Small Cells Are a Can’t Miss Technology, Probably

Carl Weinschenk
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Its proponents say that small cell technology is a win-win-win-win: It helps end users, carriers, enterprises and vendors. Sarah Reedy at Light Reading does a nice job of explaining precisely how:

These mini-base stations can be deployed pretty much anywhere to bolster network density, increase data speeds, plug coverage holes in voice networks, and manage spectrum more efficiently—plus they are inexpensive and not power hungry.

In other words, small cells are a great-tasting, gluten-free snack with little sodium and very few calories. 


Reedy’s summary was posted in a piece highlighting a Light Reading survey of the best and the brightest personalities in the small cell arena. The story—and, certainly, the long report to which it links—lays out the broad landscape. The candidates that made the grade are from SK Telecom, AT&T, SpiderCloud, Vodafone, Sprint and Ericsson. The last page points to other important folks.

More information on the small cell segment—in this case, enterprise uses of the technology—is offered in a press release on a report from The Small Cell Forum. The report, “Release Two: Enterprise,” appears to be massive. The release has links to more than 20 topics covered by discrete documents, with titles such as “Small Cells, what’s the big idea,” “Enterprise overview,” “Market drivers for enterprise small cells” and “Business case for enterprise small cells.” Those interested can link to the documents, though they must provide an email address.

The Small Cell Forum apparently wants to make some news to further push the expansive report. EE Times reports on an aggressive growth forecast from the organization: From 168,000 deployed units now to 11.5 million by 2018. By the end of the study term, the story says, deployment will be evenly split between residential and non-residential uses. To date, deployments have focused on Asia, though activity is picking up in North America.

No technology is universally acclaimed, though small cells get close. One of the skeptics is Peter Jarich, the vice president of Consumer and Infrastructure at Current Analysis. Last month, he offered a commentary at FierceWireless that raised 10 questions about small cells.

The bottom line is that Jarich thinks the technology is being oversold:

Regardless, reflecting on the small-cell market circa 2013, it struck me that, while the market demand for cellular coverage and capacity enhancements is real, and vendors are doing their best to serve those demands, there's a lot going on in the small-cell space that just doesn't make sense.  Worse yet, there's a lot of hype-induced positioning that is just annoying—if not outright hate-worthy—in terms of what's being ignored, misunderstood or otherwise misrepresented.

The 10 questions he raises focus equally on technical and business-case issues.

However, it seems inevitable that small cell technology will take root. It is far less certain whether they will be a panacea or just another tool in the tool chest.



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