AT&T: Multi-standard small cells at least a year off

AT&T (NYSE:T) has updated much of its network to accommodate deployment of HSPA+ metrocells around the country, but the rollout of more advanced multi-standard metrocells is at least a year away, according to the senior executive heading up the program.

"We've got a significant portion of the country updated" to accommodate HSPA+ metrocells that will improve voice coverage and data service on AT&T's HSPA+ network, Gordon Mansfield, AVP of AT&T Small Cell Solutions, told Light Reading Mobile.

Mansfield, who is also chairman of the Small Cell Forum, said during this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, that AT&T has successfully tested and deployed indoor and outoor metrocells in three different environments: a neighborhood in St. Louis, Mo.; a high-rise in New York City; and an enterprise in Milwaukee, Wis. In all three deployments, AT&T was able to deliver nearly 100 percent usable coverage to customers that before had a less-than-desirable network experience.

The carrier is also working on what it calls Multi-Standard Metrocells (MSMs), or small cells that combine LTE, HSPA+ and Wi-Fi into a single unit, but these are apparently proving tricky as the carrier appears to be in no rush to hustle the MSM devices out of the lab and into real-world deployments.

"It would be foolish to think less than a year" for the MSM deployments, Mansfield told Light Reading Mobile, but he added the rollout effort probably will not take two years either.

Speaking at the Citi Global Internet, Media & Communications Conference held during January in Las Vegas, John Donovan, senior executive vice president of AT&T technology and network operations, emphasized the importance of multi-standard small cells in the operator's network plans. "Our objective for 2014 is that we won't do any small cell or in-building systems that don't include Wi-Fi," he said.

AT&T announced last November that it intends to deploy more than 40,000 small cells over the next two years as part of its expansive Project Velocity IP (or VIP). The project also will entail the rollout of 10,000 new macrocells and 1,000 distributed antenna systems (DAS) throughout its service footprint.

During AT&T's Innovation Showcase in New York last week, Mansfield indicated that the end-of-2015 target for 40,000 small cells still seems quite feasible. "At this point I see no reason to believe that we won't hit that number...and we could revise it next year," he said.

The operator exhibited version 2 of an Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) 9364 outdoor metrocell, designed to extend WCDMA and HSPA capacity to public outdoor places. However, Mansfield said AT&T expects to solicit multiple vendors to supply its HSPA+ metrocells and MSMs.

For more:
- see this Light Reading Mobile article
- see this Engadget article

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