March 22, 2011, 9:35 PM — Mobile carriers have been building out beefed-up backhaul connections between their cell towers' 3G base stations and their core networks. But the advent of LTE networks is accelerating a new backhaul problem: connecting a growing number of smaller base stations to the core.
The U.S. cellular industry's CTIA Wireless conference in Orlando this week highlights how heavily networks will depend on these more compact radios, partly to extend or fill in coverage, but more importantly to increase capacity and throughput for mobile data users. By definition, microcells are more numerous than the traditional, powerful macrocells, but they have one thing in common: Like their larger radio cousins, each one needs a wired or wireless connection back to the core.
This week, and last month at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, a number of vendors introduced either small base stations that support a range of affordable backhaul options or backhaul products specifically designed to link these base stations with the core. Some of these base stations also incorporate a 802.11n Wi-Fi access point, which can use the same backhaul connection, offering subscribers a choice between cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Powerwave Technologies is announcing a compact indoor LTE picocell with an integrated two-radio 802.11n access point for Wi-Fi clients. It can use Ethernet, metro Ethernet or the hybrid fiber coax (HFC) used by cable TV providers for the backhaul connection.
"By the end of 2011, the carriers will see LTE hotspots, where users concentrate," says Juan Santiago, VP of product management for Powerwave, Santa Anna, Calif. Adding another base station to a cell site, to do cell splitting, is a costly, complex and often lengthy process. Picocells that can make use of readily available backhaul options can let carriers add capacity to hotspots quickly, according to Santiago.
The indoor unit is 14-by-7-by-2 inches, and weighs just under 5 pounds. The outdoor model can covers about 900 feet, or about three city blocks. The new indoor model is intended to have the same LTE coverage as 11n Wi-Fi access points, says Santiago. It runs on DC power and Powerwave provides an AC/DC converter that lets installers tap into a nearby AC electrical line. Both models offer aggregate data throughput of 100Mbps, enough to support up to 100 active users concurrently, and up to 1,000 registered users, according to Powerwave.