Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) vision of the wireless future includes consumer electronics devices that integrate small cells, which could be used for sharing bandwidth with other nearby mobile users.
Presenting at the Qualcomm On conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Matt Grob, Qualcomm's executive vice president and CTO, displayed a reference design for just such a small cell. Photos of the diminutive device show that it was larger than a deck of cards but fit in the palm of one hand.
Qualcomm envisions such low-cost, plug-and-play small cells being integrated into set-top boxes, game consoles, home broadband gateways and any other devices that would be used in a home setting. The small cells would be part of a deployment model Qualcomm calls "Neighborhood Small Cells."
Grob said in-home small cells would build upon the concept of femtocells, which some consumers already use to improve their in-home cellular coverage. Those devices typically rely upon in-home broadband service provided by DSL or cable as backhaul to the mobile service provider's network.
Instead of restricting use of those femtocells to certain customers, Qualcomm envisions broadening access. "A little bit of that signal leaks outside and starts to provide little pieces of coverage outdoors. And if enough of it is happening indoors, then pretty soon you end up with pretty good outdoor coverage," said Grob, who was quoted by CIO.
Using its UltraSON self-optimizing network technology, which includes interference and mobility management techniques, Qualcomm wants to combine signals from many in-home smalls cells spread across a neighborhood into a unified network whose coordinated operation enables interference avoidance.
The chip vendor has already tested the technology in a neighborhood, delivering 700 kbps of data speed in the areas of weakest coverage, according to CIO.
"Our initial studies show capacity increases of up to 500x with a mere 9 percent penetration of households, and up to 1000x with 20 percent penetration while using 10x more spectrum," said Qualcomm on its website.
Grob indicated that the additional spectrum needed for the 1000-fold increase in coverage could come from the 3.5 GHz band, which the FCC has proposed opening up for commercial small cell use.
Qualcomm said future enhancements are focused on enabling the same 1000-times increase using less spectrum or lower household penetration.
However, this small cell network design could run into problems in situations where a resident's mobile service is delivered by a different carrier than the resident's wireless broadband services. A number of new business models are envisioned, said Grob. For example, a wired broadband provider, such as a cable company, might install small cells into its home set-top boxes and offer access to mobile operators on a wholesale basis.
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