The number of small cells deployed globally has now edged past traditional mobile base stations, regular figures from Informa Telecoms & Media show.
Small cell deployments hit 6 million in October, giving them a slight lead over regular mobile base station deployments, which stand at 5.9 million, the research firm claims. The majority of small cell deployments (80%) are residential femtocells, prompting the firm to predict these will overtake macrocell deployments early 2013.
Femtocell numbers have been boosted by new deployments by carriers including Telefonica O2, Orange UK and Bouygues Telecom over the summer. US carrier Sprint has also increased its femtocell numbers from 250,000 in 2011 to 1 million at present.
“The industry has passed a very important milestone and in the process changed the future direction of mobile networks,” Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media says, adding. The days of small numbers of expensive cell towers have given way to the era of high numbers of low cost mini access points.”
Small cells are opening the way for new business models, including Small Cell as a Service (SCaaS), which allows firms to deploy a network then rent it to several carriers, Mavrakis notes. Virgin Media Business is a recent example of a firm that has adopted the model.
“At the moment, [SCaaS] is being targeted at major operators that are looking for a simple route to establishing a small-cell network as well as smaller players that have found the barriers to entry too high to date,” Mavrakis says.