The Small Cell Forum's ongoing research agenda targets a host of possible deployment scenarios, including the use of movable small cells as well as dedicated and standalone small cell-based networks. Further, a "tremendously exciting" initiative within the forum aims to apply the concept of virtualization to small cells, said Alan Law, the group's newly elected chairman.
Law, whose day job has him serving as new technologies manager at Vodafone Group, was elected Small Cell Forum chair on Aug. 11 and will formally take over the group's helm from current Chairman Gordon Mansfield, who is the AVP-small cell solutions at AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), on Oct. 1.
Law has been involved with the forum for six years and was most recently vice-chair, Europe. "It's something that I've believed in from the very beginning--the impact that small cells can have on mobile operators' networks and on the customer experience," he told FierceWirelessTech.
As chairman, Law will be responsible for setting the agenda for the forum's executive board and driving consensus among member organizations, while forum CEO Sue Monahan will continue to handle day-to-day management duties.
Law contends that increased network densification is the only way to drive the enormous capacity increases that are needed to ensure growing mobile data traffic demands are satisfied. "That's where small cells play a critical role, in enabling that capacity to be delivered. So, we're very much at the center of that journey," he said. '
Right now, the forum is working on Release 5 in its ongoing series of technical releases, which aim to leverage group members' experiences and best practices from successful deployments. Release 5, which will likely be unveiled at the 2015 Mobile World Congress trade show in February, focuses on rural and remote deployments of small cells. Such deployments can include features such as mobility, including moving small cells to different locations as needed and using small cells to provide temporary coverage. Dedicated and standalone small cell-based networks are also being examined.
According to Law, the forum's release program has helped drive expansion of the small cell industry, with forum members initiating some 70,000 downloads of release documents.
Law noted the forum is also starting to research "how we can extend the concept of virtualization, which is very much in progress now in the core, to the edge and leverage all of the assets in the network." He added that moving certain functions to the network's edge will drive benefits in customer experience, cost or both.
"In terms of the work that we're doing, we're very much splitting [the research] along the seams of the groups that we have effectively within the Small Cell Forum," Law explained.
He said the forum is specifically looking at what roles virtualization could play in terms of network radios and backhaul management. In addition, the group wants to assess potential deployment impacts from virtualized approaches and try to determine what is the best architecture for enabling virtualization.
A message on the forum's website from Mansfield notes the group is "seeking operators' views on the requirements associated with the virtualization work stream." Monahan previously discussed the forum's planned virtualization work stream with FierceWirelessTech and said the initiative could eventually evolve into the forum's educational Release 6 and possibly Release 7.
Law said board members are expected to review the forum's future priorities when they meet on Sept. 15 in Milan, Italy, prior to the group's 27th plenary. Among other things, they will look at the forum's structure and seek to ensure that its working groups have the right focus and correct balance of members, he noted.
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