AT&T SVP: Small cells key to mmWave and LTE in unlicensed
August 12, 2016
Tom Keathley, AT&T SVP of wireless network architecture and design, recently gave an update on how the carrier sees small cell technology figuring into both current and future networks.
Keathley, during an interview at the recent Cowen and Company Communications Infrastructure Summit in Boulder, Colorado, said small cells will see in an uptick in deployment as LTE networks continue to evolve to include unlicensed spectrum, as well as the means of adding site density ahead of “5G.”
LTE, he said, “is going to be with us for at least another decade,” and is capable of providing 1 gigabit per second throughput speeds. “The new architecture, the use of LTE in unlicsend spectrum, that’s really a small cell play. As we move into 5G, that is, too.”
To deliver the ultra-high-capacity, multi-Gbps to a smartphone, experience promised by 5G, carriers will have to use so-called millimeter wave spectrum, which the Federal Communications Commission is in the process of allocating for 5G through its Spectrum Frontiers proposal.
Keathley said of mmWave: “The initial thought there is that will also be a small cell-type deployment. It will go to macro, but likely it’ll be small cell first.”
He continued: “The small cells you’re seeing deployed today, that’s really laying the foundation for what we’ll do in 5G. The work is happening right now. We’re going to be able to use those sites for 5G as well. It’s going to be evolutionary, but it really starts today.”
He said the choice between a small cell or macro tower deployment comes down an economic decision, particularly in the case of a venue or building owner not requiring a neutral host environment.
“A lot of building owners and venue owners really want to deploy one system. If that is a requirement, you’re really delegated to a [distributed antenna system]. Now, neutral host small cell is a technology that’s rather nascent, but you’re going to see that evolve over time. If neutral host isn’t a requirement, it’s a site-by-site economic decision.”