5G coming, small base station ushered in the big era
With the continuous expansion of 5G business, users’ desire for 5G network signal coverage is also rapidly upgrading. Because 5G uses a higher frequency band, which is distributed between 2515 MHz and 4900 MHz, and the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength, the weaker the diffraction ability. Where there are obstacles, the radiation range will become very small and can only be expanded by increasing the power. Therefore, on the one hand, the radiation power intensity is limited by national laws and regulations, that is to say, the penetration ability is limited, on the other hand, the diffraction ability is too weak, 5G, which is unlikely to bend when encountering obstacles, will have many dead corners.
Therefore, 5G small base stations came into being. Small base stations are part of 5G networks. Without them, the popularization of 5G commerce will be even more difficult. It is no exaggeration to say that the deployment schedule of small base stations is the key factor to determine the success of 5G commercial. It will redefine the competition pattern of telecom equipment providers and operators. It is urgent to pay attention to small base stations when 5G is being commercialized.
5G small base station is indispensable
In the 2G/3G/4G era, operators have been deploying small base stations, but at that time the small base stations were mainly traditional DAS, which was mainly used to realize network expansion. However, in the 5G era, the traditional DAS system cannot meet the new requirements of the 5G era due to the continuous high frequency band. Therefore, 5G small base stations are beginning to emerge.
At present, 5G construction in outdoor Hong Jizhan is still under way, but operators also need to synchronize or consider 5G indoor coverage and outdoor deep coverage in advance, which puts forward two requirements for 5G small base stations: blind repair and heat absorption. However, the traditional room division is difficult to cope with the new challenges of 5G era. In the development phase of 5G network, the following problems are encountered: 5G high frequency leads to insufficient indoor depth coverage; It is difficult for traditional indoor networks to evolve into lightweight ones. Massive terminal deployment brings operational challenges; Lack of accurate indoor positioning capability.
It is understood that the passive DAS scheme used in traditional indoor coverage can only support 1T1R or 2T2R, and cannot meet the urgent demand for 4T4R room sub-scheme in indoor high-capacity scenes. However, the highest frequency band supported by the current passive DAS scheme is only 2.7GHz. Although it can meet China Mobile’s network construction requirements of 2.6GHz, it cannot meet the network construction requirements of China Telecom and China Unicom at 3.5GHz and China Mobile at 4.9GHz.
In addition, 5G shoulders the mission of enabling the transformation and upgrading of the vertical industry, so the integration of the communication industry and the vertical industry will be deeper and deeper. In the 5G era, operators need to actively expand the business in the vertical industry and change the business model, while the traditional passive DAS scheme cannot provide other services besides communication services. Compared with the traditional DAS system, 5G small base station has the characteristics of visual operation and maintenance, flexible expansion, etc. The number of channels of 5G small base station is increased to 4T4R, which can support higher peak rate of single user. Therefore, global operators increasingly attach importance to the deployment and development of 5G small base stations.
Operators are laying out one after another.
Based on the advantages of 5G small base stations, operators all over the world have laid out the construction of small base stations. From the perspective of operator demand, the demand for small base stations should continue to grow. The hardware cost of small base stations is much lower than that of Hong Jizhan, and it is more suitable for indoor or outdoor hot spots of large data and ultra-dense networking scenarios. The three major domestic operators have long been laying out in the field of small base stations.
In order to meet the new requirements for deployment of small base stations in 5G era, China Telecom believes that 5G small base stations need to have the following new characteristics: first, high speed, high bandwidth and adaptability to large capacity requirements; Second, it is highly flexible and the equipment is easy to deploy flexibly. Thirdly, multiple connections are needed to meet the needs of massive users. Fourth, low time delay improves the timeliness of system feedback. Fifth, high reliability can improve user experience. The sixth is the opening of the network and the digital empowerment of the real economy. At present, China Telecom is actively exploring a low-cost solution for indoor coverage in 5G era, and has conducted field tests in many places in 2019. I believe some research conclusions will be formed soon for network deployment and construction.
