Talking 5G small cells with Samsung Electronics America

Today, just about everyone relies on some form of wireless technology, whether for business or leisure. Gone are the days where most of devices and equipment we use are plugged in and wired to the mains.  

In this interview, Head of Content for Fierce Wireless, Alejandro Pinero, puts the questions to Cameron Gillis, Senior Manager of Network Business Development at Samsung Electronics America.  

His major responsibility concerns incubating new wireless technologies which are centered around Samsung’s network solutions. Having spent a decade at the company, Cameron’s experience in the field of wireless now spans an impressive 30 years.  

A number of topics are touched on during the conversation, including Cameron’s journey through the wireless technologies with Samsung since he joined in 2014.  

Today, much of his focus revolves around commercial 5G small cells, a project which Cameron reveals began its life around six years ago in the form of an LTE variant in the MSO space, and how vast progress has been made since.  

During the conversation, Cameron goes on to explain what obstacles the strand was designed to address for MSOs, describing it as “a beautiful example of a system engineering challenge”. He uses the analogy of squeezing a balloon – if one area or aspect is squeezed, another pops out, creating a need to balance multiple factors.   

For those seeking to find out more, Cameron reveals that Samsung is planning to publish a joint paper on the benefits and challenges of deploying 5G small cells in HFC strand networks. This will be published during the upcoming SCTE Cable-Tec in Denver. 

Alejandro Pinero:
All right. Welcome everyone to another Fierce digital interview. As always, my name is Alejandro Piñero, head of content here at Fierce. I'm very excited today to talk to Cameron Gillis. He's a senior manager at Network Business at Samsung Electronics America. Cameron, welcome. Thanks for joining us here on Fierce.

Cameron Gillis:
Thank you, Alejandro. It's good to meet you, and it's a real pleasure to be spending time with you.


Alejandro Pinero:
Absolutely. Well, listen, Cameron, before we get into the subject matter today, just wanted to give you a very brief opportunity to tell us a little bit about what your role and focus is over there at Samsung.

Cameron Gillis:
I'm in the network business development, part of the Samsung Networks team. And my responsibility is really around incubating new wireless technologies that are centered around Samsung network solutions in the wireless industry.

So I've been with Samsung 10 years out of my 30 years working on wireless. And when I first started at Samsung back in 2014, I started working on the pre-standardization of LAA on the LTE unlicensed five gigahertz band.

So we were working with the Wi-Fi Alliance, et cetera, on that coexistence. So that gave me a good foundation. In the last six years and starting in 2017, I've been really focusing on the MSO space, looking at incubating the CBRS ecosystem into the MVNO offload.

So that's really where we are today. Basically, since the last six years we were working on the LTE version of CBRS. And then now of course we're on 5G.

Alejandro Pinero:
Yeah. It never stops, does it? There's always something next. Well, listen, Cameron, can you tell us a little bit about that journey that you're describing over the last 10 years at Samsung? But specifically around 5G small cells and commercial 5G small cells.

I can't imagine it's been an easy or a quick road to get to where you're at now. So I'd love to hear your experience and how you've gotten to the product today.

Cameron Gillis:
Six years ago, pretty much that's where the journey started with the MSO space, with the strand. And in fact, Samsung introduced an LTE variant of this strand. It was like a prototype, and it was a two box solution.

So what it would do is, it was LTE standard band 48. And essentially, you'd have the small cell on the strand, and then tethered to it you'd have a separate DOCSIS cable modem. And so you'd have these two in conjunction.

And we did some initial trials with the MSOs, both in the lab and the field, to look at the use case and look at the feasibility of this type of deployment scenario.

And at the same time, around 2020, of course there was Auction 105 where there was a PAL auction where the MSOs actually expressed their seriousness of investing into the wireless space. And they basically wanted to augment their wifi offload with a 5G 3GPP solution.

And CBRS was a good fit. And following that, the MSOs started working on their MVNO agreements where they basically leveraged their wifi offload to basically help offer the mobility solutions on their MVNO solutions.

And we did some initial testing on that use case, looking at the whole ecosystem, including using CBRS. And one of the key aspects of that was that CBRS for the MSOs needed to be in a standalone operation as opposed to carrier aggregation. So that was the key thing.

And then another part of that ecosystem was the dual sim dual standby. And there was a lot of discussion around the device vendors, of course Samsung being one of the key players.

And basically, we work on the dual sim dual standby functionality. So it operates in the same manner as wifi offloads, so that when the device detects the CBRS network, it would actually automatically offload to the MSO's HMNO network. So the hybrid model, basically.

And while this was happening, and there was a lot of DSDS functionality and a lot of over the top performance analysis, 5G n48 was being developed and being standardized in the CBRS band.

So now when you look at the journey, the culmination of the ecosystem between DSDS, n48, standalone, PAL, this set the stage for Samsung to develop our flagship 5G n48 integrated small cell last year.

And in fact, Comcast selected Samsung as their tier one wireless network vendor to support the build out of their HMNO network. And that would augment their current data offload capabilities beyond the existing wifi network.

