Big Hopes for Small Cells

Carl Weinschenk

The small cell sector is about to get hot. The cellular industry traditionally has used tower-based macrocells to send signals to and collect them from the mobile devices that subscribers carry. A variety of smaller cells are moving in. Executives, vendors and other observers expect these devices to improve quality and increase available bandwidth.

This isn’t all theoretical. It’s happening. Last week, FierceWireless reported that AT&T’s Project Velocity will include more than 40,000 small cells. The story reported on comments made at the Jefferies 2013 Global Technology, Media and Telecom conference in New York City by Bill Smith, the carrier’s president of network operations. The story said that the small cells will be a central element of the rollout of Voice over LTE (VoLTE).

In a report from the same conference, Verizon Wireless said that it will begin to deploy small cells this year. Light Reading reported that CEO Dan Mead said that the company plans to commercialize LTE next year. That, presumably, is the impetus behind the small cell rollout.

This is a nice thing on the horizon for end users, who will get better service. More immediately, it is good for vendors, who have a whole new layer to fill in the satellite infrastructure. The Deal Pipeline writer Chris Nolter made that point in regards to the AT&T plans, and it looks like similar plans from Verizon won’t change his opinion:

AT&T's deployment is a boon for the small cell sector, which includes a range of companies. Though small cells hold promise for growth, the applications and the market are still evolving. Compared to the market for macro cells that sit in wireless towers, small cells are, well, relatively small. Depending on whom you ask, the segment is also fragmented.

Nolter mentions a number of companies in the various sub-segments. He also points to Cisco’s purchase of Ubiquisys as a sign that the big boys may be coming in to take advantage of the spade work done by lesser knowns. Elsewhere, sure signs that the segment is on the upswing can be found in news announcements and the springing up of conferences, such as those planned for Las Vegas this month and London in June.

There is a tremendous buzz around small cells. They seem to be just what the doctor ordered for the increasingly stressed wireless network. Watch for a fast evolution of the technology and business elements of small cell in the year or so ahead.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 13, 2013 4:16 PM Joe Powell Joe Powell  says:
This is a good general overview. Each telco operator in the world will need to figure out their own small cell solutions, and small cell can mean many things, such as a small unit inside a home, to units to cover public buildings, train stations, arenas and stadiums, and then city streets, outdoor units. Some of the communication transit will be by WiFi, but that even at best, can handle only a smaller fraction of the total load. The majority has to be traditional telcom frequencies and distance and capacity and speed consideration. That is more generally called "microcells", as opposed to the macrocell base stations. Solutions are out there now, but operators are in different sets of demand and load than others. The more 4G operational traffic , the higher the need for small cells and microcells. In due time, many operators will install them. But some predict the 4G traffic will be so heavy, networks will be strained and possible substandard QofS. Reply

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