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Reader Forum: Small cells increase venue coverage and capacity through open-RAN

Editor’s Note: In an attempt to broaden our interaction with our readers we have created this Reader Forum for those with something meaningful to say to the wireless industry. We want to keep this as open as possible, but we maintain some editorial control to keep it free of commercials or attacks. Please send along submissions for this section to our editors at: dmeyer@rcrwireless.com.

The rapidly increasing consumption of video and rich content on mobile devices in venues with large numbers of mobile users poses a tough challenge and lucrative opportunity for mobile operators. In large venues such as expo halls, shopping malls and sports arenas, operators are forced to seek enhanced infrastructure to support the steep rise in demand. This infrastructure can and should leverage the uniqueness of large venues: physical presence, mutual purpose and digital access are shared by many people. The opportunity lies in bridging the physical and digital worlds to offer a new breed of applications and services.

Offering rich-media services in large venues with current mobile network architectures is not a viable or scalable approach due to congestion and high latency times. These applications require broadband capacity and fast response times.

Deploying small cells is the first step to alleviating network performance issues in terms of capacity and coverage. However, in mobile networks content and application requests must travel across the entire network — client, transport/backhaul and core network. As a result, the latency remains high, and the effective throughput, as well as response times remain low.

Open-RAN: Redefining content and application delivery in mobile networks

So what can operators do in order to expand their reach into these venues in an efficient manner? Creating an open platform that serves content and applications directly from the radio access network — an Open-RAN — is an option already in deployment by some of the biggest players in the market. The Open-RAN is located within the venue, usually at the small cell aggregation point, providing a transparent breakout from the local premises to the cloud-based application servers.

The transparent breakout enables local delivery while the client and core network remain unaware and fully functional: the mobile device can move around freely without service interruption, and the core network can enforce policy, billing, lawful interception, etc.

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Let us examine two popular use cases for this that open up a whole new world of experiences for mobile users, while introducing new lucrative service offerings by mobile operators:

Stadiums: The ultimate fan experience

Being there in spirit is OK if you couldn’t make it to the game — but definitely not enough. Stadium goers are an opportunity just waiting to be materialized by creating a unique zone-based experience, bringing together the physical and virtual worlds of sports and technology. Content applications and features for unique stadium experience may include dedicated pre-game video clips, replays of dramatic moments during the game, sponsored sections, merchandise, “gamification” and much more.

Consider World Cup 2018 with football fans walking into the stadium, and immediately getting access to content only they can watch and interact with. It can be anything from commercial offers by local vendors serving them, through replaying a football move they have just seen on the field — with stats and votes, to live game predictions with points, coupons and rewards — all available on their mobile screen.

The features are endless, but it all depends on providing an infrastructure that can support the high demand for traffic and offer smooth usability and mobile experience.

The new shopping companion

Though technological innovation slowly makes its way into stores, walking into the mall today is not dramatically different than what it was four years ago. Here, again, linking the physical and virtual worlds can transform the shopping experience into a rich and exciting one, while opening up new revenue streams for operators. Applications supported on mobile devices may offer a guided walking tour in the store, based on personal shopping habits and style preferences. Additional features can be coupons and discounts following an onsite trivia quiz about the latest fashion trends offered by a specific brand, or product information presented by a brand’s celebrity/persona. The shopping experience can be easily customized by season, special events, and personal preferences. For operators this presents a unique opportunity to either develop or integrate into existing e-commerce platforms and offer new services, supported by the network.

Coming soon to a venue near you

The scenarios and opportunities described here will become a reality very soon, fueled by consumer demands and a variety of approaches based on dedicated e-commerce platforms. For mobile operators, this is an opportunity to create a framework for delivering rich content experience to mobile users in stadiums and large commercial venues, while leveraging the heavy investments made in their infrastructure.

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