The nascent outdoor picocell market is projected to reach $8 billion in global revenues by 2016, according to new research from ABI Research.
ABI is referring to outdoor picocells that plug into utility poles lamp posts and rooftops that will serve as low-cost mechanisms for operators to offload data traffic and provide enhanced mobile broadband coverage.
"Mobile operators have already started to compete on mobile broadband speeds apart from coverage, and small cells will help them differentiate their services," said Aditya Kaul, ABI's practice director of mobile networks. "Operators are likely to start with identifying specific 'hot sites' in congested metro areas, and start using outdoor picocells to alleviate capacity demand. Outdoor small cells are just another tool operators can use in conjunction with macro network optimization, Wi-Fi offload, caching, media compression, and other techniques.
Metro areas aren't the only places where small cells are expected to appear. "Apart from outdoor small cells having a role in urban areas, they also have a role in rural and suburban areas where zoning restrictions prevent macro tower deployments," Kaul added.
The major challenge that operators are facing in deploying outdoor picocells has to do with backhaul. Operators must ensure that they can cost-effectively backhaul the volumes of traffic these small cells will carry. There are currently multiple solutions being considered, including fiber, copper, microwave, E-band, and >5GHz point-to-multipoint, all of which will play a role, Kaul said.
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