Forbes touting the critical importance of small cells and spectral efficiency

Did Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2018 Deliver?


Will Townsend

Will Townsend is a Moor Insights & Strategy senior analyst covering wireless telecommunications and enterprise networking


In my pre-show article, I posed a question: Would Mobile World Congress 2018 (MWC18) deliver on the event organizer GSMA’s promise of a better wireless future? Now that MWC18 is behind us and I’ve recovered from my jetlag, I’d like to offer my recap of the show.

Overall, I believe MWC18 lived up to the hype. By the end of last Friday, some 108,000 attendees including myself had braved the snow and freezing rain to learn about the latest trends, products, and services spanning wireless infrastructure, end devices, and carrier/ operator services. There seemed to be three main focus areas: everything 5G (no surprise there), spectrum efficiency enablement, and ecosystems/partnerships aimed at accelerating future network deployments.

5G, not winter, is coming faster

One of my many Twitter posts during the show poked fun at the famous quote from the smash HBO series “Game of Thrones”—5G is coming and much faster than expected. AT&T announced its intention to deploy 5G in 12 markets by the end of 2018. Executive Igal Elbaz, whom I’ve had the pleasure of speaking within the past, cited a focus on SDN, virtualization, and edge deployment as key drivers behind the push while at the show. Additionally, T-Mobile announced its plans for its 5G deployment in 30 cities by 2019, and Sprint claimed its use of Massive MIMO will bring “5G-like” performance to six cities as soon as next month. However, all of these announcements were made with the disclaimer that the availability of 5G-enabled end devices will likely lag behind.

At MWC18, I also had the pleasure of speaking with Nicki Palmer, Chief Networking Officer for Verizon. She and I spoke on a number of topics ranging from Verizon’s support of the Super Bowl (if you care to read my article about Verizon’s contribution you can find it here), small cell/ densification and 5G deployment plans. I also learned that Verizon is expected to be the first carrier in the United States to roll out fixed and mobile 5G services simultaneously. That bodes well not only for mobile content consumption but also delivery to the home (for those who aren’t ready to cut the cord and where fiber may not be accessible or cost-effective).

What’s driving this acceleration in next-generation network deployment? One word: infrastructure. At MWC18, stalwart Ericsson announced a Distributed Cloud strategy that promises to accelerate 5G and IoT deployments, improve network performance, and lower CapEx and OpEx by supporting and orchestrating workloads, regardless of location on the network. HPE and sister company Aruba Networks said they would be using their combined strengths to move traditional core network functions to the edge with the aim of improving user experience. This is a tremendous opportunity since video streaming on mobile networks continues to grow exponentially and the need for efficient deployment of 5G services is looming on the horizon. The Chinese giant Huawei announced what it claims to be the world’s first 3GPP 5G chipset supporting a new low frequency 5G CPE. Live demos at MWC18 showed download speeds up to 2Gbps—my only critique was the large footprints of the devices themselves. This is just a portion of what I personally witnessed at MWC18. In my mind, the “all hands-on-deck” approach from infrastructure companies has accelerated 5G development efforts, more so than we saw previously with 4G.

Make spectrums more efficient

Given the numerous announcements around wireless infrastructure, I was also pleased to see that due diligence at MWC18 was paid to solutions that boost spectrum efficiency. Sprint and Cavium jointly announced at the show an NFV trial aimed at improving network quality of service (something that Sprint has been chided for in the past) and improved operator TCO. I’ve been testing a Sprint Magic Box, and I was pleased to see it earn an award at the show as well. It’s a clever small cell solution that can be installed in a window sill and is mission critical in Sprint’s network densification plans. The carrier plans to expand from its present base of 100K units, in over 200 U.S. cities, to over one million units over the next several years. Huawei also announced the second version of its CloudAIR solution at MWC18. It’s an innovative technology that facilitates spectrum sharing and optimization based on network fluctuations. I attended a media roundtable and learned that Indonesian operator Telkomsel has already commercially deployed the solution and is seeing broadband cell edge improvements. This is clearly a 4G LTE deployment, but it points to the potential to enhance 5G for service use cases such as drone delivery and autonomous driving. Speaking of the latter, at MWC18 I sat in a single seat drone taxi—a joint development between Huawei X Labs and Ehang intended for autonomous deployment in the UAE. One step closer to living out one of my favorite sci-fi movies—Blade Runner!

1+1 = 5(G)

 The famous philosopher Aristotle coined the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” There were also many announcements made at MWC18 concerning ecosystems and partnerships aimed at enabling faster network deployments. One prime example was CSCO -0.51%Cisco Systems’ announcement of its “5G Now” initiative to accelerate 5G operator services. It extends Cisco’s path of fostering a more open, multi-vendor approach to both enterprise and mobile networking. The company’s mobile strategy has three core pillars: planning for new 5G services, matching infrastructure to need, and automating to enable better scale, management, and security. An important strategy dovetail is Cisco’s embrace of partnerships to make its vision a reality. For example, Mavenir is lending its expertise through the ecosystem with a virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN) solution to bring speed, agility, and economy of scale to mobile network deployments. Employing a cloud native architecture, both 4G and 5G deployments can scale and flex without the need to always install hardware. Cisco will always be in the hardware business but having partnerships with SDN-only players like Mavenir will enhance its ability to service carriers and operators globally.

Despite the wet and chilly weather in Barcelona, MWC18 delivered the goods. As evidenced by the wholehearted support of carriers, infrastructure providers and everyone’s willingness to collaborate, 5G is just around the corner.

