While some of the world's biggest telcos have defined their small cells strategies and begun rollouts, the next wave of growth could be hampered by operators' unwillingness to move away from the status quo.
The market is growing though. There will be 92 million small cell units deployed worldwide by 2016, up from 10.8 million today, the industry group the Small Cell Forum revealed at Mobile World Congress on Tuesday, using statistics prepared by Informa Telecoms & Media.
″[By 2016] 90% of all cells are expected to be small cells,″ said Gordon Mansfield, chairman of the Small Cell Forum and executive director of small cell solutions at AT&T. 86% will be residential femtocells, but ″revenues will be dominated by public access [small cells],″ he said. Indeed, Informa predicts that the market as a whole will be worth more than US$22 billion by 2016, 73% of which – or $16.2 billion – will come from public access.
"98% of operators think that small cells are essential to their future,″ said Mansfield, but the 46 that have started deploying the technology are primarily in developed markets. In order to diffuse the technology more widely the Small Cell Forum has created a release programme to help more operators take the plunge.
″[It's] a 'how to' guide for small cell deployment,″ he explained.
Small Cell Release One was published on Tuesday and focuses on residential femtocells, which already account for 56% of all mobile cells today. Releases two and three will concentrate on the enterprise and metrocell markets respectively.
″The industry needs to drive deployment beyond the big operators,″ Mansfield said.
The biggest barrier to the next wave of operator deployment is ″inertia″, according to Gavin Ray, vice president of product management at small cell equipment provider ip.access.
″[Operators] are fundamentally best on a macro network,″ he said. Small cells are different; telcos have a tendency to presume the technology ″can't possibly work,″ he explained. ″It's a people thing.″
According to Ray, the impetus needs to come from the management level in operators. ″You need the drive from the top of the operators to come downwards,″ he said.
Operators are, of course, driven by