Small Cells, Big Growth

Carl Weinschenk
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How to Ease the Pain of Slow Wi-Fi

Small cell technology is a key technology by which network operators will deal with the rapid growth of network demand and the increasingly sophisticated treatment required by much of that traffic. Small cells, which can support cellular or Wi-Fi, sit between the end-user devices and the macro cells that have handled traffic to date.

A good bit of news on this front came out recently. Sarah Reedy at Lightreading reported on Ericsson’s RBS 6402, which the company says is its first indoor pico cell that supports the ability to fluidly combine channels in order to fluidly increase capacity. That capability is called carrier aggregation. The RBS 6402 will be used by Swisscom and will ship during the first quarter of next year.

Nokia also made a small cell announcement. Telecoms said that the company’s Flexi Zone G2 Pico is designed to increase efficiency in heterogeneous networks, which are those that combine different protocols (such as Wi-Fi and cellular) to create ubiquitous computing environments. The new device, which already has a customer in Saudi operator Zain KSA, also uses 3D geolocation techniques. These features make it especially appropriate for high-density areas.

A third new small cell is the 9962 enterprise small cell, which will be released early in 2015 by Alcatel-Lucent. It will be a product of a year-old partnership with Qualcomm. The chipmaker’s FSM9955 will, according to RCR Wireless, “use carrier aggregation to support 3G and LTE on a single chipset.” The key seems to be efficiency and ease of use:

At launch, Alcatel-Lucent’s 9962 enterprise small cell will simultaneously support 32 LTE users and 32 3G users. In LTE-only mode, it can support 128 users. A software-defined radio enables operators to transition the small cells to LTE as needed. Alcatel-Lucent says the 9962 is currently in trials with several customers.

These new products and others are being introduced for a reason: The need to increase capacity and flexibility is great and there is a lot of evidence that small cells can do the job. Thus, there is a lot of revenue potential for vendors.

ABI Research takes a look at femtocells, another small cell variant. The firm said that revenue in that sub-sector will reach $4.2 billion in 2019. The growth, the firm predicts, will be centered in the residential market and be led by Alcatel-Lucent, Airvana and Cisco. Growth in the United States will enjoy a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 130 percent during the next five years.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Intenet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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