Section: Research Program

Optimizing cellular network usage

The capacity of cellular networks, even those that are now being planned, does not seem able to cope with the increasing demands of data users. Moreover, new applications with high bandwidth requirements are also foreseen, for example in the intelligent transportation area, and an exponential growth in signaling traffic is expected in order to enable this data growth. Cumulated with the lack of available new spectrum, this leads to an important challenge for mobile operators, who are looking at both licensed and unlicensed technologies for solutions. The usual strategy consists in a dramatic densification of micro-cells coverage, allowing both to minimize the transmission power of cellular networks as well as to increase the network capacity. However, this solution has obvious physical limits, which we work on determining, and we propose exploiting the capillarity of network interfaces as a complementary solution.

  • Green cellular network. Increasing the density of micro-cells means multiplying the energy consumption issues. Indeed, the energy consumption of actual LTE eNodeBs and relays, whatever their state, idle, transmitting or receiving, is a major and growing part of the access network energy consumption. For a sustainable deployment of such micro-cell infrastructures and for a significative decrease of the overall energy consumption, an operator needs to be able to switch off cells when they are not absolutely needed. The densification of the cells induces the need for an autonomic control of the on/off state of cells. One solution in this sense can be to adapt the WSN mechanisms to the energy models of micro-cells and to the requirements of a cellular network. The main difficulty here is to be able to adapt and assess the proposed solutions in a realistic environment (in terms of radio propagation, deployment of the cells, user mobility and traffic dynamics).

  • Offloading. Offloading the cellular infrastructure implies taking advantage of the wealth of connectivity provided by capillary networks instead of relying solely on 4G connectivity. Cellular operators usually possess an important ADSL or cable infrastructure for wired services, the development of femtocell solutions thus becomes very popular. However, while femtocells can be an excellent solution in zones with poor coverage, their extensive use in areas with a high density of mobile users leads to serious interference problems that are yet to be solved. Taking advantage of capillarity for offloading cellular data relies on using IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi (or other similar technologies) access points or direct device-to-device communications. The ubiquity of Wi-Fi access in urban areas makes this solution particularly interesting, and many studies have focused on its potential. However, these studies fail to take into account the usually low quality of Wi-Fi connections in public areas, and they consider that a certain data rate can be sustained by the Wi-Fi network regardless of the number of contending nodes. In reality, most public Wi-Fi networks are optimized for connectivity, but not for capacity, and more research in this area is needed to correctly assess the potential of this technology. Direct opportunistic communication between mobile users can also be used to offload an important amount of data. This solution raises a number of major problems related to the role of social information and multi-hop communication in the achievable offload capacity. Moreover, in this case the business model is not yet clear, as operators would indeed offload traffic, but also lose revenue as direct ad-hoc communication would be difficult to charge and privacy issues may arise. However, combining hotspot connectivity and multi-hop communications is an appealing answer to broadcasting geo-localized informations efficiently.