Small Cell Forum gears for big year of densification

The Small Cell Forum will provide an update on the state of the industry when it meets in Dallas this week, illustrating how the industry is maturing in the residential and SOHO arenas -- with more than 11 million cells deployed and live in that sector.


The enterprise space is just taking off, and the industry is facing a period of sustained growth, as much as tenfold over the next five years, according to Alan Law, chairman of the Small Cell Forum. "Next year will see the densification story really accelerate -- moving from a situation where high density deployments were very much the minority last year, to representing half of the market next year," he told FierceWirelessTech.

The Small Cell Forum will present what it calls a "Crossing the Chasm" report, what Law described as something of a roadmap that sets the direction of travel. Law told FierceWirelessTech that operators are no longer asking why they should roll out small cells but rather how to do it in the most efficient manner.

In terms of maturity, the leading markets are Asia and the U.S., mainly due to the wide-scale deployment of LTE. Europe, where the transition to LTE has been slower, is slower to deploy small cells, as is Latin America. While there's still a bit of a race between Asia and U.S., Asia is probably slightly ahead in the sense the population density is much higher and their capacity needs are much stronger, he said.

Small cells are expected to play a big role in 5G, driven by a number of factors. At a 3GPP 5G workshop in September, the forum outlined the issues, options and requirements on which its members are working to smooth the path to 5G. The Small Cell Forum has identified six key work areas, one of which is 5G.

The discussion around 5G often points to very low latency rates and high performance, and small cells are uniquely qualified as they are by definition closer to the end user. "When you start looking at the other extremely low latencies for certain types of services and in order to achieve that, you have to push mobility to the edge and…small cells provide a good opportunity to host some of those applications," he said.

The best way to achieve high throughputs and low latencies is with small cells, he added. Some people talk about massive MIMO techniques, and "that does give you some performance gains, but when you look at the capacity gains that you really, really need, the only way to achieve those high gain numbers is with small cells," he said.

People also talk about achieving 1,000x more data capacity. "I haven't seen anyone mention that you can achieve 1,000x with massive MIMO, but you can do that with small cell," he said.

Law, who also serves as manager of new technologies and innovation at Vodafone Group, remained bullish on virtualization as well. "We are strong believers in the merits of virtualization, something we have shared during our Release 5.1. We continue to drive the industry developments forward with our nFAPI definitions, and are looking to pioneer understanding in the area through our Virtualization champions activities," he said. "We recognize that it is going to be an enormously important technology for the mobile operator community and we aim to be at the forefront of the process -- it will be a vital part of the densification story."

The forum's North American Plenary, which takes place this week in Dallas alongside the exhibition, is the last meeting before Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona next year. The meetings and workshops in Dallas will determine the next phase of the Small Cell Forum's Release program.

For more:
- see this blog
- see this release

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