Tareq Bustami, the Freescale Digital Networking Group’s vice president of product management, discusses potential solutions to wireless traffic and other networking challenges with Communications Editor Louis E. Frenzel.
LF: What are some of the critical design challenges for small cells, from basestation OEM and carrier perspectives?
TB: Our customers and the carrier community face a number of challenges related to business, technology, and deployment approaches. For OEMs, a significant challenge is business-related. They need to manage the myriad options that carriers are asking for—cell capacity, radio technologies, backhaul technologies, size, and indoor/outdoor deployments—all in a smart and profitable manner. In many ways, we are just at the very beginning of a new paradigm, so there is no established model for how small-cell technology is standardized and offered to the end user. So OEMs are looking to find the combinations of technology, form factor, and cost that will have the most demand in the early market and then make decisions on how to provide modular options for the rest.
Carriers are quite focused on finding the right deployment model for small cells. Questions they are considering include: How will they provide backhaul and power to the locations where they want to place small cells, and who will deploy and maintain the small cells? What happens when three to four carriers want to deploy small cells in a public venue or urban setting? Municipalities and public venues may not allow a small cell on every light post. Also, multivendor integration will be a challenge as they deploy their networks. Will a single vendor be used across one of the small-cell layers, or will they match the small-cell vendor to the macrocell vendor in each region? SON (self-organizing network) technology will certainly play a role in helping in this regard.
Will all small cells be LTE? Will there be backward compatibility with 3G technologies?
The decision to deploy 3G versus 4G small cells is highly segment-dependent. Earlier this year, a major U.S carrier announced its approach in several market trials, and it supported different standards across a range of cell sizes. There will be some segments where 4G only is sufficient, and others where multistandard (i.e., 3G or 4G) will also need to be deployed. There are already a number of sizable small-cell deployments with 3G technologies, mainly femtocells, and those will likely continue.
How do you define the term “HetNet”?
HetNets allow network operators to provide the appropriate level of network capacity at a very discrete level. Macrocells provide the long-range umbrella coverage, while operators can deploy metrocells, picocells, and femtocells in a focused manner to provide increased network capacity in dense areas or fill in coverage gaps. All of this will be transparent to the wireless user, so they will have the network experience they want, where they want it. We think that Wi-Fi is a part of the HetNet story as well.
All that said, HetNet is more than just different size equipment coexisting in a network. The success of HetNets in many ways depends on the level of coordination and intelligent interoperability of the different nodes that exist in a given cell.
What do you see in store for small cells and HetNets this year? What is expected in terms of deployments, and which countries and carriers are furthest along?
As mentioned earlier, some U.S.-based carriers are conducting municipal trials right now in the U.S. Japan and Korea will probably be among the first to broadly deploy LTE small cells, followed closely by China. We see nearly all carriers exploring small cells at some level, whether it is through the deployment of femtocells or metrocells.
How do SONs fit into the small-cell picture?
SON is critical for deploying small cells, especially picocells and femtocells, in the numbers the industry is predicting. The traditional method of tuning macro networks and planning the network will not scale for these small cells, and it would prevent their large-scale deployment.
What are the biggest challenges for your customers who are small-cell basestation OEMs?
I see the challenges as threefold: identifying the right business model, addressing cell configuration issues, and defining the products. The network operators all have a different idea of what a small cell is and which configuration is optimal. Customers are trying to manage their product portfolio to minimize the different product variants and also reuse core components of their designs. They are looking for more integration from their suppliers to help them meet the carrier requirements and quickly make it to market. Customers appreciate the ability to modify the basestation configuration through a software upgrade and quickly port software across several platforms.
How do you define software-defined networking (SDN)? What role, if any, do fast simplex link (FSL) processors play in SDN?
The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) conceptually defines SDN as the separation of the control plane from the forwarding data plane. The OpenFlow specification defines how a centralized control plane function (OpenFlow controller) can control the forwarding behavior in the data plane hardware (OpenFlow switch) in a well-defined API (application programming interface). The goal is interoperability between OpenFlow switches. At the same time, the controller will need to recognize and manage differences due to the optional portions of the specification and the amount of resources implemented in the switch. Freescale’s QorIQ communications processor family is capable of implementing the entire v1.3 (latest) specification on both the controller and the switch.
What are the biggest challenges for your customers in the networking equipment market?
From a technology standpoint, the dramatic increase of Internet-connected devices and trend towards a cloud-based service model is driving a significant increase in Internet traffic. Content delivery is moving closer to the network access points to locally terminate traffic. Switching/routing equipment is rapidly moving to higher port counts and higher port speeds. Networks are converging to common transport protocols, and network services are moving to a software delivery model on common hardware platforms where possible for better ROI (return on investment) and scale. And from a business standpoint, our customers have business considerations as well. They need to invest while simultaneously delivering BOM (bill of materials) reduction and related cost benefits to their customers.
Everyone seems to be talking about the “Internet of Things.” What role does “the network” play in the IoT?
The growth of the IoT will further accelerate the need for an optimized Internet traffic management. While these devices will typically generate less traffic than Internet connected smart phones/tablets, their price point and ease of use will quickly drive high-volume adoption, causing significant aggregations of traffic in concentrated areas. The low-cost/low-energy/mobile drivers behind a large portion of the IoT market will likely drive seamless wireless technologies connected over Wi-Fi, small-cell, or smart phones/tablets. The challenge for IoT will be the availability of low-cost access to metro networks and seamless methods of monetization and billing of traffic across several service providers to a single bill for the end customer.
Tareq Bustami joined Freescale in 2012 as vice president of product management for the digital networking group. In this capacity, he leads product strategy, product definition, and marketing operations. He previously worked for LSI, where he was responsible for the company’s multicore family of processors targeted for the networking space. Prior to joining LSI, he was product line manager for the high-end embedded/network processor family of solutions for AMCC. And before that, he was product line manager for Freescale’s PowerQUICC III family of products, as well as a multicore engineer and design manager for Freescale’s PowerPC processor solutions. He holds a master’s degree in business administration and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.