Magic Box – Enables ‘Best Mobile Technology Breakthrough’

Sprint & Airspan Networks for The Magic Box

The judges said – “With this solution, the partnership has successfully addressed the small cell deployment issues around speed, ease and cost”

The Magic Box by Sprint and Airspan Networks is the world’s first all-wireless small cell. Magic Box requires no implementation, labor, or rental costs that are a hurdle for many traditional small cell deployments. The unit is simply placed near a window and plugged into a power outlet. Within minutes hard-to-reach indoor coverage holes are eliminated, and customer’s download and upload data speeds improve on average by more than 200 percent. The Magic Box simplifies network densification by using LTE UE Relay for wireless backhaul, and by connecting to macro sites at the cell edge it decongests overall network traffic.

Dublin City’s New Pervasive “Connectivity Zone”

DUBLIN–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Dublin City Council (DCC) through its Smart Dublin imitative, strives to be at the forefront of Global Smart City technology research and development. DCC is leading a series of innovative partnerships with world-leading ICT companies, many of whom are located in and around Dublin’s Docklands Area. Smart Dublin is an initiative of the four Dublin Local Authorities to engage with smart technology providers, researchers, and citizens, with the aim to better understand and solve our city’s challenges and improve city life. Particularly relevant to this initiative is understanding how we apply the benefits of connected technologies or the “Internet of Things” (IoT) to everyday life. This covers everything from Smart Traffic management systems to the provision Individualised Tourist Information and enhanced on street security. It also consists of the network where a building is open for Mobile Operators and other vertical applications for IoT and Public safety, including real-time emergency, disaster response, and environmental monitoring and management.

Dense Air, a subsidiary of Airspan Networks and a leading supplier of “Small Cells Service” provider, is focused on delivering neutral host solutions for 4G LTE & future 5G technologies. The group recently obtained licensed 3.4-3.8 GHz radio spectrum in the 2017 Comreg Auction.

Dense Air has agreed to build a trial network to supply DCC with an industry leading 5G1 network and complementary Wi-Fi infrastructure to support smart city services around the Dublin Docklands. Dense Air believes that the creation of this new connectivity network layer will drive new use cases and citizen-centric innovation for DCC, all of which will enhance Dublin city’s medium and long-term competitiveness.

The network is being designed as a “Carrier of Carriers” platform operating as a Neutral Host and is open to both private applications for Enterprises and as a platform to support existing Mobile Network Operators. The technology will enhance, extend and densify existing mobile network deployments, improving both the human end user experience and the quality of connectivity for machine to machine and artificial intelligence “Internet of Things (IoT)” use cases. The trial network will combine LTE Pro services from Massive MIMO several macro sites with small cells operating in 60 MHz at 3.5 GHz. The small cell network will break-thru mmWave Mesh technologies that provide both backhaul, fronthaul and access connectivity, with the ability to deliver links to use case at up to 4 Gbit/s.

The partnership between Dense Air and DCC is exploratory, and if successful is intended to provide the framework for the large-scale deployment of a “pervasive” Gbit/s connectivity solution across Dublin and other cities in Ireland.

“Dense Air” The Neutral Host Small Cell Operator

Dense Air will offer “Small Cells as a Service” to Mobile Network Operators Globally

BARCELONA, Spain–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today we introduce “Dense Air”, a new wholesale network operator, that “enhances and extends” the coverage and capacity of existing Mobile Networks as a “Carrier of Carriers” operator, typically on a neutral host basis. The announcement coincides with the 2018 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, where Dense Air is exhibiting (26 February–1 March 2018).

Airspan Networks announce Dense Air – The Neutral Host Small Cell Operator offering Small Cell. @AirspanNetworks

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Dense Air uses Airspan’s comprehensive portfolio set of 4G and 5G small cells to offer services to Mobile Operators in licensed spectrum dedicated to small cells for densification/extension deployments.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to deliver a completely new type of service to mobile carriers. Dense Air’s wholesale service offering will complement the investments carriers have made in their Macro RAN,” said Paul Senior, Acting CEO of Dense Air. “By adding small cells, running in dedicated licensed spectrum to Macro networks at cell edge either outdoors or indoors, we can dramatically improve the service experience to end users, increase speeds and network capacity. Importantly, Dense Air does not and will not offer retail mobile services and does not compete in any way with mobile service providers.”

“The economics of both 4G and 5G small cell deployments can be dramatically improved when deployed using a neutral host solution, i.e. when a single network of small cells can host multiple operators. Our mission is to help MNOs and MVNOs improve their networks by densification without the need to spend CAPEX”.

Dense Air is an optimised network densification and network extension service.

  • Solution delivered using Indoor and Outdoor Small Cells
  • Service operates in licensed, dedicated spectrum
  • Dense Air small cells provide services on a “Neutral Host” basis
  • We support 4G LTE and LTE Pro networks and later 5G NR
  • Dense Air fills coverage holes and capacity weak spots in Macro Networks
  • Services are offered on a wholesale “Carrier of Carriers” basis to Mobile Network Operators
  • We DO NOT compete with Mobile Operators or other Service Providers
  • Our services are delivered in Urban, Suburban or Rural areas
  • The focus is on mobile use cases, including eMBB, IoT, Public Safety
  • We also enable Private LTE Networks for Large Enterprises and Governments

Airspan’s product and technologies for 4G LTE and 5G are naturally suited to small cell centric network architectures. Airspan’s unique innovation and technology leadership in intelligent small cells with integrated LTE relay and millimeter-wave backhaul technologies will allow Dense Air to massively densify traditional mobile networks.


Dense Air is based in London, UK and has offices in Ireland and Belgium, it’s target launch markets. Dense Air uses unique “carrier of carriers” neutral host small cell technologies to deliver cost effective densification to any existing LTE Mobile Carrier or Service Provider. Dense Air is conducting extensive trials and Proof-of-Concepts in 2018 and will offer commercial services in 2019.