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  • Why Phone Fraud Starts With A Silent Call

    Why Phone Fraud Starts With A Silent Call

    Old Phone

    When you answer your phone and there’s no one on the other end, it could be a computer that’s gathering information about you and your bank account.

    Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Images

    Here’s an experience some of us have had. The phone rings. You pick it up and say “Hello. Hello. Helloooo.” But nobody answers.

    It turns out there could be someone on the other end of the line: an automated computer system that’s calling your number — and tens of thousands of others — to build a list of humans to target for theft.

    Build A List

    Vijay Balasubramaniyan, CEO of Pindrop Security, a company in Atlanta that detects phone fraud, says that in any number of ways, the criminal ring gets your 10 digits and loads them into an automated system.

    Maybe you gave your number to Target or some other big retailer that got hacked. Maybe you entered an online raffle to win a free iPhone.

    According to the Federal Trade Commission, these robocalls are on the rise because Internet-powered phones make it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world.

    That initial call you get, with silence on the other end, “[is] essentially the first of the reconnaissance calls that these fraudsters do,” Balasubramaniyan says. “They’re trying to see: Are they getting a human on the other end? You even cough and it knows you’re there.”

    Gather Account Information

    The next step is gathering information about your bank or credit card account. You get a call with a prerecorded voice that tells you, for example, “[we’re] calling with an important message about your debit card. If you are the cardholder please stay on the line and press 1. Otherwise please have the cardholder call us at 1-877…”

    If you’re thinking about ignoring it, the message tries to scare you into paying attention with a warning: “A temporary hold may have been placed on your account and will be removed upon verification of activity.”

    That number leads to another automated system that prompts you to share personal details like your date of birth, your card number and secure PIN, the expiration date, your Social Security number.

    It can be tricky because many real banks have a similar system. And, Balasubramaniyan says, fear does kick in. He recalls a big scam in 2014 in which criminals pretended to be the IRS calling to collect back taxes. (The agency says the scam is still going on.) If you wanted to call back or have time to talk to your spouse before paying over the phone, the fraudster wouldn’t let you go.

    Balasubramaniyan recalls, “They’re like ‘OK, if you want a moment to process this, we’re going to send the law enforcement in front of your doorstep.’ ”

    Pindrop keeps a “honeypot” — about a quarter-million phone numbers that aren’t being used by real people, which the company uses for research. Workers enter the numbers into sweepstakes and online databases, to see what kind of fraud hits.

    Company researchers estimate 1 in every 2,200 calls is a fraud attempt. And they’ve observed an interesting detail about the fraudulent 1-877 numbers. If you call back from your phone — which the criminals dialed — you get the prompt to enter personal data. If you call back from somewhere else, you get “this number has been deactivated.” So a regulator or police officer that’s trying to crack down will think, incorrectly, it’s out of commission.

    Hijack Account

    Once the criminal ring scrapes enough information on you, it has humans call your financial institution. Banks and credit card companies hire Pindrop to help them detect fraud.

    In a real-life example, provided by one call center, the operator has a hard time hearing the caller and apologizes.

    The caller, who is pretending to be the account holder, wants to know his available credit — to make sure the account is worth pursuing.

    “Got it,” the operator says, eager to provide good customer service. “Your available credit is $34,999.”

    That’s good money. The caller says, “OK, can you help me update my address today?” and he proceeds to take over the account.

    Solutions?

    Now, there are clues that the guy calling isn’t legit. There are long breaks in his voice when he says, “I’d like to know the available credit in my account.”

    Internet-based phone services divide your voice into little packets, wrap them up and ship them across the network. If a packet gets lost, you get a break in the audio. The size of the break varies, by country and by network conditions. The specific device you use (Samsung Galaxy, MacBook Air, for example) and the voice itself give additional clues.

    Pindrop has a tool that puts about 147 clues together and rates how trustworthy the caller is in real time. So an operator can tell, Balasubramaniyan says, “this call is supposed to come from a landline in Atlanta, but the audio is telling us it’s a Skype call from West Africa.”

    There’s no similar tool available for the average person. Balasubramaniyan says your best bet is to make sure the number you’re calling matches the number on the back of your credit or debit card, or the bank’s website.

    Pindrop declined to name its clients, because of nondisclosure agreements, but it says three of the four biggest banks use its services. The startup has gathered millions of samples from call centers and, based on analysis of unique callers and devices, Balasubramaniyan believes his team has identified a specific criminal group in Nigeria.

    The ring, nicknamed “West Africa One,” has a dozen members according to Pindrop. And they have varying skill levels. If a bank account has a larger credit line, it goes to one particular fraudster who’s particularly adept at manipulating call center operators.

    “The fraudster who’s attacking the $100,000-and-more account has so much information at his disposal, he’s done so much research on the account, that he’s flawless on his call,” Balasubramaniyan says. “When the call center agent asks him a particular question, the way he answers, the pauses that he takes, all of that is a work of art as compared to someone going after the smaller-sized accounts.”

    Balasubramaniyan says while Pindrop has shared this information with its clients, he does not know if they are pursuing criminal investigations.

    ‘Just Hang Up’

    The FTC is trying to combat the rising number of illegal automated phone calls.

    “It is the No. 1 consumer complaint that we receive,” says Patty Hsue, an attorney who leads the FTC’s effort against robocalls. The agency receives an average of 170,000 complaints per month about robocalls, she tells NPR’s Audie Cornish.

    The FTC recommends that consumers “just hang up” on the robocalls.

