Verizon brings small cells indoors using these cute little dots

Verizon has had a big change of heart when it comes to small cells, which it once said wouldn’t have a big impact on its network. Not only is it using the tiny base stations to blanket San Francisco’s tech corridors with LTE capacity, it has begun experimenting with indoor small architectures, specifically Ericsson’s new Radio Dot system.

So far [company]Verizon[/company] only has the Dot system up in its regional HQ in Southfield, Michigan, but it’s the first use in the U.S. of [company]Ericsson[/company]’s new small cell architecture, which allows to building owners or carriers to install an indoor mobile network as easily as a Wi-Fi system.

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Ericsson’s Radio Dot

There’s no word from Verizon on when and if it plans to install Dots in other buildings, but it definitely seems to have gotten small cell religion in the last year. The technology allows it to surgically insert capacity into its networks without building new towers or acquiring new spectrum. The end result for consumers is more LTE capacity and speeds in high-trafficked areas where you’d usually expect to find congested networks. In addition to San Francisco, it’s installing outdoor small cells in New York City, Chicago and Phoenix.

Qualcomm readies the first 4G chips to use the Wi-Fi airwaves

At Mobile World Congress next week, Qualcomm will unveil its first 4G silicon designed to tap the 5 GHz unlicensed airwaves used by Wi-Fi. The technology is called LTE-Unlicensed, and it’s becoming a bit of a sore point with the Wi-Fi industry, which feels the mobile carriers are encroaching on its turf. But Qualcomm and other mobile network vendors look to making the event in Barcelona a big showcase for the technology.

Specifically [company]Qualcomm[/company] is announcing a new radio transceiver for mobile devices that can pick an LTE signal out of the 5 GHz band. It’s the only upgrade that current mobile devices sold in the U.S. need to access an LTE-U network (Europe and parts of Asia have further requirements). Qualcomm has also developed a new baseband chip for small cells – miniature base stations used indoors or in high-traffic areas – that can cobble together LTE transmissions in both the unlicensed and licensed bands, said Mazen Chmaytelli, senior director of business development at Qualcomm.

The reason carriers like [company]Verizon[/company] and [company]T-Mobile[/company] are interested in LTE-U — and its more sophisticated cousin LTE-License Assisted Access — is because it will let them add more capacity to their networks in without buying new airwaves. The Unlicensed airwaves are meant to be shared with all comers as long as everyone follows some simple rules. You have to transmit at low power, which means no LTE-U blasting from cell towers, just small indoor cells. And you have to play nice with the others in the band, so no drowning out nearby Wi-Fi radios.

The problem, according to Wi-Fi Alliance, is that LTE-U networks would be highly organized, centrally managed entities operating in a world of largely independent Wi-Fi access points. Carriers could take advantage of that situation to take more than their fair share of capacity from that shared band. If the Alliance is right, that could mean slower speeds or spottier connections for you when accessing public Wi-Fi, but if you’re on your carrier’s 4G network you could find your speeds improving.

Source: Shutterstock / iconmonstr

Source: Shutterstock / iconmonstr

If you’re going to trust someone to not behave like an ass in the unlicensed bands, though, Chmaytelli posits that someone is Qualcomm. “We’re not just a big player in 3G and 4G,” Chmaytelli said. “We are also a big player in Wi-Fi.”

Qualcomm owns Atheros, a Wi-Fi chip maker. Creating a technology that would purposely disable or undercut the performance of its other commercial products just isn’t in Qualcomm’s best interests, Chmaytelli said. Much of the development work Qualcomm has done so far on LTE-U has been on ensuring mutual co-existence with Wi-Fi, Chmaytelli added.

[company]Alcatel-Lucent[/company] and Qualcomm are planning a trial for the second half of the year that would put Qualcomm’s new chipset into Alcatel-Lucent’s small cells. Plus we could see several carriers announce their own trials at MWC. The first LTE-U capable handset or modem, however, probably won’t make it into the market until 2016.

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Verizon begins its small cell rollout

Alcatel-Lucent says it’s begun deploying its tiny capacity-boosting base stations in Verizon’s network, and Ericsson is probably is doing the same. Don’t expect the big small cell deployment we’re seeing from AT&T, though.