Monday, 1 April 2013

The 'Phantom Cell' concept in LTE-B

One of the LTE-B proposals by NTT Docomo is this 'Phantom Cell' concept. A recent article from the IEEE Communications Magazine expands this further:

Phantom Cell Concept — In the current deployments, there are a number of capacity solutions for indoor environments such as WiFi, femtocells, and in-building cells using distributed antenna systems (DAS). However, there is a lack of capacity solutions for high-traffic outdoor environments that can also support good mobility and connectivity. Thus, we propose the concept of macro-assisted small cells, called the Phantom Cell, as a capacity solution that offers good mobility support while capitalizing on the existing LTE network. In the Phantom Cell concept, the C-plane/U-plane are split as shown in Fig. The C-plane of UE in small cells is provided by a macrocell in a lower frequency band, while for UE in macrocells both the C-plane and U-plane are provided by the serving macrocell in the same way as in the conventional system. On the other hand, the Uplane of UE in small cells is provided by a small cell using a higher frequency band. Hence, these macro-assisted small cells are called Phantom Cells as they are intended to transmit UE-specific signals only, and the radio resource control (RRC) connection procedures between the UE and the Phantom Cell, such as channel establishment and release, are managed by the macrocell.

The Phantom Cells are not conventional cells in the sense that they are not configured with cell specific signals and channels such as cell-ID-specific synchronization signals, cell-specific reference signals (CRS), and broadcast system information. Their visibility to the UE relies on macrocell signaling. The Phantom Cell concept comes with a range of benefits. One important benefit of macro assistance of small cells is that control signaling due to frequent handover between small cells and macrocells and among small cells can be significantly reduced, and connectivity can be maintained even when using small cells and higher frequency bands. In addition, by applying the new carrier type (NCT) that contains no or reduced legacy cell-specific signals, the Phantom Cell is able to provide further benefits such as efficient energy savings, lower interference and hence higher spectral efficiency, and reduction in cellplanning effort for dense small cell deployments.

To establish a network architecture that supports the C/U-plane split, and interworking between the macrocell and Phantom Cell is required. A straightforward solution to achieve this is to support Phantom Cells by using remote radio heads (RRHs) belonging to a single macro eNB. This approach can be referred to as intra-eNB carrier aggregation (CA) using RRHs. However, such a tight CA-based architecture has some drawbacks as it requires single-node operation with low-latency connections (e.g., optical fibers) between the macro and Phantom Cells. Therefore, more flexible network architectures should be investigated to allow for relaxed backhaul requirements between macro and Phantom Cells and to support a distributed node deployment with separated network nodes for each (i.e., inter-eNB CA).

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