    “We don’t want consumers to engage in any way with robocallers,” Hsue says. “A lot of times when you get a robocall you have the option of pressing 1 for more information or pressing 2 to ask to be removed from the list. And in either case, pressing 1 or 2 basically lets the robocaller know that it’s a live person on the other line who’s willing to engage and that could lead to additional robocalls.”


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  • Sex! How do you measure up?

    This special Observer sex poll 2002 reveals all

    Sunday 27 October 2002
    The Observer

     

    Quantity and qualityHow would you define your sexuality?

    Heterosexual: 93%
    Homosexual: 3%
    Bisexual: 3%
    Don’t know: 1%

    At what age did you lose your virginity?

    Under 12 1%
    12-13 8%
    14-15 23%
    16-18 40%
    19-20 13%
    21-24 10%
    25-30 2%
    Never had sex 3%

    Men tend to lose their virginity before women, although the difference is not great (average age 16 and 17 respectively). Britons are losing their virginity younger than in the past: for over-55s the average age was 19; within the 25-34 group it was 16; and among 16-24s, 15. Londoners lose their virginity later than those living in any other area (18). In total, 32% of Britons lost their virginity before the legal age of consent of 16.

    How many sexual partners have you had?

    None 3%
    1 15%
    2 11%
    3 10%
    4 9%
    5 9%
    6-10 20%
    11-15 8%
    16-20 6%
    20+ 9%

    The average Briton has had 10 sexual partners. There is a distinct gender split with the average among men almost double that of women (13 and 7 respectively). The 35-44 age group is the most promiscuous (average of 13) while over-65s have had the least number of sexual partners (average of 5). People in Wales are the most promiscuous (13) while those in Yorkshire and Humberside have the fewest sexual partners (6). Only 23% of Britons have had more than 10 sexual partners (32% of men and 15% of women).

    Are you currently in a stable relationship?

    Yes 66%
    No 34%

    If yes, how long have you been in your current relationship?

    Less than 6 months 6%
    6 months-1 year 6%
    1-2 years 8%
    2-3 years 8%
    3-5 years 10%
    5-10 years 17%
    10-15 years 11%
    15-20 years 8%
    20-30 years 11%
    More than 30 years 15%

    66% of UK adults are currently in a stable relationship. Even within the youngest age group (16-24) 49% are in a stable relationship. The average length of relationships is just under 13 years. Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between age and length of relationship,but even among the relatively young (25-34) the average time in their current relationship is 5.3 years.

    How many times a month do you have sex?

    None 23%
    1-5 26%
    6-10 27%
    11-15 10%
    16-20 7%
    21-25 2%
    26-30 2%
    31+ 3%

    The average Briton has sex eight times a month, although this figure does include the 23% of Britons who do not have any sex in an average month.

    Are you happy with your sex life?

    Yes 71%
    No 29%

    Despite having sex less frequently, married Britons are happier with their sex lives than singles (84% and 64% respectively). Among those in a stable relationship, 85% are happy with their sex life.

    How would you rate your sex drive?

    Very high (5) 22%
    High 27%
    Average 32%
    Low 10%
    Very low (1) 9%

    Mean rating of sex drive: 3.44

    How would you rate your performance?

    Very good lover (5) 23%
    Good 33%
    Average 39%
    Poor 4%
    Very poor lover (1) 1%

    Mean rating of performance: 3.72

    And the performance of your most recent partner?

    Very good lover (5) 31%
    Good 27%
    Average 33%
    Poor 5%
    Very poor lover (1) 4%

    Mean rating of recent partner: 3.76

    Those aged 16-24 have the greatest sex drive (30% are ‘very high’) while each successive age group has a lower sex drive. Among over-65s only 9% have a ‘very high’ sex drive. Interestingly, singles are almost twice as likely to have a ‘very high’ sex drive as married people (31% and 16% respectively) suggesting familiarity breeds boredom and, eventually, lack of interest.

    Britons consider themselves good lovers. A mere 1% consider themselves ‘very poor’. It may be youthful bravado or sheer exuberance but the age group most likely to consider themselves ‘very good’ lovers are 16-24 (30%). Single Britons are more likely to consider themselves good lovers than their married counterparts: 30% of singles consider themselves ‘very good’ lovers compared to 17% of married people (those who are married are likely to consider themselves ‘average’ – 47%).

    Levels of sexual satisfaction seem fairly high, with 58% rating their most recent sexual partner as either a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ lover (27% and 31% respectively). Perhaps surprisingly, women are more likely to be satisfied with the performance of their most recent lover than men: 63% of women rated performance as ‘good’ compared to 54% of men.

    Are you happy with the size of your penis?

    Yes 77%
    No 23%

    Almost 1 in 4 men (23%) is unhappy with the size of his penis. Men aged 35-44 are most likely to worry about penis size (29%) but such concerns do not diminish with age as 26% of over-65s are also unhappy.

    Have you ever used sex aids (such as sex toys)?

    Yes 42%
    No 58%

    Britons aged 25-34 are most likely to have used sex aids (54%), but there is a distinct drop off among the over-45s group. However, there is little gender difference.

    Fidelity

    Have you ever been unfaithful to your current partner?

    Yes 18%
    No 82%

    Which of the following best describes how frequently you have been unfaithful? (asked of those who have been unfaithful)

    Only once 33%
    Rarely 25%
    Occasionally 27%
    Regularly 15%

    Men are more likely to have been unfaithful than women (22% and 13% respectively). Londoners are the least likely to cheat (7%) while the Scottish are most likely to be unfaithful (34%).

