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Heterogeneous Networks: Preventing Data Overload

Wireless Engineering

August 11, 2014

The future of wireless technology is bright…and crowded. As more of the population connects through mobile phones, smart watches, tablets, and the many other wireless devices available, the competition for access to WiFi and cellular networks is increasing faster than ever before. We’ve already touched on how offloadingsmall cell technology and nodes help alleviate some of the traffic in previous posts. But believe it or not there’s more to the equation.

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Explaining HetNets

Heterogeneous networks, or HetNets for short, are the next step in evolution for seamless connectivity in a crowded mobile world. According to eMarketer, there are a total of 1.75 billion smartphone users worldwide. That sounds like a lot, but it makes sense. Mobile devices are becoming less expensive to purchase and the performance of the networks that the phones operate on (3G and 4G) are advancing rapidly. As price point lowers and quality improves, you have global connectedness like never before. Consequently, there is an incredible demand for data.

So where do heterogeneous networks come in? To put it simply, a HetNet is a network deployment that implements the different wireless technologies that not only coexist, but work together. So with HetNets, your device no longer needs to operate solely on wireless or cellular, it can have both and it connects to both because they’re both part of the same network. HetNets allow you to receive a WiFi and a cellular network connection at the same location, which helps combat data blackouts and loss of service.

These multi-layered networks start with a large component known as a macro cell. This provides the sweeping coverage for mobile users. The second component is the small cell technology mentioned earlier. Just as the squeaky wheel gets the oil, the high traffic areas and densely populated centers receive support from the small cells when the macro cannot handle the demand. But even with small cells, space becomes limited. So, the final piece of the puzzle is a layer that brings the overarching broadband together with the narrower cells.

What Does This Mean For The Consumer?

What Does This Mean For The Consumer?

New innovations, new trends, new demands placed on these networks: no problem! We’re spoiled, aren’t we? In an industry that is ever evolving and innovating, consumers can head to the store, scratch that, jump on their mobile devices and order the newest tech toy. When it arrives, they can instantly begin exploring the web and launching applications where HetNets are present.

Since we’re not limited to just cellular or WiFi anymore, companies are scrambling to adapting to this change before getting left behind. Nokia, for example, explains their use of heterogeneous network technology as “a hybrid network with unified control.”

Picture this scene: users are at a café, browsing the internet while enjoying a cup of coffee. There are no hiccups on their device as they download applications while simultaneously responding to email and watching a live webinar on how to be more productive. An effortless experience for the user, but just remember that behind the scenes small cells leveraging heterogeneous networks are seamlessly firing on an advanced interface. A lot of work is going in to improving the wireless experience for consumers, but it’s necessary in order to keep up with the increasing demand for data and connectivity. So even though there are more people accessing the networks, users can expect to experience higher capacity, and potentially lower data rates because of the competition – that last part remains to be seen as the industry evolves.

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