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Small Cells


Innovations and evolutions are constant in cellular technology to handle the increasing demand of mobile internet traffic. Small Cells are seen as the most effective way to handle this traffic surge. Operators are relying on it to help them deploy networks that will minimize the cost-per-bit while developing pricing models to maximize revenue-per-bit.

Small Cells, which started as cellular only supporting 2G and later evolving to 3G and 4G, are now multiradio capable, supporting unlicensed spectrum, such as Wi-Fi.

The future of mobile networks seems to be a heterogeneous network (HetNet) having very dense deployment of multiradio capable access points of varying transmission power. The core network is also evolving toward supporting multiple technologies, ensuring seamless mobility across the RAN and dealing with the increased signaling rate and user-plane traffic originating from them.

The above scenario presents significant challenges to network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) and mobile network operators (MNOs). While some NEMs already support both licensed and unlicensed spectrum simultaneously in the same equipment, others are still moving toward that objective. They still require entities to be tested in isolation and for a particular technology.

In both cases, it is essential to have a test platform that supports multiple technologies and makes it easier to isolate or combine them as per the test requirement.

EXFO’s scalable QualityAssurer platform supports multiple technologies and allows the validation of different elements in the Small Cells ecosystem.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is being aggressively rolled out by several operators. Like the macro cell networks, small cells are also expected to support VoLTE and essentially provide the same quality of experience (QoE). Users will continue to use VoLTE service and also several more data-hungry applications like video on demand (VoD), video call, file transfer, etc. These different data types have separate QoS requirements and they need to be handled by the access point simultaneously without compromising the quality of service for any of them.

Massive deployment of these small cells requires the Femto gateways to handle the tremendous amount of traffic originating from these small cells and the users. The functionality, capacity and performance of the network and the network equipment must be validated in the lab because of the security requirements, increased number of connections and the high volume of user plane traffic towards the gateway.

EXFO’s small cell testing solution offers advanced features to test the small cell access point and also provides leading capacity and performance on the QualityAssurer platform to validate the gateways.

VoLTE Testing

Figure 1: EPC and IMS simulation in a box for (H)eNB validation



LTE Femtocell

Figure 2: Simulation of LTE RAN and EPC for LTE Femtocell gateway validation


Key Features

  • (Home) eNodeB Testing
    • Simulation of EPC, IMS and eNB in the same box to validate S1 and X2 interfaces
    • Extensive support of VoLTE testing based on IR.92 and IR.94
    • Validation of dense X2 links and SON features
    • Support of IPSec, IRAT mobility, location-based services

  • LTE Femto GW Testing
    • Simulation of several thousands of access points and subscribers
    • Mix of several state full traffic with 10G line rate capability
    • Ability to analyze statistics in real time


The Benefits

  1. Core Network in a single box with advanced features
  2. Unmatched flexibility to cater to changing requirements
  3. Very high capacity and performance per chassis
  4. Line-rate traffic generation and analysis on 10G

Wi-Fi hotspots operate on unlicensed spectrum offering low cost and high capacity connections to the internet. The operators can consider the carrier grade Wi-Fi access points as an extension of their radio access network infrastructure.

To facilitate the use of Wi-Fi to offload the traffic from the cellular network, specifications have been well-defined. There are significant challenges in integrating the Wi-Fi access network to the operator’s core network. Special arrangements must be made to handle the security, accounting and mobility related issues which were not fully relevant or different for standalone Wi-Fi deployments.

EXFO’s Wi-Fi Offload Testing solution running on the QualityAssurer and custom built hardward modules allow the NEMs and the MNOs to recreate complex real-world conditions in the lab and validate the capability of the equipment and the network under test. It can be used to test the network end-to-end or isolate specific elements within the network.

  • Up to one million Wi-Fi access points and subscribers per 10G port
  • Support of Layer2 encapsulation over GRE (L2oGRE)
  • Based on 3GPP Rel12 SaMOG
  • Application server simulation
  • Support of voice and video over Wi-Fi
  • Line-rate traffic generation with realistic mix of traffic pattern
  • Real-time statistics for all the streams
  • Flexible architecture to support proprietary specifications and negative tests
  • Smart replay mechanism to test today’s and tomorrow’s services


The unmatched flexibility of the tool allows for very fast implementation of the various proprietary specifications which are used to communicate between the Wi-Fi access points and the WLAN controller or the WLAN Gateway.

Test scenarios based on the proprietary specification can be developed by EXFO’s professional engineering service team. Alternatively, advanced training by EXFO engineers can help test engineers to master that skill.

End-to-End Testing

Figure 1: End-to-End Testing



Wrap-Around Testing

Figure 2: Wrap-Around Testing



The Benefits

  1. Reduced foot print and low total cost of ownership with very high capacity and performance per platform
  2. Capability of line-rate media traffic generation and analysis on 10G
  3. Intuitive user interface
  4. Unmatched flexibility to develop and test customized traffic patterns

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Industry reports suggest that in the coming years more than half of mobile Internet traffic is expected to be offloaded to the fixed network by means of Wi-Fi and femtocells. According to one report in particular (Cisco VNI Mobile, 2015), by 2019, Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) minutes of use will account for more than half (53 percent) of all mobile Internet protocol (IP) voice traffic.

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The low cost and the use of unlicensed spectrum has made carrier-grade Wi-Fi of strategic importance to many mobile network operators (MNOs).

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This white paper analyzes the major trends in the small cell industry and the different challenges that the mobile network operators (MNOs) will face when deploying small cells.

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