    The majority of those who have been unfaithful to their current partner have cheated on more than one occasion. Only 33% of those who have been unfaithful to their partner say infidelity occurred ‘only once’. Women are more likely to have strayed on just one occasion – 40% of women who have been unfaithful say it has only happened once compared to 29% of men.

    Have you ever been unfaithful with a friend of your partner or someone known to your partner? (asked of those who have been unfaithful)

    Yes 45%
    No 55%

    Proving that the source of trouble is often close to home, 45% of those who have cheated have been unfaithful with someone who is either a friend of their partner or known to their partner. There is little difference between the genders in this respect with 47% of men and 41% of women cheating with someone who is known to their partner.

    To the best of your knowledge, has your current partner ever been unfaithful to you?

    Yes 11%
    No 76%
    Don’t know 13%

    11% of people in a stable relationship believe their current partner has cheated on them while a further 13% are unsure. Suggesting that we tend to judge others by our own standards of behaviour, 25% of those who have been unfaithful themselves also believe their partner has been unfaithful. 26% are unsure.

    Have you ever had a one-night stand?

    Yes 51%
    No 49%

    Have you ever slept with someone whose name you did not know?

    Yes 21%
    No 79%

    63% of men and 39% of women have had one-night stands. Those living in the North are most likely to have done so (64%). 35% of men and only 8% of women have slept with someone whose name they did not know. The age group most likely to have done this is 25-34 (33%).

    Do you believe monogamy is natural?

    Yes 74%
    No 26%

    Do you believe monogamy is desirable?

    Yes 83%
    No 17%

    Britons believe in monogamy, though among those who have cheated on their current partner, only 32% believe monogamy is natural and 52% believe monogamy is desirable. Once again there is a distinct gender split with 68% of men and 80% of women viewing monogamy as natural. However, the gender gap is less pronounced in terms of viewing monogamy as desirable (79% of men and 86% of women). Older Britons are significantly more likely to consider monogamy both natural and desirable: 84% of over-65s consider monogamy natural and 91% consider it desirable.

    Of the different components of a marriage/relationship, which of the following do you think most important?

    Trust 59%
    Conversation/communication 20%
    Sex 7%
    Humour 6%
    Equality 5%
    Money 3%

    Britons are overwhelmingly of the opinion that the most important aspect of a successful relationship is trust. Sex was considered the third most important aspect but was selected by only 7%. However, men are more than twice as likely as women to consider it the most important aspect of a relationship, and age makes a significant difference. As people get older, they are less likely to consider sex important. Singles are also more than twice as likely to consider sex the most important aspect of a relationship (12% and 5% respectively).

    Is it possible to maintain a happy marriage/relationship without sex?

    Yes 49%
    No 51%

    It appears fair to suggest that many of those holding this view have had personal experience of a sexless relationship. Women are more likely to believe a happy relationship can be maintained without sex (55% compared to 42%). 55% of married Britons believe sex is not necessary to maintain a happy relationship while only 35% of singles concur.

    Do you have any close friends of the opposite sex?

    Yes 78%
    No 22%

    Younger Britons are more likely to have close friends of the opposite sex, and men are slightly more likely to have close female friends than vice versa (81% and 73% respectively).

    Are you sexually attracted to your close friends of the opposite sex? (asked of all who answered yes to the above)

    Yes, all of them 2%
    Yes, some of them 48%
    No 50%

    Men are more likely than women to be sexually attracted to friends of the opposite sex: 65% are attracted to at least some of their female friends while the same is true of only 35% of women in relation to male friends.

    At work

    Have you ever had sex with a work colleague?

    Yes 31%
    No 69%

    Have you ever had sex in your place of work?

    Yes, with a work colleague 15%
    Yes, with someone who didn’t work there 5%
    No 80%

    Would you ever sleep with someone to further your career?

    Yes 18%
    No 82%

    Men are more likely than women to have had sex with their work colleagues (39% and 23% respectively) and are almost three times as likely to have had sex in their place of work (28% and 10% respectively).

    Considering the large proportion who would consider having sex for money it comes as no surprise that 18% of Britons would sleep with someone if they felt it would enhance their career prospects. Men are significantly more likely to make this ‘sacrifice’ for the sake of their career (31% against 7%). While singles are almost three times as likely to use sex to enhance their career prospects, 10% of married Britons would do the same. It is the young and ambitious, as opposed to the middle-aged and settled who are more prepared to sleep their way to the top. Almost 1 in 3 of the 16-24 age group (31%) would have sex to further their career. 33% of those who have previously slept with a work colleague would have sex to further their career, raising the suspicion that there may have been an ulterior motive to some of their previous exploits.

    Paying for it

    Have you ever visited a prostitute?

    Yes 8%
    No 92%

    Would you ever consider paying for sex? (asked of those who said no to the above)

    Yes 7%
    No 93%

    Would you consider having sex for money if the amount offered was large enough? (asked of everybody)

    Yes, definitely 22%
    Yes, would consider it 19%
    No 59%

    Should prostitution be legalised?

    Yes 61%
    No 39%

    15% of all men have visited a prostitute; the same is true of 1% of women. The use of prostitutes is not limited to the single and lonely as 6% of married Britons have visited one. The 35-44 age group is most likely to have visited a prostitute (10%). Londoners are most likely to have visited a prostitute (13%).

    Among Britons who have not previously visited a prostitute, 7% would consider doing so: 15% of men who have not visited a prostitute would consider it in the future, meaning that 30% of all British men have either previously visited a prostitute or would consider doing so.

