Verizon’s C-RAN deployment brings small cells into huts

Boston cityscape
Verizon's deal with the city of Boston allows it to use certain city assets to improve wireless coverage and capacity.

While Verizon is trying to scale fiber in a big way, it’s also creating fiber runs from small cells directly back to the coordinating macro-level cell sites, essentially deploying a version of C-RAN where it’s bringing a lot of electronics off the sides of buildings and towers and into telecom huts.

At the Oppenheimer 19th Annual Technology, Internet & Communications Conference, Verizon discussed its plans in the city of Boston, where the company struck an agreement with the city that has it getting better access to city street lights and utility poles in order to offer better wireless services. During the discussion, EVP of Wireless Operations David Small was asked if he expected base stations at macro sites to start moving into data centers.

“My sense is if we have a hut today and a backup generator today, there's probably not a strong impetus to relocate that particular infrastructure,” he said. “However, back to the centralized RAN that you mentioned, that's where you bring a lot of the electronics off of the sides of buildings and off the towers and you put them into these huts. And so that's where I envision – and what we are seeing and what we are doing is that the electronics for small cells are going back in to the huts where we already have infrastructure. It's protected from the elements. It's environmentally conditioned. It's got battery backup, as well as generator backup, and so those things make for an incredibly reliable service.”

It hasn’t always been clear how much carriers like Verizon and AT&T will actually deploy C-RAN, which is being aggressively sought after by operators in China, for example. Operators see deploying C-RAN architectures as a way to bring efficiency to mobile networks by using a centralized cloud controller. Remote radio heads can be deployed throughout the network away from a centralized base station, although they are typically connected via fiber or microwave backhaul to the controller unit.  

As for the number of macro sites that now have fiber, Small said that if it’s not 100 percent, it’s very close. “And the one-offs would be where you have to cross a reservation or you may need to scale a mountain and you are not able to plow through that mountain, so you microwave off it,” he said.

With the evolution from EV-DO to 4G, Verizon found it could light up a cell site with four or five T1s and get 1.5 meg per second with a T1 that costs a couple hundred bucks. “With 5G, we do believe dark fiber and in lighting it up ourselves across the country is the better way to go from a cost point of view and so we are pre-positioning ourselves to do so,” he said.

Small is transitioning to the wireline side of the house as Ronan Dunne comes in as the new CEO of its wireless business. Dunne spent the last eight years as CEO of O2 UK, which is owned by Telefonica SA.

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