Small Cell Forum (SCF) announced the results of its latest in-depth survey of more than 60 mobile operators from around the world. The research shows that the small cells are currently proliferating in regions where work has been undertaken to lower regulatory barriers relating to cost, sites approvals and deployment processes in the urban environment. This has led to a surge in deployments, and this latest research shows deployment rates in North America projected to rise by 92 percent annually between 2017 and 2019, and 74 percent in South East Asia–well above the global average of 68 percent.
The research also provided both best- and worst-case scenarios for non-residential small cell deployments and identified key factors that will influence these outcomes such as ease of deployment and management in the enterprise, and cost, sites, approvals and deployment processes in the urban environment. It predicts that in the best-case deployments could reach as high as 11.4 m units in 2025 vs 7.1 m in the worst case. The result being that the Forum, and its partner’s programmes to address these factors, have the potential to make a difference of over 4 m cells by 2025.
Considerable efforts made by the Forum and its partner bodies in recent years to bring about more favourable regulatory processes for the rolling out of small cells in North America and Asia, have paid dividends with regulators encouraging faster and cheaper small cell deployments. However, with 5G at the heart of the critical need for densification, growth remains regionally varied–with Europe lagging behind North America and Asia.
Meanwhile, in the enterprise market, the research shows that the top factors which will accelerate deployment are lower operating costs, a clear framework for how cost and risk are shared between operator and enterprise and a clearer ROI case. Cost is paramount and many of the other important enablers are geared to lower TCO (Total Cost of Operation) and the effort required by the enterprise IT department or the operator–e.g., automation, plug-and-play. Neutral host will also be an important enabler of densification, in particular for industrial and enterprise use cases and the IoT. In addition, the convergence of small cells with edge compute nodes, especially for low latency IoT use cases, is set to be a driver in deployments.
“Small cells will provide the backbone upon which 5G will be built and, as regulations ease and barriers lower, we are seeing operators realise their plans for truly dense HetNets to support the networks of today and the future,” said David Orloff, chair of Small Cell Forum. “The Forum and its partners have spent considerable amounts of time working with regulators around the world, sharing our considerable expertise to create an environment in which small cells can realise their potential. While this is reaping rewards in many regions, there are others who run the risk of being left behind–and it is critical that regulators allow operators the freedom to build out the next generation networks and the enhanced connectivity they will bring.”
Undertaken by Rethink Technology Research, the survey questioned 98 respondents (66 MNOs, 32 other service providers) deployment plans and business drivers to produce forecasts through to 2025, as well as identifying key enablers and barriers, and key use case drivers.