An estimated 6 million small cells have been deployed worldwide, as operators rush to meet the demand for bandwidth and consumers demand connectivity in every corner of their lives. Informa Telecoms and Media says that the number of small cells now exceeds the number of traditional mobile base stations, mostly due to the explosive growth of residential femtocells. The research firm that says that within the next several months, residential femtocells alone will outnumber macrocells.
Most of the world’s largest mobile operators have small cell deployment programs in place. Sprint is the femtocell leader with a million installations, up 300% from last year. Telefonica O2, Orange UK, and Bouygues Telecom are also leaders in femtocell deployment.
For many small business owners, small cells are not only a way to connect to mobile broadband; they are also a revenue opportunity. As telecom operators look for ways to create denser networks, enterprising business owners are renting their rooftops to service providers who are happy to pay for a spot for a small cell.
Small cell backhaul is an area of growing concern for operators; the backhaul bottleneck has been described as the “elephant in the room” during industry discussions of small cell technology. This creates opportunity for infrastructure providers; Alcatel-Lucent has recently upgraded its suite of cell site routers, adding new backhaul solutions for both outdoor and indoor metrocells. “Our goal is taking that mobile backhaul problem off the table,” says Heidi Adams, senior director of product marketing for the company’s networks business. The company says its newest cell site routers for outdoor metrocells are compatible with both fiber and copper, and support LTE, 3G and Wi-Fi. “It’s almost cookie cutter connectivity,” says Adams. “This solution supports any service over any access technology.” The company has also upgraded its routers for indoor metrocells, and has focused on reliability and scalability in both solutions in order to cut operating costs for service providers. “A big chunk of the cost is in … deploying and managing the network,” says Adams. “Operational costs over time can eclipse the CapEx costs.”