Small Cell Forum drives virtualization opportunity for small cells


Small Cell Forum has launched Release 5.1, the first phase of its work on small cell virtualization.

The Release identifies a clear opportunity to support an accelerated industry transition to virtualized small cells, with a virtualized FAPI (nFAPI) based on a MAC/PHY split.

The MAC/PHY approach is well aligned with both the packet switched backhaul service conventionally used to support small cell deployment, and the current small cell multi-vendor ecosystem that has already widely deployed a MAC/PHY platform decomposition based on the Forum’s Functional Application Platform Interface (FAPI).

Release 5.1 covers the technical and commercial analysis of virtualization options, along with their respective costs and benefits. With research from Maravedis-Rethink indicating that the majority of operators deploying small cells will also look to deploy virtualization in parts of their RAN, and that over 90% of those operators deploying cloud-RAN will also be using urban small cells, there is an urgent need to fully assess the virtualization split options and understand how virtualized small cells will align with the centralized and virtualized macro RAN.

“Our operator group met in June 2014 to discuss the impact of virtualization on small cells and the opportunities it could present. What we’re announcing today is the first part of our work in this area,” said Alan Law, Chair of Small Cell Forum. “We’ve found clear benefits and drivers towards centralization and virtualization of the small cell network. These facilitate the scalability of small cells and enable functions to be moved around depending on loading conditions or availability of compute and transport resources. It’s a really exciting opportunity for the industry and one we will continue to develop as part of our future work.”

The virtualization work forms a key part of the new direction and roadmap of Small Cell Forum, which sees the organization moving to a focus on enabling all facets of integrating small cells into HetNet deployments.

The Release Program has now established the commercial and technical case for small cells in all key use cases and, as commercial deployments ramp up, operators are looking at how small cells fit into HetNets and the impact of new technology trends such as License Exempt Spectrum, SON and virtualization. The full roadmap can be viewed at SCF100.

“Small Cell Forum has always had a strong focus on interoperability and some of our most influential work to date has been around integrating small cells with not just the macro network, but with service integration, Wi-Fi technologies and enterprise networks,” said Sue Monahan, CEO of Small Cell Forum. “What we’re seeing now is small cell deployments really ramping up and being used as part of true HetNets, with operators taking advantage of a range of different technologies to deliver the best subscriber experience.

“Our new roadmap will help operators accelerate the delivery of integrated HetNet deployments, while also leveraging new trends from virtualization through to 5G, M2M and LAA.”