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Fiber, vRAN and densification: A Q&A with SOLiD – RCR Wireless News

Fiber, vRAN and densification: A Q&A with SOLiD – RCR Wireless News

Network densification is about a lot more than
beefing up macro sites and deploying new small cells. Connecting all of these
radio sites and tying them back into the core, data centers and other ICT
locations, is fiber optic cabling. And, given current and future densification
needs, fiber to the edge is today and will continue to be a sound investment,
according to Tim Moynihan, senior vice president of marketing at SOLiD.

SOLiD’s parent company is based in Korea, a
fiber-deep market with one of the highest rates of mobile penetration in the
world. The country’s three mobile network operators used a shared
infrastructure model to deploy 5G, which became commercially available in
April. Moynihan discussed learnings from Korea that are applicable to build out
of 5G in the U.S.

“Seoul is one of the densest cities in the
world–twice as dense as New York City. The number of antennas, repeaters and
things like that, the amount of gear, has probably been underestimated about
what’s needed. The number of antennas and things that are going to drive those
antennas, it’s a concern, but they’re being installed.” Related to 5G, the big
question he said is “How do you deploy this–not just mass coverage. How are
the operators going to be working together? Are they going to be competing, are
they going to be cooperating? Just the sheer volume of equipment is something
we’re all going to have to think, as an industry, about, particularly the
operators. I think it’s one of the driving challenges of our industry at this

Back to the fiber point, one of SOLiD’s focuses is provisioning in-building systems. Whether the buyer is an operator or a building owner, fiber is the common denominator. Moynihan observed a shift from a DAS point of view to “a much more fiber-oriented point of view,” given that a robust fiber infrastructure can support LTE, 5G, internet of things projects, CBRS in the U.S., public safety and outdoor applications.

“When we’re talking to potential customers and
building owners, this is part of our checklist–to ensure the infrastructure
supports 5G. It’s really about fiber,” Moynihan said.

He also called out a major trend that’s
rippling through the telecom infrastructure vendor community with the support
of many leading global operators–virtualization. Specific to the radio access
network, groups like the O-RAN Alliance are working to develop open interfaces
and standards with the long term goal of switching out single-purpose,
proprietary boxes for general purpose equipment loaded up with software that
virtually recreates the necessary network function.

“Our view is that organizations like the O-RAN Alliance and others that we’re very active in, building and developing software-based interfaces…based on open standards are really going to be what drives the industry and what makes 5G/4G connectivity happen.”

Q: Does the density that’s really needed in
these urban networks justify a neutral host-type model or tighter collaboration
between operators?

A: “I think that we’re going to have to see
how it plays out. How is the cooperation between the operators going to happen?
How are they going to be handling potentially other operators spectrum? How is
the neutral host model going to play out? How are new business models going to
play out? How is equipment potentially going to be shared? There’re a lot of
things to consider as this is going forward. The demand seems to be nearly
insatiable and I think in a lot of ways we’re underestimating the volume of
equipment, the type of equipment and I think it’s going to drive us into some
of these new kind of cooperative agreements in the future. If it doesn’t, I
think it’s going to be very kludgy and not satisfying to any subscribers.”

Q: What’s the outlook on using millimeter wave
frequencies to provide in-building connectivity?

A: “There is a play for millimeter wave in
certain environments, in certain use cases–semi-indoor, semi-outdoor,
stadiums, airports, these kind of places where millimeter wave will co-exist
with 4G. We’re hearing calls from our customers for these types of solutions.
At SOLiD, we’re looking at how 4G and 5G millimeter wave-type applications are
going to co-exist, offer potentially different levels of service and really
what the use case is. That’s one of the things customers are asking and we’re
discussing with them is what are the use cases? Is there an opportunity to
provide better service to the subscribers or is there a view we’re going to be
charging additional premium for these kind of services, is there an expectation
from the operator that ARPU will increase with these types of services. We
definitely see there’ll be a mix of millimeter wave and traditional 4G-type
coverage and capacity. There’s a lot of discussion around it right now but I
think fundamentally it comes down to use case, subscriber experience and
satisfaction, and potential for ARPU increases.”

Q: What’s the correlation between the move
toward RAN virtualization and the densification requirements expected as 5G

A: “I think virtualization, software-based
solutions and open standards are going to be the direction this industry and
all of us are going to have to get comfortable with and take to provide the
level of density and level of increased capacity and coverage required to
satisfy the demand. Demand keeps going up faster than we could ever envision.
We are going to have to get a mode of virtualization and open standards and I
think that things like flexibility of the networks, management of the networks,
analytics, all these kind of things, not only the fundamental operation of the
networks, are going to move in that direction as we move forward. Equipment is
expensive. It takes up real estate in buildings or in data centers or operation
centers and as we continue to grow we’re going to have to move to a much more
software-oriented approach supplying the technology we provide today in
hardware. It’ll increase capacity, it’ll drive down operational costs and can potentially
drive down overall costs.”

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