Small Cells are Dead! Long Live Small Cells!

By Ernest Worthman —



May 12, 2015 — In his opinion piece, “Small Cell Whiplash,” our publisher, Richard P. Biby P.E., discusses the fallback of AT&T from its long promoted 40,000 small cell deployment plan.

He made some very timely points. Mainly, sometimes, caught up in the fervor of emerging technologies, objectives can become “ambitious.” Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men…well, you know the idiom. Perhaps AT&T was just a bit ahead of the times.

As he so aptly points out, small cells will happen. Sometimes there is just a side step. There is just a bit of uncertainty about all of the metrics that surround them. As it turned out, other market influences, such as the rampant proliferation of unlicensed platforms (Wi-Fi), derailed the orderly rollout of the carriers’ somewhat misunderstood idea that they have control of the wireless infrastructure. So they are in the process of figuring it out, and now are regrouping. There is no doubt that small cells can be the great filler for cellular wireless holes, but with the evolution of technologies such as VoIP, VoWi-Fi, and the redirect of 70 percent of wireless data off of the cellular network, the monetization formula for carrier-deployed small cells has changed.

But activity is ramping up. For example, according to a recent Advanced Research Report by Dell’Oro on Small cells (January 2015), the total Small cell market (including carrier) is expected to grow ten-fold to more than $5 billion by 2019, accounting for more than 10 percent of the combined macro and small cell spending. That is only four years away.

News from the MWC in Barcelona includes such snippets as:
• 4G small cells are widely available, including many 3G/4G configurable and a few with LTE carrier aggregations.
• Cisco launched MobilityIQ, which provides those smart analytics across both cellular and Wi-Fi, aimed at the building owner rather than the network operator.
• Ericsson announced that Vodafone Netherlands retail outlets will be the first to use their new RBS6402 multimode small cell.
• irvana launched a small cell management platform that copes with large scale multi-vendor deployments.
• Huawei won the GSMA best Mobile Infrastructure award with their Lampsite Enterprise product. Already deployed in more than 70 operators, it delivers 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi for larger buildings and is compatible with their macrocells.
• The 60 GHz V-band remains a good first point-to-point backhaul choice. Siklu announced a carrier Wi-Fi backhaul deal in Baltimore. Samsung Networks launched their own product.
• The Small Cell Forum Release 5 was issued at the show, covering rural and remote applications. There are more than 17,000 small cells deployed in a wide variety of use cases. Real Wireless sized the business opportunity to be worth $163 billion, addressing 650 million people.

The timing of the small cell market is difficult to nail down. But it is getting clearer. Products and technologies are evolving, and deployments are starting to take place. But it is a bit of a slippery slope, monetizing emerging technologies.


Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cell Magazine.