    In terms of selling sex, men are more than twice as likely as women to sell their sexual services – 37% of men would sell their services and another 20% would consider it. In comparison, only 8% of women would sell their bodies for a sufficiently large sum and a further 18% would consider it.

    A significant majority favour legalisation of prostitution. While men are more likely to favour legalisation (70%) a majority of women (53%) are also in favour. The youngest and the oldest are the only two age groups which are more likely to oppose legalisation: 54% of the 16-24 age group and 51% of the 65+ age group oppose legalisation.

    Gay

    Have you ever had sexual contact with someone of the same sex?

    Yes 11%
    No 89%

    Should gay sex be made illegal?

    Yes 23%
    No 77%

    Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry?

    Yes 50%
    No 50%

    Should same-sex couples be allowed to adopt children?

    Yes 41%
    No 59%

    Should the age of consent for homosexual sex be the same as for heterosexual sex?

    Yes 58%
    No 42%

    While only 6% classify themselves as either homosexual or bisexual, 11% say they have had sexual contact with someone of the same gender.

    The other answers reveal quite polarised views. Despite the gradual absorption of gay culture into the mainstream there remains a significant minority of Britons vehemently opposed to homosexuality. Almost 1 in 4 (23%) believe gay sex should be made illegal. What is startling about this is the support the suggestion generates across the age spectrum. While over-65s are most likely to support criminalisation of gay sex (40%), a significant proportion of the 16-24 age group concur (27%). Men are more than twice as likely as women to support this (32% and 14%). And yet a majority of Britons (58%) believe the age of consent for homosexual sex should be lowered to the same as it is for heterosexual sex.

    Half of us believe same-sex couples should be able to marry, and 41% feel they should be allowed to adopt children. In respect to all these questions women are significantly more liberal. Social class is also a determinant of opinion to some extent with ABC1 adults generally more likely than C2DE to espouse liberalism.

    Safe sex

    What form of contraception do you use?

    None, leave it to my partner 32%
    Condoms 31%
    The pill 21%
    Coil 3%
    Other 13%

    Have you ever had a sexually transmitted disease

    Yes 9%
    No 91%

    Have you ever had an HIV test?

    Yes 13%
    No 87%

    How worried are you about sexually transmitted diseases in general?

    Very 20%
    Fairly 32%
    Not particularly 22%
    Not at all 26%

    Men are more than twice as likely as women to have had an STD (13% and 6% respectively) – probably a re¤ection of the greater average number of sexual partners for men.

    Men are also more likely to have had an HIV test (16% and 10% respectively). In terms of age, the 25-44 age group is most likely to have had an STD (12%) while the 25-34 group is most likely to have been tested for HIV.

    While there is a clear correlation between levels of sexual activity and fear of disease there is still a signiÞcant minority of sexually active Britons who feel invulnerable to the threat of disease.

    Encouragingly (as it suggests they will take the necessary steps to avoid infection) it is the youngest age group (16-24) which is most concerned about STDs (69% are either ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ concerned).

    Which of the following statements is closest to your views about HIV and Aids in this country?

    Only homosexuals and intravenous drug-users are at risk from HIV 5%
    HIV presented a huge risk in the past but is now under control 7%
    Everyone is at risk from HIV if they do not take precautions 88%

    Despite fears that complacency is creeping in regarding the threat of HIV and Aids, the vast majority of Britons (89%) acknowledge that everyone is at risk from infection if they do not take the necessary precautions.

    Should the Government spend more on education and information about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?

    Yes 86%
    No 14%

    Do you always practise safe sex with a new partner?

    Yes 70%
    No 30%

    Although 89% of us acknowledge that everyone is at risk from HIV and Aids, 30% say that they do not practise safe sex with new partners as a matter of course. Men are almost twice as likely as women to admit that they have unprotected sex with new partners (38% and 21% respectively). 16-24 year olds are least likely to have unprotected sex with new partners (21%) while over-55s are the least likely to take necessary precautions.

    Worryingly, 42% of those who have contracted an STD in the past fail to practise safe sex with new partners while the same is true of 31% who have been tested for HIV.

    Are children in school given…

    Too much information about sex 13%
    Too little information about sex 49%
    About the right amount of information about sex 38%

    Those most likely to hold the view that schoolchildren are given insufÞcient information are those who have had the most recent personal experience of sex education: 65% of the 16-24 age group believe children should be taught more.

    Each successive age group is then more likely to think children are given too much sex education at school.

    A sample of 1027 UK adults were interviewed by ICM Research in August 2002. Participants completed a confidential questionnnaire, placed in a sealed envelope. Innterviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

     

    Sex Uncovered: Observer special
    Sex Uncovered: Observer special

    Way in
    27.10.2002: Tim Adams: What happened to romance?

    The poll
    Four million of us are sex cheats
    27.10.2002: Pol results: How do you measure up?

    The history
    27.10.2002: 50 years of opening up 1952-2002

    Love bytes
    27.10.2002: Porn.com
    27.10.2002: The changing definition of obscenity…

    Sexual chemistry
    27.10.2002: There’s gold in them there pills…

    Homophobia UK
    A date with hate

    The new celibates
    27.10.2002: Just say no

    Getting personal
    27.10.2002: The ads: how far would you go?

    Young and old
    27.10.2002: Early learning
    27.10.2002: Prime time

    In their own words
    27.10.2002: The disabled lover
    27.10.2002: The table dancer

    Way out
    Don’t label me


  • Challenges with Microcell Deployment & Configuration

    Microcells and femtocells have been deployed by most major carriers as a way to allow their customers to deploy their own network(s) anywhere there is an Internet connection.

