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Small Cell Technologies and Surmounting the Challenges of Wireless Broadband Capacity

The increasingly wirelessly connected world

A rising tide of demand

New devices, applications and uses are all requiring access to wireless broadband services from consumers, business people and increasingly from wirelessly connected "things" (or IOT). IOT uses, presently including digitally active wearable devices and LTE enabled automobile based services, are rapidly adding to the already accelerated growth of smart phone and other digital devices, using ever-increasing interactive applications.

All of these factors are creating rapid demand growth for high-speed wireless broadband services. In recent years, the demand has relentlessly grown faster than predicted and faster than wireless service providers can implement new services.

The dilemma

The wireless service providers have many demands on their capital including new spectrum acquisitions, new wireless service implementations, other network capacity investments, and other investments in network virtualization and new services.

The conventional approach has been more spectrum, backhaul and macro-sites. However, in many cities, there are significant locations where coverage is sparse and customer satisfaction with carrier wireless network coverage is declining.

Even if carriers have available spectrum, tower and macro site locations in many urban settings are already in use. There are, in most cities, few sites where macro-sites can be implemented to add to coverage.

High-band spectrum carries much more data at higher rates than low-band spectrum but does not propagate nearly as far through open space, or as easily through obstructions such as buildings and trees. As technologies are already migrating toward higher band spectrum and future spectrum auctions are anticipated to be in increasingly higher bands, the solution of small cell technologies to densify a carrier's network (particularly within urban environments) has become a necessity.

The emergence of small cell networks

After several years of industry conversation about the technology, design, economics and implementation issues involved with small cells, it seems that the inflection point has been reached to allow small cell networks to be used to achieve coverage and network capacity requirements for carriers in urban and densely populated locations.

Incumbents from tower/macro-site builders and "DAS specialist" firms have all assumed that the design and implementation of urban small cell networks are a logical extension of their legacy businesses.

However, actual experience with early large-scale implementations suggests that urban small cell network design and implementation is more complicated than more traditional wireless tower/macro-site based coverage designs.

Public, private and consumer stakeholder attitudes and requirements are changing. This means that the future implementation of urban network design will continue to react to an organic environment defined by dynamic technical and non-technical public factors.

Modus: a different approach

Modus leadership itself reflects urban planning as well as network design disciplines and experience. Modus recruits college graduates with a background in urban planning, environmental systems and related fields, and integrates them with talented technical people with significant network design and implementation experience. Modus uses leanly configured, multi-discipline teams to assess requirements, create and refine RF designs in the field early in the process, which is crucial to its ability to more rapidly implement solutions for the carrier.

Modus management has had significant experience in working with various city, transport authority, utility, and other stakeholders. That experience has led to an appreciation that these networks have to complement the urban neighborhood concerns, integrate with public-owned and other assets, efficiently take advantage of backhaul access and power options and comply with various planning and regulatory requirements.

Modus spends considerable time and utilizes its experience to create a pragmatic RF engineering design early in the process to address the many concerns regarding these local networks. Doing so identifies non-RF constraints early in the design process and allows alternatives to be conceived and considered before resources and capital are expended.

Modus' process and systems support more frequent and intrinsic collaboration with carrier management through the design, validation and implementation process. This allows the customer to have more direct control and inputs throughout the design and implementation process.

Modus has business flexibility to accept larger scope and other models of operation during and after the implementation process. Projects can be traditional implementations of a carrier design, collaborative design and implementation planning, and can include own/operate models post installation, which permit the wireless service partner to avoid deploying their own capital to own these local networks.

Impact on the service operator/owner

In addition to Modus networks "fitting in" to the local requirements of a community, the Modus approach delivers early benefits to the carrier seeking high quality incremental wireless network services. Modus' actual experience is that it is able to implement and "turn up" new network nodes more rapidly than their competitors. The result is more wireless broadband services for carrier customers, meaning greater customer satisfaction and less potential instability in their enterprise and customer loyalty.

Approaching each project from the perspective that it is a partnership among the stakeholders (including the local jurisdictions), Modus has achieved a 100% success rate in securing site leases and entitlements by public authorities, reducing risk for the wireless service management team network plans.

In addition, recognizing that these "neighborhood" small cell networks are in their relative infancy in terms of their implementation at scale, and that they are by nature highly distributed, with lots of end points, Modus is incorporating a longer termed, operational view during the design process. While the antennas themselves are reliable, the number of power and backhaul connections as well as the urban environments in which they operate heightens the importance of thinking about the longer termed support and maintenance issues. The objective of this effort is to make certain that as these installations scale, they are maintainable with minimal effort, and that the wireless service provider using them to deliver more wireless broadband capacity experiences consistently high levels of performance.

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Service Area: Western United States