AT&T plans small cell push for 2014 that is actually quite large

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is planning a major push to deploy small cells across its network next year after an exhaustive series of tests to ensure that they do not interfere with the carrier's macro network and with each other.

AT&T has committed to deploying more than 40,000 low-power small cells by the end of 2015 as part of Project Velocity IP (VIP), a multibillion-dollar overhaul program for both its wireless and wired networks. The carrier is now at the point where it its confident that it can begin widely deploying both HSPA+ and LTE small cells in 2014.

"Right now I can say we're in a fast walk," Gordon Mansfield, AT&T's associate vice president of small cells, told GigaOM. "But we're right at the cusp of stepping on the gas and going into a full-blown sprint." Mansfield declined to say how many small cells AT&T will deploy next year.

Mansfield, who also serves as the global chairman for the Small Cell Forum, told GigaOM that the carrier has been busy testing small cells from multiple vendors in numerous configurations, for both outdoor and indoor deployments. He also put one vendor's small cells right near a competitor's to make sure they worked well together, and put small cells at both cell edges and in the middle of cells to test how the network reacted.

The overall goal, of course, is to boost network capacity, especially in dense urban neighborhoods, and improve signal strength, while freeing up capacity on the macro network.

AT&T recently disclosed that it is using its new, proprietary HetNet Analysis and Resource Planning (HARP) tool to help it deploy small cells and other network elements. The tool analyzes key data points to help network planners understand how RF waves behave in a small cell environment. Based upon a location's traffic demands, along with building floor plans or topography maps, HARP can determine expected coverage for both indoor and outdoor small cells and recommend the optimal number and placement of small cells, the carrier said.

AT&T is not the only one deploying small cells, though it is planning to do on a much wider scale than other carriers. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has committed to using LTE small cell products from vendors Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ: ALU) and Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), and Sprint  (NYSE:S) also intends to start deploying small cells on a wider scale next year.

One interesting development to watch regarding small cells will be how quickly and thoroughly carriers make use of self-optimizing network (SON) software. SON software allows carriers to plan, configure, manage, optimize and deal with issues on cellular networks automatically, all based on real-time network demands.

For more:
- see this GigaOM article

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