The game is afoot for small cell operators as they test different technologies, products and topologies for outdoor small cells, according to Infonetics Research’s “Small Cell and LTE Backhaul Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey,” which includes interviews with operators about their current and future plans for outdoor small cells and backhaul.
“Small cell operators are under growing pressure to make the rubber meet the road — not only from their technology and operations people, but even their business planners. It won’t be easy. These operators face some daunting challenges: outdoor small cell gear isn’t small enough or cheap enough yet, and there are problems backhauling in dense urban areas,” said Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst for carrier networks at Infonetics Research.
Also, a viable business model must be developed for small cells, he added. When it comes to cost of ownership, a majority of survey respondents require the five-year total cost of ownership of a small cell deployment to be within 10 percent of a typical macrocell deployment.
Small cell providers also face zoning challenges and difficulty finding sites, Howard said. That may leave an opening for third-party providers of small-cell systems.
“If every mobile operator deploys their own set of small cells, then it is just not going to work in most of the major cities of the world,” Howard said. “Think of a street corner with separate boxes each deployed by a different carrier. It won’t fly because of that congestion, which municipalities see as an unsightly, proliferation of little boxes.”
This opens the door for a wholesale operator to run small cells, as well as the backhaul. At least two operators, who are not carriers, are looking at this now. In Europe, Colt Telecom Group and Virgin Media both announced their intention to set up as small cell wholesale providers.
“We see two main sets [of small cell operators] and today there is only one group, mobile operators, that is learning how to deploy their small cells outdoors. Most of them have been deploying indoors for a long time,” Howard said. “However, the multi-carrier small cell systems could translate to the DAS provider paradigm.”
The small cell and LTE backhaul survey reported that 86 percent of the operators plan to backhaul small cell traffic to nearby macrocell sites via a variety of locations on various pieces of road furniture. Although fiber is preferred, various forms of microwave non-line-of-sight (NLOS), standard microwave, and millimeter wave will be deployed most often.
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