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Operators acknowledge need for small cells in future

Public access small cells are gaining clear market traction and will dominate small cell revenues for the foreseeable future

Almost all operators (98 per cent) believe that small cells are essential for the future of their networks, according to a report from Informa Telecoms and Media. The research firm’s quarterly small-cell market status report also highlights significant new technological progress with operators announcing major public access deployments and the first dual-mode LTE/3G devices.

Important progress is also being made towards integrating small cells and public wifi according to the report, and there are now 46 small-cell deployments by operators, including nine of the top ten operators by revenue globally.

The report includes a case study of a new ‘3G hotspot’ service from Vodafone Greece which provides its customers with a free data service when connected to certain public access small cells in retail locations. It also evaluates progress made by Virgin Media which has won a deal to roll out metrocells in several UK cities which will initially support only wifi but could also support cellular in the future.

Informa Telecoms and Media also assessed developments from NTT DoCoMo in the report. The Japanese operator is set to launch the world’s first dual-mode LTE/3G femtocell this month. Meanwhile AT&T’s announcement that it will start rolling out 40,000 public access small cells in 1Q13 is examined in the report, with Verizon and Sprint expected to follow imminently.

The survey conducted for the report also found that 55 per cent of the mobile operator respondents are most interested in public access deployments over the next 12 months followed by enterprise rollouts with 35 per cent of responses. Almost half (49 per cent) of operators said their greatest concern surrounding outdoor metro deployments are the planning issues, such as finding suitable sites and power supply, followed by backhaul challenges – which was cited by 35 per cent.

“Our research shows that operators now regard small cells as essential to the future of their networks. Furthermore, their attention over the next 12 months is centering on the public-access models which have been undergoing intense trials this year and will turn into widescale deployments in 2013 – AT&T looks set to lead this trend,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst at Informa.

“With public deployments set to start in earnest, the next major stage in small-cell evolution surrounds the effective incorporation of wifi. Although this technology is being added to new models, there is work to be done to ensure that traffic is managed across all radio types intelligently. We’re seeing this work start in the Small Cell Forum and Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA); the fact that Cisco is now building small cells incorporating wifi can only help this movement.”


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