Time to Change The Small Cells Business Model

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sw-awesome-medA long long time ago, in a galaxy… in 2003 at Samsung, we were trying to sell our small cell vision to carriers, and carried demos all over the country.  Everybody agreed it was pretty awesome but the adoption for deployment was just not very good at all.

Later, I worked with a couple of other fellows to create a shared small cell architecture and that idea seemed best carried forward in a startup after all of the big carriers declined. The problem it addressed was the CAPEX/start up costs of getting into small cells since the carriers only looked at them as financial pain, an admission smallcells_forum_bannertheir macro sites/DAS/RF coverage wasn’t good enough- not as opportunities.

We had a plan to have a lead customer who was testing the waters with small cells share networks (not RAN) facilitating the next customer to just deploy small cells (RAN) and not have to do mega integrations into their own networks. The technology allowed us to have every appearance of full integration and in fact fully integrate at a features/requirements level with the carrier workflows. The key difference is the management and core costs were negligible. We called it OneRAN.

Technology wise, we had RAN device lead vendor, had a plan to create interoperability for multiple RAN device vendors to participate, standards based, low effort integration into existing macro networks that could take days vs months, awesome tools and visibility into customer performance, knowledge to operate efficiently etc… I had written up about 10 patents that would lock it down, and told myself, if this thing starts to happen, and we get significant investment (it takes $ to defend patents), I’m going to file them.AT&T microcell small cell

So, in the end, we failed to gain enough traction from investors to liberate the underused assets in our plans. You could look at it as our timer ran out on our window to personally commit the time to move it forward but the reality was the investors were very hesitant to jump into a new business model that was operations based. Maybe we moved too early.

Today there are a few others in that same space..quick search brings up: Spider Cloud Wireless, Arqiva, OpenRAN, TowerStream, Cloudberry, NetComm Wireless, NewCore Wireless, Clear Sky Technologies, etc etc…

Operators still resist!

Operators resistant to shared small cell networks

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Looking through all of these offers, it’s clear to me we would still be ahead but that’s irrelevant. One key part of the operating idea, is still very relevant and aggravating…

Carriers can’t afford to make a gazillion investments in on site wireless equipment, nor can they operate it directly, sustainably. So carriers: instead of investing a gazillion dollars in a DAS deployment (dedicated fiber, nickel and dime expenses), just open your networks with requirements. Allow 3rd parties to deploy wireless access that complies, and as a win-win (quick response time, no outages etc…) buy back the bits from the on site operator- allow the meter to turn the other way like electrical utilities.

VZW Rule The Air Logo

So for example, I have a small/medium sized office with poor coverage. The carriers are uninterested in investing in a repeater due to limited traffic, the site owner is very against spending any kind of money like this for same reasons, and the outdoor environment is tightly controlled so there is no good macro reach. Very much like solar,  I should be able to purchase a small cell and set it to sharing. My account should get credits for MOUs (based on instantaneous rate like electricity.) The backend is a 3rd party provider that connects all carrier networks to my RAN solution and acts as a management point, acting like an ISP or VPN provider in some aspects. I can pay the back end some reasonable fee, like $15/mo. to manage my equipment for me or I can go it alone and hope that everything is good enough to serve the MOUs (especially mine) without anything more than the built in SON features. I’m ok if they have tiers allowing me to pay more for higher traffic more management, as long as it also scales back down to the SOHO type of user.223438_259841

As a benefit: wireless networks could be made very responsive and resilient and the meter could turn really fast with Local IP Access (LiPA) (presentation) /Selected IP Traffic Offload (SiPTO) implementations. This basically means local data plane (content) doesn’t have to flow back to the core, but can hop off and go directly to Google, Youtube etc… right from my ISP. My ISP is already responsible for my QoS of my backhaul connection. If I don’t have an ISP, the carrier can offer this backhaul solution wirelessly (Yes, there IS an economically efficient model to do this in many places.)LIPA

Ideally is  a ‘spot’ market with a neutral clearinghouse where the price responds with local demand and capacity. This gives the carrier some control back in the deployment targeting. This is all technologically simple, and assures that OTT solutions or bypass solutions like WiFi keep carriers relevant to the marketplace. The existing Small Cell Forum could step up here. The carrier revenue could grow because bits are being consumed in more places, the 3rd parties are motivated to grab marketshare, and the consumer gets more options for wireless bits. This could be a good business for cable or DSL providers. At peak efficiency, the cost per bit at the carrier should be a fraction of sending it from a macro site and at the same time, the user experiences more or less superior too.

Without taking this approach, I think the Internet of Things (everything) will need to go peer to peer at a minimum and bypass the mobile wireless broadband networks in the long run. Without this, eventually, the mobile operators would end up as the dinosaurs did, probably without the museum space.dinosaur_2474599bWithout this, my mobile coverage is terrible at the office and I’m frustrated and willing to hop carriers or find WiFi solutions to bypass the mobile operator. Let’s consolidate devices, services etc… It’s time!

PS: Don’t buy the counter arguments of hand off issues, emergency services (e911) issues and so on. It’s simply not true. These problems are easily addressable. I have some patents written up if they need help. 🙂

PPS: Also, think about all the new opportunities that this architecture opens up!

White Paper about network sharing..