ABI: Indoor small cell market to grow to $1.8B thanks to LTE-LAA and Wi-Fi

The indoor small cell market is poised for growth, according to one research firm, mainly thanks to continued investments in technologies for unlicensed spectrum like LTE-LAA and Wi-Fi.

“With operators struggling to maintain cost-effective operations in the face of exponentially growing data demand, many are now turning to unlicensed spectrum technologies,” said ABI Research in a new release. The situation is such that ABI predicts that “the support for unlicensed spectrum technologies, including LTE-LAA and Wi-Fi, will be one of the main drivers for the indoor small cell market, resulting in overall revenue hitting $1.8 billion in 2021.”

The firm added that LTE-based and Wi-Fi unlicensed spectrum technologies within small cell equipment will grow to comprise 51 percent of total annual shipments by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate of 47 percent.

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“Unlicensed LTE had a rough start, meeting negative and skeptic reactions to its possible conflict with Wi-Fi operations in the 5 GHz bands,” explained Ahmed Ali, ABI’s senior analyst, in a release. “But the ongoing standardization and coexistence efforts increased the support in the technology ecosystem.”

ABI noted that “multiple access technologies” like LAA, LTE-U and Wi-Fi will in fact drive this market since differing enterprise requirements will generate demand.

“The dynamic and diverse nature of indoor venues calls for an all-inclusive small cell network that intelligently adapts to different user requirements,” Ali said. “Support for multi-operation features like 3G/4G and Wi-Fi/LAA access is necessary for the enterprise market.”

ABI’s findings are noteworthy considering the ongoing turmoil between the cellular industry and some Wi-Fi proponents. The cellular industry, headed by the likes of Qualcomm and Verizon, is pushing to deploy LTE signals in unlicensed spectrum, initially via LTE-U technology. However, Wi-Fi proponents like Comcast have voiced concerns that the technology will interfere with existing Wi-Fi users.

As a result, the Wi-Fi Alliance is working to develop a testing procedure to determine whether there is in fact interference.

Meanwhile, others in the industry are working to standardize similar technologies, including LAA, that would also transmit LTE signals into unlicensed spectrum. Industry observers have said these approaches may fair better in the long run as they employ the Listen-Before-Talk channel access mechanism that Wi-Fi already uses.

Whatever the technology, wireless carriers are hoping to use such technologies to provide faster LTE speeds by making use of unlicensed spectrum -- and according to ABI’s findings, they may well do so with newer small cells.

For more:
- see this ABI release

Related articles:
Evolve coalition blames Wi-Fi Alliance for buckling under cable lobby pressure
Wi-Fi Alliance on track to release LTE-U coexistence test plan by Sept. 21
Wi-Fi group claims ‘extraordinary compromise’ on LTE-U, but Qualcomm begs to differ

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