with Iyad Tarazi, Sprint Nextel's vice president of network development and engineering
Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) is deeply involved in boosting coverage and capacity for its networks via CDMA femtocells for homes and enterprises and an LTE picocell deployment strategy that is just ramping up, with an initial focus on indoor deployments followed by outdoor deployments in 2013-2014. The operator announced in August that it would deploy Alcatel-Lucent's (NASDAQ: ALU) lightRadio metrocell architecture gear as well as Samsung's small cell gear throughout its footprint.
FierceBroadbandWireless Editor Tammy Parker recently talked with Iyad Tarazi, Sprint Nextel's vice president of network development and engineering, regarding the operator's efforts to deploy heterogeneous networks as well as Sprint's overall design mentality, which revolves around its commitment to maintain unlimited data plans for smartphones. The following is a lightly edited version of that conversation.
FierceBroadbandWireless: In terms of picos, Sprint is initially focused on indoor applications for small cells. What are the business reasons for initially targeting indoor instead of outdoor?
Tarazi: When you are outdoors you have to be much more diligent about interference management. You need higher power outdoors to make it work cost effectively. The other thing is the right of way; building rights and backhaul models for indoors are well developed and well understood right now. In the outdoors, it's still under development…We are working on outdoor as well as indoor deployments. There will be some places where we will deploy outdoor earlier, but I don't expect the mass market for outdoor to arrive before 2014.
Having said that, there will be people that deploy outdoor small cells that look and behave like macro networks, but they will be called small cells by their definition. My definition of a small cell is that it truly is light, simple, portable, cheap, easy to deploy and devoid of the heavy expense of cost structure that comes with traditional telecom networks.
FierceBroadbandWireless: Help me understand that definition of a small cell according to some others. Is that a small version of a macro cell or an antenna with more smarts?
Tarazi: All of the above. In Asia, the model is evolving for small cells to be around remote antennas and remote radio heads. With their abundance of fiber, accessibility to fiber and the proximity of people, their small cell model for outdoors is where you backhaul all of your equipment into one place using fiber and just distribute remote radio heads. That's their model because the challenge from their design perspective is that cell sites are getting closer and closer to each other, and they need to manage that.
In the U.S. that is not the same model because access to fiber is expensive and not uniform in the same way that it is in Asia. We live in a country that is quite spread out, even in downtown areas. Digging up the ground to put in more fiber or get access to it is expensive. So it is a hit or miss when it comes to getting cheap access to fiber. That model may develop if you happen to be the carrier that has fiber in a specific spot and you can get access to it--but not in a uniform way that would take over the model.
FierceBroadbandWireless: Going back to Sprint's picocell strategy, what challenges are specific to deploying indoors in entertainment venues, transportation hubs and business campuses?
Tarazi: The challenge primarily is that the industry is using an outdated business model. It's slow and expensive…We have to simplify the equipment. Our work with Alcatel-Lucent is a very good example of that. How do I work with traditional tower companies to simplify their model for deployment and extend it to a different way of deploying? One of the leading partners that we're doing this thinking with is ExteNet, which has lots of access to DAS and a lot of building owners. We are also working on very small form factors and speed of deployment.
We're also working with another set of vendors to simplify the core network itself that makes it--I don't want to use the word "cloud" because it's overused--independent of the kind of radio used. And that's mostly being led by Sprint. Our objective in the end is to make it a cost-effective, easier-to-manage, easier-to-deploy model that's flexible for our customers. I think we're proceeding toward that path.
FierceBroadbandWireless: You mentioned simplifying the core network. Is that just your Network Vision project or is it something else?
Tarazi: It is the next step in our Network Vision project. We internally refer to it as Network Vision 2.0. It is our HetNet strategy.
As you know, in Network Vision 1.0, we are deploying CDMA at 1.9 (GHz)--the G-Block--plus we're deploying next-generation CDMA,. We're integrating both CDMA and LTE together, and we're launching 800 (MHz) spectrum for CDMA.
Network Vision 2.0 will take the core and add some more capabilities to it and allow us to extend it to 800 (MHz) LTE. The work we announced with Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) on 2.5 (GHz) TD-LTE, interoperability with all the small cells--picos, femtos and e-femtos--is in a seamless way. And all of the next-generation integration with Wi-Fi hotspots and the combination of all these tools now--CDMA, LTE at 1.9, LTE at 800, LTE at 2.5, picos, femtos and Wi-Fi--is also in a seamless manner The customers don't have to know they're moving back and forth, but they get the benefit of the scale that is in essence the next-generation core and radio technology we're deploying.