98% of Mobile Operators say Small Cells essential for future of networks

Interest continues to grow in public-access small-cell deployments as well as integrated Wi-Fi and LTE

Informa Telecoms & Media issued its latest quarterly small-cell market status report, which includes the results of a survey showing that 98% of mobile operator respondents believe small cells are essential for the future of their networks. The report also highlights significant new technological progress with operators announcing major public access deployments and the first dual-mode LTE/3G devices while important progress is also being made towards integrating small cells and public Wi-Fi. There are now 46 small-cell deployments by operators, including nine of the top 10 operators by revenue globally.

The report includes a case study of a groundbreaking new ‘3G hotspot’ service from Vodafone Greece which provides its customers with a free data service when connected to certain public access small cells in retail locations. The report evaluated progress made by Virgin Media which has won a deal to roll out metrocells in several UK cities which will initially support only Wi-Fi but could support cellular in the future. It also assessed developments from NTT DoCoMo, which launches the world’s first dual-mode LTE/3G femtocell this month, and AT&T, which announced it will start rolling out 40K public access small cells in 1Q13 – Verizon and Sprint are expected to follow imminently. It also noted that SFR,which has aggressively rolled out free femtocells to its customers, is extending the offer to its low-cost ‘Red’ brand showing that the technology is being extended to all customers, not just those on higher tariffs.

The report also looks at the progress that has been made in integrating Wi-Fi hotspots and small cells. The Small Cell Forum and Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) announced that they will work together to intelligently integrate small cells and Wi-Fi to improve quality of service, lower costs and simplify deployment. Additionally, Cisco announced it is to start building small cells for the first time and these will ultimately support 3G, LTE and integrated carrier Wi-Fi.