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4G World: DragonWave doing microcells with a twist

The radio backhaul vendor’s new Avenue puts together every piece of the microcell except for the microcell itself. Meanwhile, small cell news from Ceragon, Ciena and Taqua.

DragonWave is getting into the microcell business—sort of. This week at 4G World, the microwave radio vendor announced Avenue, a new self-contained small cell unit integrating radio and wireline backhaul, primary and backup power, switching—pretty much everything but the microcell itself.

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DragonWave is taking an approach to the small cell that is becoming popular among non-traditional mobile network vendors. Rather than build cellular radio expertise internally—or go out and buy it through acquisition—and then pit itself against the big network vendors and dozens of specialty pico and femto vendors, DragonWave is building everything except the radio baseband unit, relying on third-party vendors to supply that particular bit of technology.

BelAir Networks, a metro Wi-Fi vendor, announced a similar product earlier this month, building an integrated small cell that can be fit with a radio unit supplied by a carrier’s primary radio access network vendor (CP: BelAir’s latest small cells to integrate directly with the macro network).

The approach kills two birds with one box:

· DragonWave and BelAir don’t have to compete with the radio titans. Rather they can partner with them. According to a spokesperson, DragonWave has already done work with two Tier 1 radio vendors to integrate their micro base stations into Avenue’s housing.

· They can avoid the sticky problem of network management. If they deployed their own small cell solutions, operators would be forced to operate them as a separate network. But by incorporating into the primary network vendors radios, the same network management and self-organizing network technologies maintain both the macro and micro network. This will become increasingly important as operators like Verizon seek to re-use the same spectrum in their macro networks and small cell underlays (CP: Verizon exploring small cells for adding future capacity).

BelAir and DragonWave’s small cell implementations do have some differences though. Due to the companies different pedigrees, they’re using different backhaul technologies. BelAir uses Wi-Fi mesh over unlicensed frequencies, while DragonWave is sticking to its licensed radio backhaul roots, supporting point-to-point radios ranging from 2 GHz to 80 GHz. Avenue also has interfaces for fiber and DSL links, though, making its cell even more versatile.

While BelAir is working with vendors to develop custom radio modules for its products, DragonWave seems to be taking a more generic approach. Avenue is designed to house existing microcell products in their entirety. The idea is a carrier can procure whatever off-the-shelf micro baseband and unit it wants to use and simply slide it into Avenue, creating a self-contained network node that can be mounted on a pole or in a building, hooked to a power source and then turned on.

DragonWave wasn’t the only backhaul vendor using 4G World as a launch point for new products. Ceragon networks introduced to its FibeAir a new high-capacity radio unit optimized for Ethernet backhaul networks feeding the highest capacity 3G and LTE base stations and supporting up to 4 Gb/s of throughput. Exalt Communications announced it has added support to its radio line for non-traditional backhaul bands, including the 28 GHz LMDS bands, in an effort to relieve pressure in the heavily saturated FCC backhaul bands at 6 GHz and 11 GHz.

Ciena announced it is supplying the carrier Ethernet gear in FiberTech’s high-capacity fiber-to-cell-site build in Connecticut. FiberTech is building 10 Gb/s links to 250 cell sites in that state, using Ciena’s Service Aggregation and Service Delivery switches.

Finally, Taqua announced that Cellcom has selected the vendor’s small cell core network infrastructure for its femtocell convergence solution. Cellcom is owned by Nsight, which offers wireless, wireline and other services in the Midwest. Cellcom provides wireless services throughout northeast and central Wisconsin, as well as Upper Michigan.

Taqua's small cell core network includes of Taqua's TCS6100 Convergence Server, T7100 Multimedia Controller, and the T7000 Intelligent Switching System with mobile interface cards; as well as an integrated session border controller and security gateway from Acme Packet.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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