Comcast deploys Samsung 5G strand-mount small cells for CBRS spectrum

DENVER — A year ago, Comcast said it would deploy Samsung 5G strand-mounted small cells to supplement the wireless coverage for its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service.

Now, Samsung says it is delivering those 5G small cells to Comcast for commercial deployment.

Comcast, Charter and Cox all own priority access licenses in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. And they all can potentially build some of their own wireless infrastructure to offload traffic from the network they lease from Verizon onto their own wireless CBRS networks.

The move by Comcast to start deploying 5G strand-mounted small cells is its next step toward this goal.

Fierce Wireless caught up with Rick Svensson, senior director of the Networks Business for U.S. Cable Operators at Samsung Electronics America, at this week’s Cable Tech Expo convention.

He said in the year since Samsung first announced this product it completed testing of it and made some minor modifications. For instance, the small cell was originally encased in a shroud. But Comcast said the gaps between the shroud and the device would just introduce problems with birds and squirrels building nests, so the shroud was eliminated.

Svensson said one of the crucial elements that makes things work is the SIMs within the latest Android and Apple phones.

He said when a phone just works with one operator, things are simple with the SIM. But when Comcast and Charter start deploying their own wireless infrastructure on CBRS, phones need to have dual SIM capability.

He said with dual SIM, the phone recognizes when it can only run on the Verizon network, and it also recognizes if there’s an opportunity to connect to a cable operator’s CBRS network. It’s similar to how a phone will revert to a home Wi-Fi network when that’s available.

In fact, in the general session this morning at Cable Tec Expo, Rich DiGeronimo, president of Product & Technology at Charter Communications, mentioned Dual SIM, Dual Standby (DSDS), saying that through a partnership with semiconductor providers, mobile phone providers and mobile OS providers, DSDS is now live on the latest Android phones and on Apple phones with the most recent release iOS 17.

“This is a huge technological achievement by our industry,” said DiGeronimo, “to seamlessly handoff traffic between networks.

Cameron Gillis, senior manager of Networks Business at Samsung Electronics America, said DSDS has been around for a while globally where users manually select, but now it automatically selects. "DSDS essentially adds the same capability as Wi-Fi to 3GPP," said Gillis. "Now, the user doesn’t have to manually select a network.”

The small cell details

Samsung’s strand-mounted small cell only weighs about 23 pounds. But it includes antennas, the distributed unit and centralized unit, as well as a DOCSIS cable modem that plugs into the strand. The DOCSIS plug-in provides backhaul and power to the unit. “This is like a huge base station shrunk down, said Svensson.

Because it’s designed to work on CBRS spectrum, it also has software to communicate with the CBRS spectrum access system (SAS)

“The product you’re looking at might be tiny, but it has the same chipset as bigger products,” said Svensson.

Strand-mounted small cell vendors

Deploying small cells on aerial cables has not been done a lot. Several years ago, Sprint, in collaboration with Altice, deployed about 19,000 strand-mounted small cells in Long Island, New York. Sprint used Airspan as its strand-mounted small cell vendor.

Charter recently said it has chosen Nokia to help it build its CBRS infrastructure.

Charter will deploy Nokia’s 5G RAN products, including strand-mounted radios for CBRS, baseband units and a newly developed 5G CBRS Strand Mount Small Cells All-in-One portfolio.

Today, Charter’s DeGeronimo said, “We’ve started to deploy our CBRS network, and we deploy this network in areas where there's high mobile usage and large concentrations of data use.”