Latest small cell deployment forecast puts neutral host strategies in spotlight

Nick Johnson, Chief Technology Officer, ip.access

With MWC finally upon us, the commercial reality of the telecoms industry has rarely been more firmly in the spotlight. With the ongoing drumbeat behind 5G there are big questions being asked about the business models that will make 5G networks viable. Nowhere is that question more pronounced than when it comes to small cells.

Small cells will be crucial to any 5G future, and at the end of December the Small Cell Forum put out its latest forecast which suggests that small cell deployments could go past 11 million units by 2025. The Forum highlights how much of this growth will be driven by a sharp increase in demand from operators as they continue to build out their 4G networks and begin the preparations for 5G.

However, beyond this rather banal headline statement, the detail of the research makes for very interesting reading. The findings show that enterprise small cells – whether deployed as part of private networks or as public access – will make up over 50% of small cell deployments, with nearly 6 million cells installed in total in enterprises.

This backs up what we have been saying for a number of years; the enterprise is the major commercial opportunity and market – not just for small cells, but for operators too. For all the focus on and debate around outdoor deployments (particularly for 5G), the demand for better indoor coverage is here now and not going away anytime soon.

There are undoubtedly challenges involved in enterprise small cell deployments, not least when it comes to multi-operator support and spectrum sharing, but these issues are by no means insurmountable.

And if these issues are overcome it completely remodels the commercials of mobile infrastructure – potentially unlocking the investment that 5G absolutely will require.

If that is to happen then it is vital to avoid fragmentation in deployment models and to make it as painless as possible to implement enterprise small cell networks. It’s why we’ve designed our Viper platform to be a fully integrated, multi-operator solution that simplifies small cell deployments, while also ensuring that operators do not lose control of the capacity or quality they can offer their customers.

Even then there is a need for other stakeholders to take the initiative. The towercos and even the enterprises themselves have made their intentions clear when it comes to their enthusiasm for neutral host deployment models that could see small cell numbers and potential revenues skyrocket. But will operators support this demand? Are they willing to delegate the operation of their network to towercos and others as neutral hosts? Are regulators happy to allow that to happen?

Ultimately, we are trying to make it as easy as possible for the key stakeholders to say yes to this opportunity. If we can meet everyone’s requirements, then everyone in the sector stands to benefit.

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