July 30 — Several new industry reports have been released that chart the ever-changing milieu for small-cell technology as it matures and evolves through integration with other technologies.
Shipments of DAS Nodes are projected to reach 2.5 million in 2017, according to research done by Mobile Experts, which outlines the shifting outdoor and indoor DAS landscape and the involvement of Wi-Fi, public safety communications and small cells.
“The global DAS market has been built on airports, sports stadiums and tunnels. But as those venues become built out, the hot DAS markets will shift to other verticals in the future, such as hospitality, healthcare, university and high-rise buildings,” said Mobile Experts’ Principal Analyst Joe Madden. “The DAS market will roughly double in size over the next five years, with a dramatic increase in the combination of DAS with Wi-Fi, public safety radio and LTE networks. In addition, when high-capacity small cells such as picocells are more widely available, we can expect small cells to replace macrocells as the primary signal source for indoor DAS systems.”
Outdoor Small Cells to Top Macrocells in 2012–ABI Research
With 1 million units forecast in 2012, the number of outdoor small cells sold may surpass the 954,000 macrocells forecast for this year, according to ABI Research.
ABI Research also projected strong growth for small cells across the board, with the equipment market for outdoor femtocells, picocells, microcells, and carrier Wi-Fi access points growing to $14.3 billion by 2017.
“We believe that outdoor small cells have distinctly different characteristics, including the need for carrier grade software, wider temperature ranges, and more sophisticated RF from indoor consumer and enterprise femtocells and we are now forecasting these separately from indoor residential and enterprise units,” says Nick Marshall, principal analyst at ABI Research.
ABI Reasearch shows that outdoor small cell units will grow at a compounded rate of 53.8 percent to 9.3 million units by 2017. The fastest growing small cell class is the outdoor femtocells, with output power of less than 1 Watt, which will grow at a compounded rate of 81.5 percent to reach 1.5 million units and $5.4 billion by 2017. The emerging carrier-integrated Wi-Fi class of small cells will also grow rapidly at a compounded rate of 60 percent to reach 6.8 million units and $1.7 billion in 2017.
“We forecast that the femtocell and carrier Wi-Fi small cell classes will make up 50 percent of the revenue and 89 percent of the units in 2017. The remaining 50 percent of the revenue and 11 percent of the units in 2017 are represented by the more expensive pico- and microcell classes,” continues Marshall.
Real momentum for significant growth moving forward now exists in the outdoor small cell market, according to ABI Research. However, the research firm warns, the industry will need to deal with some challenges including backhaul provision, interference mitigation, network management, policy integration and roaming.
High Inventory, Low Burn Rate Stalls 2012 Femtocell Market
All the news was not good, however. ABI Research forecasted largely flat volume shipments in 2012 relative to 2011 for femtocells. The shipments in 2012 are expected to be 2.44 million units, similar to the 2.47 million units shipped in 2011. In total, 5.3 million units are expected to be deployed by end of this year.
“We believe there is a large inventory of femtocells sitting with operators right now with operators having a slow burn rate, which has led to limited fresh orders in the first half of 2012,” says Aditya Kaul, practice director at ABI Research. “Silicon component suppliers have suggested that 1Q 2012 shipments were down 30 percent to 40 percent compared to 1Q 2011.”
Some of the slack in volumes can also be attributed to attention shifting from indoor femtocells to outdoor metrocells. Also, the recent consolidation in the market including Mindspeed’s acquisition of picoChip and Huawei’s exit from the femtocell market suggest that the indoor small cell market has been under some strain.
In spite of the less than stellar shipments of residential and enterprise femtocells in the indoor small cell market in 2011 and 2012, ABI Research forecasts that growth is likely to pick up in 2013. Some of this growth stems from a refresh of inventory levels, with operators like AT&T, Vodafone, Telefonica, Softbank and Sprint being at the forefront of driving shipments in both enterprise and residential settings.
The enterprise and consumer femtocell market will grow at a compound rate of 63 percent to reach almost 28 million units in 2017 with revenue of $3.4 billion, ABI Research projected.