Understanding the small cell phenomenon

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As network operators try to desperately meet the growing demands for data usage on their networks, many are turning to small cells for the answer. The timeline for these small cell deployments vary--some operators are already incorporating small cells into their networks today while others are focused on the macro network.  

For comparison, here is a rundown of what we know about the Tier 1 U.S. operators and their small cell deployment plans: 

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) was an early advocate for small cells.  In May, Iyad Tarazi, Sprint's vice president of network development and engineering, said that the company had deployed 600,000 CDMA femtocells in its network, a figure that climbed to 950,000 by late July. Tarazi recently told FierceBroadbandWireless Editor Tammy Parker that the company is also in the midst of an LTE picocell deployment that is initially focused indoors with outdoor deployments coming in 2013 and 2014.

Meanwhile, AT&T Lab's (NYSE:T) Senior Vice President of Network Technology Kris Rinne said last May at FierceWireless' Path to 4G event that AT&T will begin deploying small cells in earnest later this year based on the needs of high-density areas.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) CTO Nicola Palmer said at last week's CTIA MobileCon conference that Verizon will deploy small cells in its network to improve capacity and coverage, but she did not provide a timeframe for that effort. "We're excited about small cells. I expect we will take advantage of small cells in the Verizon Wireless network," she said, noting small cell technology will improve the performance of Verizon's network in dense, urban areas.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile USA CTO Neville Ray said earlier this year that he thinks small cells will come in time. But he doesn't believe they will have scale for another 18 months or so.  "There are still problems, such as backhaul, for small cells," Ray said.

Of course, there are many factors involved in the decision to deploy small cells. Availability of backhaul, installation and maintenance are just a few of the problems that can make small cells difficult to add to the network. Siting issues can also be a problem as some local building owners aim to profit from having a small cell on their property.

FierceWireless  explored all the different aspects of small cell solutions--from the deployment to the backhaul to the network planning--in this latest ebook on the topic.  Learn more about how operators --both large and small--are planning to incorporate small cells into their networks. --Sue