Eight of the top 10 operators have rolled out small cells, a sure indication that the technology has hit the mainstream and the number of free femtocell offers continues to rise. With the challenges surrounding the business case and the consumer proposition largely overcome, the Femto Forum at MWC took a look at the next steps for the small cell market, including the challenges facing small cells as they extend beyond the home. These range from the issues of finding large numbers of new sites for small cells; supporting LTE, employing SON techniques to manage complex deployments; and implementing advanced traffic management techniques such as edge caching and smart offload. The next evolution in small cell thinking includes core network intelligence will be embedded apps on into small cells thereby letting them handle smart voice and data offload; session creation, switching; handoff; traffic compression; aggregation; and edge caching; presence information for mobile apps.
On Monday, Informa Telecoms & Media issued its inaugural small cell market status report which highlights dramatic uptake in small cell deployments. The report finds that small cell are set to grow from 3.2 million in 2012 to 62.4 million by 2016 “ a 2000% (or 20x) increase “ constituting 88% of all base stations globally. The report also highlights the key advances in small cells in 2012 including several new deployments, including the world's first LTE femtocell service launch, as well as important acquisitions and new product launches marrying small cell technology with Wi-Fi.
The report finds that small cell deployments are set to be dominated by femtocells with the installed base to grow from 2.5 million in 2012 to 59 million in 2016 “ a 2400% (or 24x) increase. Enterprise and public area picocells are set to grow from 140K in 2012 to 540K in 2016 “ a 385% (or 4x) increase. Public access small cells which are mostly installed outdoors and encompass microcells and metrocells are set to grow from 595K in 2012 to 2.9 million in 2016 “ a 480% (or 5x) increase. It is important to note that between 2012 and 2015, public access small cells will evolve from traditional designs to next generation models. These new models will employ the advances made in the femtocell market including new chipsets, advanced RF and network management, as well as lower cost components.
The small cell market has seen numerous crucial developments in 2012. This includes new small cell deployments from Vodafone Portugal, 3UK, Free in France, regional US operator Mosaic Telecom and the world's first LTE femtocell deployment by SK Telecom. There have also been deployment commitments from Telenica O2 and Telenor Group.
As mobile data consumption continues to grow, mobile operators have overcome their fear of Wi-Fi and rapidly started rolling out their own hotspots. In fact analysts predict smartphone and tablet adoption is expected to drive a 350% increase in global Wi-Fi hotspots by 2015. However, consumers are finding hotspots difficult to find and awkward to connect to. The Wireless Broadband Alliance will be able to talk about its Next Generation Hotspots (NGH) initiative which overcomes these challenges and is currently being trialled by major operators internationally.