Insight: Small Cells Market Trends

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Thursday, April 23, 2015 with No comments

Recently, RCR Wireless News took a close look at the small cell testing arena, and concluded that there are five main trends in the market right now:

  1. Enterprise small cell solutions, like AT&T's Small Site
  2. Multitechnology, multiband support improvements, such as Alcatel-Lucent's new metro cells that support LTE for up to 200 users with a  Wi-Fi option 
  3. Management and interoperability challenges persisting, with the Self-Optimizing Networks (SON) standard still in development
  4. Architecture evolution, including connectivity systems converging for in-building coverage
  5. Cost pressures continuing as the industry figures out realistic price points

Although the small cells market hasn't heated up as quickly as was predicted, Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts, noted that it's finally gaining momentum. 

"The drought is ending," Madden said in an RCR Wireless article. "Mobile operators have ended the endless field trials, and have moved toward reliance on small cells for network capacity and enterprise applications."

Companies now investing in small cells include Cisco, Verizon Wireless, China Mobile, Vodafone, EE, and TELUS. 

ABI Research confirmed the conclusion that small cells are taking off in a report predicting the small cell backhaul equipment market is on track to exceed $4 billion by 2020. ABI thinks sub-6GHz technology will capture the largest share of backhaul last mile links, while millimeter wave technology will grow the fastest. 

So what does this mean for operators and the people who are employed in the small cells market?
For one thing, managing large scale deployments of small cells can be quite complex. Factors that should be considered include automation for rapid activation and commissioning, careful planning when moving many devices around at once time to avoid growing pains, getting distributed SON (D-SON) and centralized SON (C-SON) to play nicely together, visibility for both Wi-Fi and LTE, and the trade-offs between hardwired and cloud-based architecture. 

Workers hoping to get jobs in the small cells market are more hirable if they have some combination of these skills, advised RCR Wireless:

  • Radio frequency knowledge, covering at least a general familiarity with GSM, LTE, CDMA, EVDO and probably Wi-Fi too.
  • Project management experience, covering both "hard" skills (site acquisition, permitting and zoning) and "soft" skills like communication and coordination.  
  • Familiarity with cabling systems in order to solve backhaul issues and establish proper provisioning. 
  • Network testing skills and certifications, covering topics like sweep testing, passive intermodulation testing (PIM), and Optical Time Domain Reflectometer (OTDR) testing for fiber optic.

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