“Small Cells” May Offload Data to Ease Data Centers

Small cell.

PMC Sierra chief executive Greg Lang suggested May 8 that his company has received Requests for Quotations (RFQs) for “small cells” that combine traditional wireless components with embedded flash for caching.

Small cells are low-power radio-access nodes that mobile carriers use for offloading traffic; mounted on the sides of buildings and other structures, they allow carriers to service a smaller number of local customers, which can free up radio spectrum.

What do the RFQs suggest? By relying on flash to cache frequently accessed data, mobile carriers can more efficiently offload some of the data traffic from their networks and data centers—which could prove good news to everyone from the carriers to the consumers, and a reason to pursue the technology.

Take a venue like AT&T Park, for example, which often doesn’t have enough connectivity during San Francisco Giants games. “That’s where small cells come in,” Lang said in an interview. “They complement the macrocell” and help provide a distributed network of connectivity.

“And if you crack [the small cell] open, you see technology that is lost in time. They’re all discrete components,” Lang added. That led to PMC Sierra weeding out many of the discrete chips.

PMC Sierra is one of the few companies trying to make a go at it at the intersection of mobile, storage, and Big Data connectivity. About 70 percent of the company’s business is in storage, Lang said, which he expects to continue.

Small cells have captured the eye of some large companies. Ubiquisys, for example, has discussed the use of 80 GB of flash in its small cell deployments (in conjunction with Intel). Cisco executives have also said they see their mobile portfolio now including integrated, licensed and unlicensed small cell solutions that are tightly coupled with SON, backhaul, and the mobile packet core. (Earlier, Cisco acquired BroadHop and Intucell, which optimize and manages cellular networks and the data they transmit through them.)

The specific requirements of wireless carriers, their networks, and the loads placed upon them are sometimes passed over in favor of HPC or the general enterprise. But taking a “flash cache” and placing it in a small cell may be a technology to keep an eye on in the mobile space.

 

Image: Ubiquisys

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