    Figure 1: Cell Size. Courtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 1: Cell Size. Courtesy: QRC Tech

    With cellular phones becoming not just voice, but now also data appliances, there is a growing need for operators to provide wide area (3-5 mile) coverage that assures high-rate data and voice services in nearly every location. What used to be considered “acceptable” gaps in coverage, like isolated homes, are no longer areas that carriers can overlook.For this reason, microcells and femtocells have been deployed by most major carriers as a way to allow their customers, both businesses as well as individuals, to deploy their own network(s) anywhere there is an Internet connection. The sheer number of cells (large and small area), the inability for the carriers to control the position and use of them, and the handover between these ad hoc cells and the overall network create significant challenges in spectrum and interference management.

    Why Microcells

    We use the term “microcells” to describe any cell smaller in size than the macrocell, which covers 2 km or more. In practice, most cells that cover less than 2 km are picocells and femtocells, whose coverage is below 200 m.

    Macrocells that cover a number of miles almost always have some gap in the coverage between them. Yet, even if the entire area is covered with the signal of receivable strength, the throughputs at locations in-between cells are usually the smallest due to the lowest signal strength. Installing microcells in these areas resolve both of these issues. Special cases are the areas that are not conducive to the RF propagation, and therefore cannot be covered by a macrocell. This includes: tunnels, garages, underground railways, and large office buildings.

    Macrocells can be overloaded by the amount of traffic they service, especially at peak use times or during special events (e.g. emergencies, concerts, etc.). One solution to is to add more capacity to the macrocell via additional assigned frequency channels. However, this solution has its limits, in that the service provider might not have any more licensed channels to use in this cell. If the significant source of traffic within the coverage of the macrocell is an isolated area (e.g., apartment building, office building, mall, train station), then installing microcells to serve this area is a simple way to increase the capacity.

    A more general way to increase the capacity of the cellular system within the available spectrum is to create a layered/heterogeneous network. Such a network has a microcell underlay to allow for greater spectrum reuse that provides larger capacity and an overlay (umbrella) of macrocells that ensure continuity of the coverage between the microcells. The microcell layer would, in this case, have the majority of the service provider‘s licensed channels to allocate for its location, while the macrocell layer would have only a few channels to hold the users over until they move into an area covered by the microcell layer. To accomplish this type of deployment, the operator will set the handover parameters to prefer microcells over macrocells whenever a microcell is available and useable.

    Microcell Deployment

    Figure 2: Reason for ICIC. Courtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 2: Reason for ICIC. Courtesy: QRC Tech

    The main concern when deploying a microcell is availability of an appropriate location to install and backhaul the data from (connect it with the rest of the network). This is an even more significant problem with microcells, as they are deployed much more densely than the macrocells. It has become much more difficult to obtain a location for a macrocell due to local ordinances on the visual appearance of the antenna tower that a larger area cell site needs to operate.Fortunately for microcell positioning, antenna towers are typically not required. The accompanying microcell electrical equipment is the size of a household appliance and operates off of ‘normal’ commercial/residential power grids. This significantly eases the microcell deployment.

    Another low cost approach for deploying the microcells over a larger area is via remote radio heads. In such a system, the lower-level signal processing (baseband processing) is centralized. Baseband data is digitally distributed to the remote radio heads placed at the desired locations, where it is then converted to/from RF and transmitted/received via antennas. As they do not have the processing requirements of a normal cell site, remote radio heads are smaller size than a ‘typical’ microcell deployment. This is a good solution for tunnels, garages, underground railways, etc., where radio heads can be strung along a power/data wire.

    Another important feature working in the microcell’s favor is willingness of the end users (e.g., those without cell coverage) to install microcells on their premises and provide backhaul via their broadband internet access. End users often voluntarily absorb all of the capital and maintenance cost of the cell site and, in many cases, this generates additional profit for the operator.

    Microcell Configuration

    A macrocell needs to be configured for it to work with the rest of the cellular network and to not interfere with its ability to service other users. The primary concern is the selection of the provider-licensed frequency channels that it will use. This is a complex problem in the case of macrocells, and an even more challenging one for a network with a mix of macrocells and microcells. This mixed (heterogeneous) network is much more dynamic than the classical network structure that relies only on macrocells. For macrocell based networks, after initial deployment optimization, reconfiguration (retuning) is required only a few times a year.

    Unlike classical cellular protocols (GSM, AMPS, and IS-136), the newer CDMA cellular networks reuse the same frequency channel among adjacent base stations. In this case, the power level of each base station broadcast signals and each end user signal is critical. In such systems, microcell power control needs to be tightly executed so they don’t interfere — not just with the macrocells, but also with adjacent microcells. To accomplish this, microcells must measure the power of the users connected to it and assess the power of the other cells operating on the same frequency channel.

    Figure 3: ICIC with Microcells. COurtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 3: ICIC with Microcells. COurtesy: QRC Tech

    More recent Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) cellular base stations, like Long Term Evolution (LTE) enhanced Node B’s (eNB’s), share parts of their frequency channel with multiple connected users. They coordinate with other adjacent base stations that use the same frequency channel and divide it up amongst the desired users.In LTE, this is called Inter-Cell Interference Coordination (ICIC), under which the cell edge users are assigned parts of the frequency channel that are not used in the adjacent cells. An eNB can then transmit at a higher power in these parts of the frequency channel to serve the edge users properly without creating interference in the adjacent cells.

