What do you do if you're a mobile carrier and hundreds of users swamp your carefully designed cell at Times Square? If you're AT&T, you cozy up to BelAir Networks and let them solve your problem, with a methodology that is currying increasing favor as the number of smart-phone equipped mobile users continues to explode.
The basic cellular model of a big honkin' macrocell strategically placed where an anticipated number of users is likely to want access has served well in most cases. But in a growing number of situations, macrocells are falling flat from oversubscription. Too many users on one cell mean unhappy radio-level communications, and backhaul links that just can't feed the need. If you've ever sat in on discussions with the likes of Verizon or AT&T to discuss adding a new cell site, you know that the costs, engineering, and politics involved negate simply bringing a new cell up as an easy answer to oversubscription. Enter BelAir's carrier-grade 100SP Strand Picocell, and new options for frustrated mobile carriers.
I was fortunate to catch up with BelAir's CTO, Stephen Rayment, even as BelAir was making product announcements at the 4G World event in Chicago. It had been a while since I looked at BelAir, and Rayment caught me up on the company's evolution from just another MiFi hopeful to it's current position as an instrumental partner in a variety of solutions provided by mobile carriers and cable operators alike with offerings like the 100SP Strand Picocell. Making use of aerial plant- where cable TV feeds, signal amplifiers, and fiber cables live- the versatile 100SP can offload capable users in Time Square to WiFi to let the AT&T breathe, or it can deliver EVDO, GSM/EDGE, WiMax, and BelAir's latest announcement, CDMA to extend microcells where needed. With DOCSIS (the network technology used by cable operators) as one available backhaul technology and the ability to deliver almost every mainstream licensed and unlicensed spectrum in use today, BelAir is finding friends in AT&T and Cablevision and is in talks with other mobile carriers and cable providers, according to Rayment.
Along with the 100SP announcement and new support for CDMA, BelAir has also unveiled BelView 6 Network Management System (NMS) for service provider management of the growing outdoor metropolitan picocell deployments. Rayment described how BelView 6 can manage networks that exceed 50,000+ simultaneous nodes, including the 100SP, and described successful deployments near Wrigley Field in Chicago and other areas of extreme user density. BelView 6 tells how many mobile users have been offloaded to which technology, how many of each recognized device types are in the pico cell, system health, and many more business intelligence data points.
As mobile carriers scramble to meet demand, BelAir seems to have cracked a tough nut that benefits service providers and customers alike. It's a fair bet that BelAir's approach will take deeper root and competitors will likely pop up soon, as 4G is likely to only exacerbate today's challenges in this space.