And this groundbreaking product... Really, it's a major breakthrough. It has an integrated DOCSIS cable modem that provides both power and backhaul in a single form factor.

And that really brings us to where we are today, where Samsung has a commercial ready 5G integrated strand small cell that the MSOs can deploy in their DOCSIS network.

Alejandro Pinero:
Brilliant. Yeah. It sounds absolutely very impressive indeed. So looking outside of those technical specifications and breakthroughs, you mentioned you work very closely with these MSOs. Can you give a bit more context into what some of the challenges that this strand addresses for them?

Cameron Gillis:
This is a real system engineering... It's a beautiful example of a system engineering challenge. You're bringing RF both on the wireless access side and also on the DOCSIS waveguide side.

You're squeezing a cable modem in there. You have the laws of physics with antenna size, form factor, chip sets. Everything you can imagine is squeezed into this.

And I give the analogy of squeezing a balloon. You squeeze in one area, then something else comes out. So you really have to balance all these factors.

Some of the things, for example, a lot of standards, every type of standard you can imagine, including environmental standards around IP67, low and high temperature operations, cable labs, ANSI, SCTE, FCC, UL, 3GPP, Win Forum, all these standards organizations are involved.

And there's a lot of engineering that's involved, coordinating and making sure you balance all that. So I would say one of the things that really helped Samsung is our partnership with EnerSys who really brought to the table the integrated cable modem that we could...

And their knowledge and experience with the MSOs really allowed us to look at the system engineering. Samsung, bringing the wireless piece, EnerSys bringing the DOCSIS, and then bringing it together. That really solved the challenges.

Alejandro Pinero:
Like you often hear in these very large and groundbreaking products, it's always the partnerships that make a huge difference. Cameron, you mentioned at the top there about the MVNO offload and what that looks like for these MSOs.

And I wanted to ask you a bit more about that. Especially when thinking about these 5G strand small cells and the different use cases, what does that look like for the MSOs?

Cameron Gillis:
It really is all about the ecosystem. And I think where the MSOs really have a leg up, and this is a critical piece, they have a beautiful... They're able to leverage their existing DOCSIS for both power and backhaul.

So that's the cornerstone of this ecosystem. So their outside plant teams could deploy the Samsung strand in the same way as their existing DOCSIS infrastructure with strand mounted. And so that's one piece.

Then from a spectrum perspective, the CBRS spectrum is critical because it happens to be in that sweet spot where you can make the antenna size small enough, yet it still gets you good propagation. And it really was a good fit.

So the MSO has to work with a SAS provider, a Spectrum Access System provider. And that will give them the spectrum. And depending on where they were with the PAL auction, they can either do a PAL plus GAA or just GAA. So that's basically another piece.

The other thing is you have to have a core. You have to have a 5G 3GPP standalone core because since you're operating CBRS in standalone mode, you need to make sure all that's working. And that your backhaul from DOCSIS network is going over the CMTS, to the data center, to the core.

And then finally, last but not least, of course the mobile device has to support DSDS. And not just DSDS as in a global dual sim, eSIM concept, but it has to have the over the top capability to work like wifi where it detects the MSO's HMNO network. And then it will automatically select that as a best server for data offload.

Alejandro Pinero:
Great. All right. Well, Cameron, we're here at the top of the hour to put it in a way. But before we end the interview, you've mentioned a lot of the key benefits and attributes of the 5G strand small cell. Anything else to leave our viewers with before wrapping up here?

Cameron Gillis:
I'm very happy to say that our solution brings... Besides the slim form factor, it's 5G CBRS and an integrated DOCSIS cable modem. We also use our own SOC chip set.

And also our antenna array is in such a way that we can support both omni and sector mode. So you can start off operating with an Omni, with a single CBSD per strand and one SAS registration.

Or in the future or depending on where your capacity is, you can split that and literally double... And now your gNodeB, your strand can actually look like two CBSDs. So you ultimately double the capacity. So I think the chip set plus the antenna array, that gives Samsung a really good solution for the MSOs.

Alejandro Pinero:
Excellent. So Cameron, lots of information here. Folks might want to find that a little bit more. Where can they go, or what do you have coming up to share more details with folks?

Cameron Gillis:
As part of the SCTE Cable-Tec conference, we are publishing a joint paper entitled, The Benefits and Challenges of Deploying 5G Small Cells in the HFC strand network.

And that's going to be published as part of the upcoming Cable-Tec conference. So that's a joint paper with Samsung and EnerSys where we talk... It will be a great guide and if you will, a cheat sheet for a reference for all the MSOs to dig into, if you want to know more details.

Alejandro Pinero:
Absolutely. Glad you put that in there. Very important detail for those folks who are after more information. So there you go. Well, Cameron, thank you so much for taking the time today to speak to us. And I'm sure you'll be getting a lot of questions after this interview. So yeah, thanks for joining us today.

Cameron Gillis:
Thank you, Alejandro, it's been a pleasure. Thank you.

Alejandro Pinero:
And to you our viewers, thank you so much. And we'll see you next time. Take care. Bye-bye.

The editorial staff had no role in this post's creation.