AT&T's Mansfield: Outdoor LTE small cell market will ramp up next year

Gordon Mansfield Small Cell Forum chair

Gordon Mansfield

With Gordon Mansfield, Small Cell Forum chair and AVP-small cell solutions at AT&T Mobility

The Small Cell Forum, originally called the Femtocell Forum, is an advocacy group promoting the adoption of small cell technologies to solve mobile networks' coverage and capacity issues as well as help them deliver new services. The London-based group now has more than 150 members, including 68 operators representing more than 3 billion mobile subscribers, or more than 46 percent of the global total. Hardware and software vendors, ecosystem partners, content providers and start-ups round out the rest of the forum's membership. Gordon Mansfield, AT&T Mobility's (NYSE: T) AVP--Small Cell Solutions, has chaired the Small Cell Forum since September 2012. He recently spoke with FierceWirelessTech Editor Tammy Parker regarding the small cell market's momentum and product roadmap. Following is an edited and condensed version of that conversation.

FierceWirelessTech: There seems to be some disagreement among analysts regarding the current strength of the small cell market. A few, such as Infonetics, seem quite bullish, while Mobile Experts has said the market is taking a "coffee break." What are your thoughts about the market's current momentum?

Mansfield: It depends on the data source that they're looking at, which really dictates their view of how things are going. From all accounts, everything that we've seen shows steady progress is being made. There is not a… massive uptick that some are predicting but there is steady progress, steady increases in volumes of shipments.

In the Mobile Experts report specifically, I think that what they're looking at is potentially the silicon shipments. And so from an industry perspective we're entering an interesting point. You have a lot of the multi-standard system-on-a-chip silicon that is now commercially available and being built into commercial products that will hit the marketplace in the near future depending upon vendor. But they're all starting to hit the marketplace the latter part of this year and going into next year.

I think from the chipset perspective, it doesn't matter what technology--small cell or otherwise--as the industry is shifting from one version of silicon to the next, when there's the next greatest thing, there often is a dip, or a "coffee break" as you said Mobile Experts said, from the chipset perspective. And I think that's probably what they're seeing.

But as far as deployments are concerned and products that are shipping, we're not seeing a dip. We're not seeing a slowdown. We're seeing continued progress, but clearly with the new capabilities of multi-standards.

FierceWirelessTech: Since you brought up multi-standards small cells, I'd like to delve into that a bit. I know you have said previously that AT&T is very focused on multi-mode cells. What is the availability of those products at this point? Is what carriers want out there currently?

Mansfield: The products are entering carriers' labs now. Previously there were prototypes of multi-standards [devices] in labs, but currently commercial products are in the labs for multiple carriers. We're at that state where people are in final testing of those products and getting ready for market.

FierceWirelessTech: So, what part of the small cell market really is the hottest right now? Femtocells for the enterprise? Outdoor small cells?

Mansfield: What you see from a shipment perspective, clearly the home--the consumer products that have been available for years--those continue to rise quarter to quarter, year-over-year. Those shipments continue marching on.

I think in the indoor space--honestly, femtocells for enterprise or femtocells for business or small cells--to be honest with you, they all end up at this point becoming interchanged. Because when you start looking at LTE, the LTE architecture is a flat IP architecture in and of itself. The whole point behind UMTS femtocells was to flatten the architecture to make them IP-enabled. Well, LTE is IP-enabled from the start, even in a macro sense. So delineating femtocell vs. metrocell vs. picocell, they're all basically the same now, especially in the LTE sense.

Beyond the consumer femtocells in the home, [the enterprise and business] is where a lot of the market is growing right now. It's in-building.

From an outdoor perspective, clearly there's a lot of interest across the industry. There's lot of testing going on. There's a lot of trials going on, and I think you'll start to see those products take off a lot next year, especially in markets in different parts of the world, where LTE is already deployed and people are starting to get capacity triggers on their LTE networks. Small cells will start to be used in those hotspots of usage.

FierceWirelessTech: Does every small cell need to have Wi-Fi? I think you have said from AT&T's perspective that all of your small cells would eventually include Wi-Fi, if I recall correctly. Is that really a requirement for most operators?

Mansfield: That's a carrier decision. We do see a lot of the forum's members looking for an integrated Wi-Fi product. But it's not a requirement. Everybody has to make their own decisions based on exactly what they want to do within their network. We do believe the integration of Wi-Fi is important. A good number of our members are putting Wi-Fi in their specs. It has been well documented that AT&T is, and I see others.

But there are some who may be don't want to have Wi-Fi in their product. That's perfectly fine too.

AT&T's Mansfield: Outdoor LTE small cell market will ramp up next year

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