a presentation it gave at the show. For the most part, virtualization simply wasn’t on the show’s agenda. This is a problem. Marketing hype or not, SDN in support of network virtualization should be a boon to small cell backhaul needs. Likewise, NFV should play into scaling small cell gateway capacity and even support edge-based applications. It’s great that the Forum is tackling base station virtualization, but implications in the core and transport networks need to be top of mind.