BelAir Networks this week launched an outdoor picocell that delivers mobile broadband internet via both licensed and unlicensed wireless spectrum.
The units are being marketed as an ideal solution for mobile networks wanting to provide better internet coverage in dense urban areas to meet the increasing demand for data, while at the same time enabling them to cut their capital expenditure.
The BelAir100SP Strand Picocell is a compact wireless base station, which increases network capacity and allows networks to offload data traffic. The equipment is less expensive to buy, install and commission than 3G or LTE macro base stations, but compliments both those technologies, according to BelAir.
BelAir chief technology officer Stephen Rayment explained that network operators have been looking for a way to use picocells, but until now they suffered from three main problems; a lack of base station power; problems with finding suitable ways to mount the picocells in urban areas; and meeting the necessary backhaul requirements.
Rayment said that the BelAir100SP has overcome all these problems. The system is designed to be mounted on existing cable infrastructure with both power and backhaul provided by the broadband hybrid fibre coax plant. It supports a range of licensed HSPA 3G radios, along with dual 802.11n Wi-Fi radios. It also establishes a new network architecture that could prove critical for the future migration to LTE.
The units are small enough to be sited on poles, street cabinets, pedestals or even underground – places where people actually congregate, rather than high up on top of buildings. The system builds on the existing backhaul relationships between mobile and cable operators by allowing both to integrate their 2G and 3G network architecture with the BelAir SP100.
The system provides both cable and mobile operators with a number of options for routing traffic. Traffic can be routed as normal straight to the 3G network; or the Wi-Fi in the picocell can be used to direct traffic to the network’s 3G core; or the Wi-Fi can be used to tunnel traffic straight to the internet, bypassing the 3G core.
Rayment said: ‘If you have a smartphone and enter a Wi-Fi hotspot the phone will switch to it. Our system gives control back to the cable and mobile operators. They can decide to route a gold subscriber via the 3G network core to guarantee the best service. Someone on a cheaper tariff might be dumped straight onto the internet, thereby saving capacity on the precious 3G network.’
Canada based BelAir, best known as a supplier of Wi-Fi networks, sees the BelAir 100SP as another step forward thanks to its ability to integrate both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Rayment said the company has put a lot of effort into integrating its equipment into operators’ networks and back office systems.
The company’s focus is largely in North America at the moment, where major trials of the 100SP will start at the end of the year, but Rayment sees plenty of opportunities in the UK.
‘As a subscriber you get a better user experience with faster speeds, lower latency and higher specifications. In the USA, it is more of a coverage issue. In the UK, it is more a capacity issue, but sometimes coverage too.
‘For the mobile operator it requires a business relationship with a cable carrier and each has different challenges. It’s a question of timing for each and it depends on the amount of spectrum and network capacity they have already. Our system closely integrates with the network’s existing assets and sweats them,’ said Rayment.
He added: ‘I think we will see networks deploying a range of infrastructure; Wi-Fi, LTE picocells, along with 2G and 3G.’