The wireless network industry is located in the 4G technology cycle. Currently, the main LTE coverage in the pre-emptive market construction has been basically completed. We are now in the stage of adding capacity to the network. At the same time, the entire industry is also evolving to the next generation of virtualized wireless networks. Although the prospect of 5G is not yet clear, the evolution of outdoor radio access networks (RANs) currently presents three major trends: densification, virtualization, and optimization.
According to a recent report, from 2015 to 2021, monthly mobile data traffic will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 45%. In the face of increasing traffic demand, wireless network operators urgently need to increase capacity for the network to meet demand. Small cell base station deployments are seen as leading network densification tools. However, when operators deploy outdoor small cell base stations, they still face some serious challenges, including site acquisition, power and return. Getting the right site and obtaining permission to provide it with electricity and return trips can be an obstacle. The high costs associated with these variable factors and the number of users of the site services may be prohibitive.
Some operators have already designed innovative solutions. For example, Vodafone partnered with advertising giant JCDecaux to deploy small cell base stations in bus shelters in Amsterdam. But I think that 2016 will deploy more macro network solutions than small cell base stations. Increasing the capacity of the macro network through sector splitting is an advanced method. Increasing a three-sector site to six sectors can basically double its capacity. Since sector splitting is often more cost-effective, I hope to see more of this year focus on such macro network solutions.
The long-term goal of many network operators is to evolve to the Cloud RAN architecture. The Cloud RAN moves the baseband processor from the cellular base station to the core network. A network that runs entirely in the cloud places devices in a large data center and places digital RF converters at the edge. To do this, you need a dedicated fiber link with very low latency and high capacity between each cellular base station and the central core.
Cloud RAN can dynamically optimize the capacity of the architecture and improve network performance. We have already seen the advantages of this model in the building: The centralized capacity can be dynamically adjusted to meet the needs of actual use. For example, when all employees are concentrated in the auditorium of a large office building, the Cloud RAN architecture can automatically redistribute capacity to these areas.
The next phase of Cloud RAN is outdoor. This evolution cannot be completed in 2016, but some operators have made significant progress. I would like to see more cellular base stations move baseband processing to a centralized location. Of course, these centralized sites still face the challenges of site acquisition, power, and return.
In the evolution to the Cloud RAN, one rule still applies: Network operators need to make full use of the full capacity of the existing network. Optimization is just like what you would do to make cars more energy-efficient. Such as reducing excess weight in luggage, using better gasoline and better tires. When it comes to RAN optimization, it is largely to achieve the best signal-to-noise ratio. In short, the signal you want is very loud and clear, and everything else is quiet.
The most significant source of interference in LTE networks is Passive Intermodulation (PIM). PIM can cause a noticeable drop in voice quality, dropped calls, and reduced data throughput. PIM can have a great impact - due to the declining sensitivity of one-dB uplink in PIM, it is enough to shrink the coverage area of wireless networks by more than 10%. To continue to address PIM interference at all stages of network deployment, network operators have even increased their key performance indicators to further reduce the impact of PIM on the network.
This year will be a wonderful year for the wireless networking industry. On the one hand, we are in a quiet period between the large-scale roll-out of LTE and the deployment of 5G in the future, which will eventually lead to the emergence of 5G. At the same time, more base stations with virtualization and continuous emphasis on optimization will lay a solid foundation for future wireless networks. A denser, more flexible and more efficient network is our goal, and 2016 will be a very important milestone in this journey.