Outdoor small cells may be the answer to many mobile carriers' operational prayers as they seek to enhance capacity and coverage, but questions about the devices' return on investment threaten to slow progress, according to a fresh study from Infonetics Research.
A vast majority, 86 percent, of operators surveyed by Infonetics expect to backhaul small cell traffic to nearby macrocell sites via a variety of locations, including buildings, streetlights and traffic and utility poles. By 2016, those surveyed expect in-building and outdoor small cells (microcells, picocells and public access femtocells) to handle around one-fourth of all mobile traffic.
Despite such rosy projections, there are hurdles, particularly for outdoor deployments.
"Outdoor small cell gear isn't small enough or cheap enough yet, and there are problems backhauling in dense urban areas, not to mention municipal regulations regarding the look, size and color of the equipment and who can mount equipment on streetlights, utility poles and building sides. Even if they managed to solve all these issues, they're still going to have to pass the fiscal test. Outdoor small cells won't fly without a viable business model," said Michael Howard, Infonetics co-founder and principal analyst for carrier networks.
Source: Infonetics Research
Infonetics came to its conclusions based on interviews with purchase decision-makers at 22 independent wireless, incumbent, competitive and cable operators from the EMEA region, North America and Asia-Pacific regarding their plans for small cell and macrocell backhaul.
A majority of the survey respondents said they expect the five-year total cost of ownership (TCO) of a small cell deployment to be within 10 percent that of a typical macrocell deployment.
Respondents also reported that their preferred backhaul technology is fiber when it is available and cost effective. However, it appears the various forms of microwave-non-line-of-sight (NLOS), standard microwave and millimeter wave-will be deployed most often, said Infonetics.
- see this Infonetics release
FCC: 3.5 GHz will become the small cell band
Updated: Infonetics: Small cell backhaul equipment will be a $5B cumulative market by 2016
Analyst: 98% of operators say small cells are essential for the future
Report: Small cell shipments to hit 5M annually by 2017
Report: Industry ignoring complexity of small cell deployments