Backhaul RAN

Singapore’s M1 takes lead in HetNet and NB-IoT

Will spend $37bn on the first phase of a network combining small cells, WiFi and LTE-WLan Aggregation, plus an LPWAN

Over two years ago, the Singapore government set out a roadmap to meet soaring mobile data demands with a nationwide HetNet. Now one of the island state’s operators, M1, has announced plans to start making that real, with plans to integrate a wide variety of cell types and spectrum bands across cellular, WiFi and low power wide area (LPWA) networks.

M1, which also operates fixed lines, will work with Nokia to deploy the HetNet and an NB-IoT system for machine-to-machine services. The latter will begin as a separate project but over time should be integrated into the HetNet at core, OSS/BSS and access levels.

The first phase of the HetNet roll-out will focus on overlaying M1’s existing LTE network with integrated clusters of Nokia FlexiZone small cells and WiFi access points, in areas of high traffic throughout Singapore. Locations will include railway and subway stations, retail malls and crowded outdoor areas like Marina Bay. The compact cells will be able to be installed in hard-to-reach places like underground car parks.

To integrate the small cell layer, the operator plans to use LTE-WLan Aggregation (LWA), which was recently standardized by the 3GPP in Release 13 and will be extended to 60 GHz spectrum (WiGig) in Release 14. This will be one of the first deployments of standards-based LWA, and M1 says this form of aggregation will enable it to reach download speeds of at least 1Gbps by next year. Although LWA is a looser form of aggregation than LTE-U or LTE-LAA, it is less controversial and simper to roll out, with most of the intelligence coming from the devices.

The operator said it had conducted trials of its HetNet architecture at several locations earlier this year and had seen a 60% improvement in download speeds to subscribers, with far more efficient traffic shaping and management to improve the economics of those data services.

M1 CEO Karen Kooi said that the deployment would also be “an integral part of our 5G network roadmap, the infrastructure on which we will build an ubiquitous on-demand, high-performance 5G service for our customers”.

The operator is also one of the first to embark on a commercial roll-out of the newly standardized LTE-based LPWAN, NB-IoT. Kooi said this would be “the key to connecting the coming wave of smart devices,” and would “drive the innovative and effective new fleet management, smart metering, public safety and other smart solutions”.

The initial investment in the HetNet and NB-IoT network is expected to be at least SG$50m ($37.19m).

The initiative will be welcome to the Singapore government, which has been putting together ideas to encourage operators to build advanced networks based on HetNet technologies. In March 2014, it said it would support automatic free roaming between different carrier and WiFi systems, in order to guarantee a minimum speed to all citizens as well as providing services in case of outages.

This was part of wider discussions of the state’s 10-year Infocomm Media Masterplan, which is running from 2015 until 2025 with the goal of establishing the already hi-tech country as a ‘smart nation’ with minimum levels of broadband and mobile services in all areas.

Communications and information minister Yaacob Ibrahim, outlining the HetNet idea to Parliament, argued that it would enable operators to manage their traffic more efficiently. “Users will be able to connect more seamlessly and operate their devices across different wireless networks such as cellular and WiFi. Their devices will also connect to and utilize the best available network in range,” he said.

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