Small cells - Top Wireless Technologies in 2013

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What is it?
The "small cell" is the hot new buzzword in the network equipment market. Briefly defined, a small cell is a radio access network element that is smaller and has a shorter range than a macro base station. There are a variety of small cells, including residential femtocells, microcells and picocells. Small cells are, along with Wi-Fi, an essential part of the Heterogeneous Network (HetNets) concept touted by many vendors as the network design carriers will need to adopt to manage rising data traffic.

The demand for data will lead to 5 million annual shipments of small cells by 2017, according to a recent report from research firm ARCchart.

Why is it important?
Whether you wholeheartedly agree with Cisco's mobile data traffic forecast through 2017 or cast a skeptical eye on it, it is clear that mobile data traffic has been increasing at a rapid rate during the past few years and likely will continue to do so into the future. HetNets, and especially small cells, represent a key strategy carriers plan to employ to meet that demand. A December report from Informa Telecoms & Media found that that 98 percent of operators contacted believe that small cells will be key elements of their network architecture going forward.

In the United States, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) in the midst of an LTE picocell deployment that is initially focused indoors, with outdoor deployments coming this year and 2014. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) has already successfully tested small cell deployments in two U.S. cities--where the devices won rave reviews--in preparation for rolling out more than 40,000 small cells by the end of 2015. And Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) plans to launch small cell technology starting this year as a way to improve its network coverage and performance. At this point, it's news if a carrier is not on the small cell bandwagon.