    LTE microcells typically do not use some part of the frequency channel, which is reserved for the LTE macrocells. As the microcells do not service a large portion of the end users, this usually does not impact their throughput. However, it does provide macrocells with the part of the frequency channel, intended for their cell edge users, that is free from microcell interference.

    This static setup is suboptimal, so LTE offers dynamic coordination between eNB’s to provide a better solution for the particular state of the network. Even though the ICIC communication between eNB’s is standardized, the eNB’s response to this communication is not defined. Therefore, dynamic LTE ICIC is especially challenging for a network where eNB’s are produced by different vendors. An LTE network with the mix of macrocells and microcells provides an additional challenge for dynamic coordination due to quantity and density of eNB’s that are often from different vendors.

    Even the more basic aspects of cell configuration, like setting different cell parameters (e.g. Cell Identity, Paging Area codes, serving priorities for different classes of users, handover parameters, maximum output power, etc.) cannot be done manually, as was the case with the macrocells-only networks. In this case, it is not known where the microcell will be deployed before hand, and, during installation, this settings burden cannot be placed on the installer (often an operator’s end user customer).

    Therefore service providers must adopt a Self Organizing Network (SON) concept of operation, where a centralized authority authenticates and configures the microcells the first time they are connected. By using SON, end users can operate and install microcells in a plug-and-play fashion with just some simple diagnostic lights on the box. SON also allows for a centralized microcell control during its operation, freeing end user from reconfiguring it.

    If the end user installs the microcell of his selected cellular service provider on his or her own premises and broadband Internet connection, he or she may also control which cellular phones can access this microcell and with which priority. This is communicated to the cellular service provider who remotely configures the microcell to execute this without direct interaction of end user with the microcell.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, microcells are a main way to increase the capacity of cellular networks. Their wide deployment is enabled by their size and ease of operation.

    Microcells and femtocells have been deployed by most major carriers as a way to allow their customers to deploy their own network(s) anywhere there is an Internet connection.

    Figure 1: Cell Size. Courtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 1: Cell Size. Courtesy: QRC Tech

    With cellular phones becoming not just voice, but now also data appliances, there is a growing need for operators to provide wide area (3-5 mile) coverage that assures high-rate data and voice services in nearly every location. What used to be considered “acceptable” gaps in coverage, like isolated homes, are no longer areas that carriers can overlook.For this reason, microcells and femtocells have been deployed by most major carriers as a way to allow their customers, both businesses as well as individuals, to deploy their own network(s) anywhere there is an Internet connection. The sheer number of cells (large and small area), the inability for the carriers to control the position and use of them, and the handover between these ad hoc cells and the overall network create significant challenges in spectrum and interference management.

    Why Microcells

    We use the term “microcells” to describe any cell smaller in size than the macrocell, which covers 2 km or more. In practice, most cells that cover less than 2 km are picocells and femtocells, whose coverage is below 200 m.

    Macrocells that cover a number of miles almost always have some gap in the coverage between them. Yet, even if the entire area is covered with the signal of receivable strength, the throughputs at locations in-between cells are usually the smallest due to the lowest signal strength. Installing microcells in these areas resolve both of these issues. Special cases are the areas that are not conducive to the RF propagation, and therefore cannot be covered by a macrocell. This includes: tunnels, garages, underground railways, and large office buildings.

    Macrocells can be overloaded by the amount of traffic they service, especially at peak use times or during special events (e.g. emergencies, concerts, etc.). One solution to is to add more capacity to the macrocell via additional assigned frequency channels. However, this solution has its limits, in that the service provider might not have any more licensed channels to use in this cell. If the significant source of traffic within the coverage of the macrocell is an isolated area (e.g., apartment building, office building, mall, train station), then installing microcells to serve this area is a simple way to increase the capacity.

    A more general way to increase the capacity of the cellular system within the available spectrum is to create a layered/heterogeneous network. Such a network has a microcell underlay to allow for greater spectrum reuse that provides larger capacity and an overlay (umbrella) of macrocells that ensure continuity of the coverage between the microcells. The microcell layer would, in this case, have the majority of the service provider‘s licensed channels to allocate for its location, while the macrocell layer would have only a few channels to hold the users over until they move into an area covered by the microcell layer. To accomplish this type of deployment, the operator will set the handover parameters to prefer microcells over macrocells whenever a microcell is available and useable.

    Microcell Deployment

    Figure 2: Reason for ICIC. Courtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 2: Reason for ICIC. Courtesy: QRC Tech

    The main concern when deploying a microcell is availability of an appropriate location to install and backhaul the data from (connect it with the rest of the network). This is an even more significant problem with microcells, as they are deployed much more densely than the macrocells. It has become much more difficult to obtain a location for a macrocell due to local ordinances on the visual appearance of the antenna tower that a larger area cell site needs to operate.Fortunately for microcell positioning, antenna towers are typically not required. The accompanying microcell electrical equipment is the size of a household appliance and operates off of ‘normal’ commercial/residential power grids. This significantly eases the microcell deployment.

    Another low cost approach for deploying the microcells over a larger area is via remote radio heads. In such a system, the lower-level signal processing (baseband processing) is centralized. Baseband data is digitally distributed to the remote radio heads placed at the desired locations, where it is then converted to/from RF and transmitted/received via antennas. As they do not have the processing requirements of a normal cell site, remote radio heads are smaller size than a ‘typical’ microcell deployment. This is a good solution for tunnels, garages, underground railways, etc., where radio heads can be strung along a power/data wire.