China Mobile has done many years of research and exploration in the field of small base stations. In the 4G era, China Mobile has pushed the industry to successfully develop an expanded pico base station, which has greatly reduced the network construction cost of indoor small base stations and has been applied in large scale in the current network. In the 5G era, China Mobile proposed a fusion room sub-scheme. Through the external connection of multiple passive room sub-antennas to indoor small base stations, it has the advantages of low cost, low power consumption, easy expansion and other advantages of traditional DAS as well as the advantages of visual operation and maintenance, flexible expansion and other advantages of indoor small base stations.
China Unicom has also made many explorations in the construction of small base stations. China Unicom believes that diversified indoor scenes have diversified network requirements, and 5G digital room sub-equipment needs to support a variety of forms: high-value and high-flow large scenes are dominated by indoor high-performance products; Medium and small scenes with moderate capacity demand are mainly indoor medium and low performance products; Small and micro scenes with low capacity demand need low-cost digital room sub-products.
China Unicom has planned different forms of digital room products for different forms of scenes, forming differentiated deployment. High-value and high-flow large-scale scenes are dominated by integrated micro RRU equipment, featuring digital operation and flexible expansion. Small and medium-sized scenes with moderate capacity demand are mainly integrated micro RRU and traditional DAS fusion scheme and extended micro base station. Small and micro scenes with low capacity demand are dominated by digital micro distribution equipment products.
Industry Chain Exerts Full Strength
As operators actively deploy 5G small base stations, the deployment of small base stations will soon usher in a large-scale development period, which has attracted industrial chain enterprises to participate in the research and development and design of small base station products. According to incomplete statistics, there are currently more than 20 enterprises in the world that can provide small base station products. Domestic and foreign manufacturers that study small base stations include Huawei, ZTE, Datang Mobile, Intel, Ericsson, Nokia, Xinhua III, Seiters, Jingxin Communications, Baicaibang, Creative Information, Riskangda, etc. Although these companies have different research emphases on small base stations, they all want to take a share in the future small base station market.
Judging from the global competition pattern, professional small base station providers, mainstream telecom equipment manufacturers and ODM manufacturers are currently involved in small base stations. It is understood that Huawei, ZTE, Ericsson and other telecom equipment manufacturers have invested more in the small base station market and put more emphasis on the coordination of “macro station+small station” to provide support for operators by taking advantage of their own resources. Traditional small base station manufacturers, such as Jingxin Communications and Baicaibang, are based on the long-term deep cultivation of technology, customers and services to consolidate their dominant position. Some antenna and RF manufacturers are also expected to focus on providing small base station solutions.
The latest survey by ABI Research, a market research institution, shows that the global indoor small base station market will reach 1.8 billion US dollars in 2021. Small base stations not only can be used to enhance indoor network coverage, but also can be combined with MEC and other technologies to provide better service capabilities for vertical industries and develop vertical industry markets. As the saying goes, “The weight is small and the weight is heavy.” Small base stations will shoulder the heavy burden of enhancing signal coverage in the 5G era and shoulder the heavy responsibility of leveraging the “blue sea” market in the vertical industry. The capacity is small but the effect is not small. In the 5G era, small base stations will soon usher in a big era of development.
Although the small base station market cake in 5G era is attractive, it is not clear whether the small base station market in 5G era is “blue sea” or “red sea” from the perspective of market competition due to the large number of entrants. Some experts said that mobile communication services in the public network field have already entered the “Red Sea” stage, while value-added services in the private network field are still in the “Blue Sea” stage. Therefore, more and more small base station enterprises pay great attention to developing service capabilities for vertical industries in the initial product design process, so as to make sufficient preparations for the “gold digging” vertical industry market.
At the same time, there are many problems behind the prosperity of the small base station market. Relevant experts said that although digital room division is the general trend in the 5G era, the development of digital room division faces some challenges. The most direct problem is the high cost of micro-station construction of main equipment manufacturers, which leads to high cost pressure of network construction for operators. In order to reduce costs, operators have introduced extended microsites, but they have also brought a series of problems to the network deployment, such as the introduction of many manufacturers, uneven strength, lack of unified network management, challenges to operation and maintenance, and indoor and outdoor coordination problems with the main equipment manufacturers.
However, there are more ways than problems. I believe that with the joint efforts of operators and industrial chain enterprises, the products and performance of 5G small base stations will be continuously improved, thus providing great help for network coverage and capacity improvement in 5G era.