Analyst: Small cells benefit 3G networks more than LTE

The focus on small cells for LTE networks is being challenged by a new report from research firm Strategy Analytics.

The firm maintains that small cells, both pico cells and metro cells, bring the biggest immediate financial and performance benefits to 2.5G and 3G networks. The reports claims that small cells are a very cost-competitive route to upgrading 3G macro cells, and that pico or metro cells have a 25 per cent lower Total Cost of Operations (TCO).

In the report, the research firm maintains that while small cells need to adopt the all-IP architecture of LTE, their most immediate value to operators will be in countries where LTE spectrum availability or deployment is still two to three years away, and where high cost 2.5G and 3G infrastructure is in need of immediate capacity upgrade with a small cell Heterogeneous Network, or HetNet.

"In this new analysis small cells cost significantly less than 3G macro cells for the same coverage area but slightly more than new 4G/LTE macro cells," noted Sue Rudd, director service provider analysis with the market research firm. "This is largely due to the 'consumer electronics-like' vulnerability of very large numbers of small cell sites that require installation and ongoing maintenance."

Phil Kendall, director wireless operator strategies at Strategy Analytics, added: "Cost is not the only reason to choose small cells since they offer faster installation for rapid upgrades in throughput. Estimates vary but small cells will probably increase throughput by over 200 per cent as a 'HetNet underlay ' in legacy 3G 'hot zones' or at the edge of macro cells where data throughput is poor. Throughput improvements could reduce cost per Mbps by 30 per cent."

For more:
- see this Strategy Analytics release

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