    Another important feature working in the microcell’s favor is willingness of the end users (e.g., those without cell coverage) to install microcells on their premises and provide backhaul via their broadband internet access. End users often voluntarily absorb all of the capital and maintenance cost of the cell site and, in many cases, this generates additional profit for the operator.

    Microcell Configuration

    A macrocell needs to be configured for it to work with the rest of the cellular network and to not interfere with its ability to service other users. The primary concern is the selection of the provider-licensed frequency channels that it will use. This is a complex problem in the case of macrocells, and an even more challenging one for a network with a mix of macrocells and microcells. This mixed (heterogeneous) network is much more dynamic than the classical network structure that relies only on macrocells. For macrocell based networks, after initial deployment optimization, reconfiguration (retuning) is required only a few times a year.

    Unlike classical cellular protocols (GSM, AMPS, and IS-136), the newer CDMA cellular networks reuse the same frequency channel among adjacent base stations. In this case, the power level of each base station broadcast signals and each end user signal is critical. In such systems, microcell power control needs to be tightly executed so they don’t interfere — not just with the macrocells, but also with adjacent microcells. To accomplish this, microcells must measure the power of the users connected to it and assess the power of the other cells operating on the same frequency channel.

    Figure 3: ICIC with Microcells. COurtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 3: ICIC with Microcells. COurtesy: QRC Tech

    More recent Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) cellular base stations, like Long Term Evolution (LTE) enhanced Node B’s (eNB’s), share parts of their frequency channel with multiple connected users. They coordinate with other adjacent base stations that use the same frequency channel and divide it up amongst the desired users.In LTE, this is called Inter-Cell Interference Coordination (ICIC), under which the cell edge users are assigned parts of the frequency channel that are not used in the adjacent cells. An eNB can then transmit at a higher power in these parts of the frequency channel to serve the edge users properly without creating interference in the adjacent cells.

    LTE microcells typically do not use some part of the frequency channel, which is reserved for the LTE macrocells. As the microcells do not service a large portion of the end users, this usually does not impact their throughput. However, it does provide macrocells with the part of the frequency channel, intended for their cell edge users, that is free from microcell interference.

    This static setup is suboptimal, so LTE offers dynamic coordination between eNB’s to provide a better solution for the particular state of the network. Even though the ICIC communication between eNB’s is standardized, the eNB’s response to this communication is not defined. Therefore, dynamic LTE ICIC is especially challenging for a network where eNB’s are produced by different vendors. An LTE network with the mix of macrocells and microcells provides an additional challenge for dynamic coordination due to quantity and density of eNB’s that are often from different vendors.

    Even the more basic aspects of cell configuration, like setting different cell parameters (e.g. Cell Identity, Paging Area codes, serving priorities for different classes of users, handover parameters, maximum output power, etc.) cannot be done manually, as was the case with the macrocells-only networks. In this case, it is not known where the microcell will be deployed before hand, and, during installation, this settings burden cannot be placed on the installer (often an operator’s end user customer).

    Therefore service providers must adopt a Self Organizing Network (SON) concept of operation, where a centralized authority authenticates and configures the microcells the first time they are connected. By using SON, end users can operate and install microcells in a plug-and-play fashion with just some simple diagnostic lights on the box. SON also allows for a centralized microcell control during its operation, freeing end user from reconfiguring it.

    If the end user installs the microcell of his selected cellular service provider on his or her own premises and broadband Internet connection, he or she may also control which cellular phones can access this microcell and with which priority. This is communicated to the cellular service provider who remotely configures the microcell to execute this without direct interaction of end user with the microcell.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, microcells are a main way to increase the capacity of cellular networks. Their wide deployment is enabled by their size and ease of operation.

    Microcells and femtocells have been deployed by most major carriers as a way to allow their customers to deploy their own network(s) anywhere there is an Internet connection.

    Figure 1: Cell Size. Courtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 1: Cell Size. Courtesy: QRC Tech

    With cellular phones becoming not just voice, but now also data appliances, there is a growing need for operators to provide wide area (3-5 mile) coverage that assures high-rate data and voice services in nearly every location. What used to be considered “acceptable” gaps in coverage, like isolated homes, are no longer areas that carriers can overlook.For this reason, microcells and femtocells have been deployed by most major carriers as a way to allow their customers, both businesses as well as individuals, to deploy their own network(s) anywhere there is an Internet connection. The sheer number of cells (large and small area), the inability for the carriers to control the position and use of them, and the handover between these ad hoc cells and the overall network create significant challenges in spectrum and interference management.

    Why Microcells

    We use the term “microcells” to describe any cell smaller in size than the macrocell, which covers 2 km or more. In practice, most cells that cover less than 2 km are picocells and femtocells, whose coverage is below 200 m.

    Macrocells that cover a number of miles almost always have some gap in the coverage between them. Yet, even if the entire area is covered with the signal of receivable strength, the throughputs at locations in-between cells are usually the smallest due to the lowest signal strength. Installing microcells in these areas resolve both of these issues. Special cases are the areas that are not conducive to the RF propagation, and therefore cannot be covered by a macrocell. This includes: tunnels, garages, underground railways, and large office buildings.

    Macrocells can be overloaded by the amount of traffic they service, especially at peak use times or during special events (e.g. emergencies, concerts, etc.). One solution to is to add more capacity to the macrocell via additional assigned frequency channels. However, this solution has its limits, in that the service provider might not have any more licensed channels to use in this cell. If the significant source of traffic within the coverage of the macrocell is an isolated area (e.g., apartment building, office building, mall, train station), then installing microcells to serve this area is a simple way to increase the capacity.

