Small Cells & Location-Based Services (LBS) – Why Vendors Will Have to Push Harder

Ed Gubbins

Ed Gubbins

Summary Bullets:

  • Mobile access infrastructure vendors are increasingly pushing location-based services for indoor/enterprise networks.
  • It’s a logical concept but one that hasn’t shown much traction yet.
  • Such services face serious challenges, including finding killer apps despite a somewhat fractured market.

Enterprise small-cell deployments haven’t exactly spread like wild fire yet (the latest market information from the Small Cell Forum shows most shipments are still residential). Yet, vendors are talking more than ever about applying location-based services (LBS) and analytics to indoor enterprise networks including small cells and WiFi access points.

  • Huawei is pushing LBS for its LampSite enterprise small-cell solution, aiming first at public-area mall-type applications and partnering with IBM and Baidu (a China-based web services firm) to help usher in applications to cement the business case.

huaweibaidu

(Source: Huawei Technologies)

  • Cisco is offering Mobility IQ, a new cloud-based platform for applying real-time 3G/LTE small cell and WiFi network analytics to LBS for applications like directing users to less crowded concession stands in stadiums.
  • ip.access is starting to talk about customer traction (albeit modest) for the “Presence Cell” solutions it has been aiming at retail and other applications, citing a deployment by Vodafone Turkey.
  • SpiderCloud has introduced Radio Nodes with low-power Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to support LBS services in its enterprise small-cell solution (which is also sold by Cisco and NEC). This follows Aruba Networks’ integrating BLE beacons in its WiFi access points for applications similar to the stadium apps Cisco’s describing.

Of course, vendors didn’t just start pushing LBS for indoor enterprise networks yesterday. You may recall Cisco demonstrating real-world examples in museums and airports back in 2012. Alcatel-Lucent touched on the concept at Mobile World Congress in 2013. ip.access was trumpeting the concept publicly last year.

It makes sense. After all, operators are keen to expand into enterprise services as a growth area in addition to improving coverage and capacity where most mobile device usage occurs. Value-added services like LBS could help entice enterprises to allow operators to install small-cell networks in their venues. And indoor environments can often be a weak spot for the GPS technologies that typically enable many LBS today.

However, we haven’t heard much about museums and airports adopting Cisco’s previously hailed solutions in large numbers, even as the vendor moves on to a more sophisticated, ambitious real-time analytics model. Alcatel-Lucent, never shy about singing the praises of small cells, hasn’t returned much to the topic of LBS. And Ericsson, which has probably done more to promote enterprise small cells than any other major RAN vendor, doesn’t normally include LBS in the discussion, despite the clear need for attached services to tempt enterprises into small-cell adoption.

SpiderCloud has promoted the potential of services attached to enterprise small cells (in this case, think more along the lines of a corporate headquarters than a mall). And its new beacons show the company committing further to LBS in particular. But, among the list of the services it has proposed – things like hosted unified communications, mobile device management and others – the vendor expects “context-aware services” to have a lower penetration rate, cost savings and revenue opportunity than most others.

That said, the increased attention to this area – and particularly bringing in partners to help grow the ecosystem – is a hopeful sign that vendors will apply the serious effort needed to overcome these challenges… or at least keep things moving in the right direction long enough for serendipity to show up.

About Ed Gubbins
Ed serves as Senior Analyst for Mobile Access Infrastructure in the Current Analysis Service Provider Infrastructure Group. He focuses on tracking, analyzing and reporting on developments impacting mobile infrastructure and mobile networking: 2G and 3G RAN and packet core along with, LTE, metro-scale Wi-Fi and WiMAX.

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