    A more general way to increase the capacity of the cellular system within the available spectrum is to create a layered/heterogeneous network. Such a network has a microcell underlay to allow for greater spectrum reuse that provides larger capacity and an overlay (umbrella) of macrocells that ensure continuity of the coverage between the microcells. The microcell layer would, in this case, have the majority of the service provider‘s licensed channels to allocate for its location, while the macrocell layer would have only a few channels to hold the users over until they move into an area covered by the microcell layer. To accomplish this type of deployment, the operator will set the handover parameters to prefer microcells over macrocells whenever a microcell is available and useable.

    Microcell Deployment

    Figure 2: Reason for ICIC. Courtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 2: Reason for ICIC. Courtesy: QRC Tech

    The main concern when deploying a microcell is availability of an appropriate location to install and backhaul the data from (connect it with the rest of the network). This is an even more significant problem with microcells, as they are deployed much more densely than the macrocells. It has become much more difficult to obtain a location for a macrocell due to local ordinances on the visual appearance of the antenna tower that a larger area cell site needs to operate.Fortunately for microcell positioning, antenna towers are typically not required. The accompanying microcell electrical equipment is the size of a household appliance and operates off of ‘normal’ commercial/residential power grids. This significantly eases the microcell deployment.

    Another low cost approach for deploying the microcells over a larger area is via remote radio heads. In such a system, the lower-level signal processing (baseband processing) is centralized. Baseband data is digitally distributed to the remote radio heads placed at the desired locations, where it is then converted to/from RF and transmitted/received via antennas. As they do not have the processing requirements of a normal cell site, remote radio heads are smaller size than a ‘typical’ microcell deployment. This is a good solution for tunnels, garages, underground railways, etc., where radio heads can be strung along a power/data wire.

    Another important feature working in the microcell’s favor is willingness of the end users (e.g., those without cell coverage) to install microcells on their premises and provide backhaul via their broadband internet access. End users often voluntarily absorb all of the capital and maintenance cost of the cell site and, in many cases, this generates additional profit for the operator.

    Microcell Configuration

    A macrocell needs to be configured for it to work with the rest of the cellular network and to not interfere with its ability to service other users. The primary concern is the selection of the provider-licensed frequency channels that it will use. This is a complex problem in the case of macrocells, and an even more challenging one for a network with a mix of macrocells and microcells. This mixed (heterogeneous) network is much more dynamic than the classical network structure that relies only on macrocells. For macrocell based networks, after initial deployment optimization, reconfiguration (retuning) is required only a few times a year.

    Unlike classical cellular protocols (GSM, AMPS, and IS-136), the newer CDMA cellular networks reuse the same frequency channel among adjacent base stations. In this case, the power level of each base station broadcast signals and each end user signal is critical. In such systems, microcell power control needs to be tightly executed so they don’t interfere — not just with the macrocells, but also with adjacent microcells. To accomplish this, microcells must measure the power of the users connected to it and assess the power of the other cells operating on the same frequency channel.

    Figure 3: ICIC with Microcells. COurtesy: QRC Tech
    Figure 3: ICIC with Microcells. COurtesy: QRC Tech

    More recent Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) cellular base stations, like Long Term Evolution (LTE) enhanced Node B’s (eNB’s), share parts of their frequency channel with multiple connected users. They coordinate with other adjacent base stations that use the same frequency channel and divide it up amongst the desired users.In LTE, this is called Inter-Cell Interference Coordination (ICIC), under which the cell edge users are assigned parts of the frequency channel that are not used in the adjacent cells. An eNB can then transmit at a higher power in these parts of the frequency channel to serve the edge users properly without creating interference in the adjacent cells.

    LTE microcells typically do not use some part of the frequency channel, which is reserved for the LTE macrocells. As the microcells do not service a large portion of the end users, this usually does not impact their throughput. However, it does provide macrocells with the part of the frequency channel, intended for their cell edge users, that is free from microcell interference.

    This static setup is suboptimal, so LTE offers dynamic coordination between eNB’s to provide a better solution for the particular state of the network. Even though the ICIC communication between eNB’s is standardized, the eNB’s response to this communication is not defined. Therefore, dynamic LTE ICIC is especially challenging for a network where eNB’s are produced by different vendors. An LTE network with the mix of macrocells and microcells provides an additional challenge for dynamic coordination due to quantity and density of eNB’s that are often from different vendors.

    Even the more basic aspects of cell configuration, like setting different cell parameters (e.g. Cell Identity, Paging Area codes, serving priorities for different classes of users, handover parameters, maximum output power, etc.) cannot be done manually, as was the case with the macrocells-only networks. In this case, it is not known where the microcell will be deployed before hand, and, during installation, this settings burden cannot be placed on the installer (often an operator’s end user customer).

    Therefore service providers must adopt a Self Organizing Network (SON) concept of operation, where a centralized authority authenticates and configures the microcells the first time they are connected. By using SON, end users can operate and install microcells in a plug-and-play fashion with just some simple diagnostic lights on the box. SON also allows for a centralized microcell control during its operation, freeing end user from reconfiguring it.

    If the end user installs the microcell of his selected cellular service provider on his or her own premises and broadband Internet connection, he or she may also control which cellular phones can access this microcell and with which priority. This is communicated to the cellular service provider who remotely configures the microcell to execute this without direct interaction of end user with the microcell.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, microcells are a main way to increase the capacity of cellular networks. Their wide deployment is enabled by their size and ease of operation.