The worldwide market for small cells enjoyed 44 percent year-over-year growth in 2015, according to IHS. But it's still tiny compared to the global 2G/3G radio access network (RAN) market.
The research firm estimated 14 million small cell units shipped last year, generating $1.2 billion in revenue. The global RAN market, meanwhile, rang up $22 billion in revenue.
Growth in small cells was driven primarily by deployments in rural and remote areas, IHS said, as well as "an uptick in enterprise small cell activity." The firm said Airvana, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, ip.access and SpiderCloud were among the top vendors last year.
The worldwide small cell market is expected to surpass $2 billion by 2019 if "service provider announcements and plans continue to materialize." IHS said that indoor small cell shipments are projected to surpass those of outdoor units by this year, but because outdoor small cells are significantly more expensive they will continue to generate more revenue.
"Outdoor small cells are more akin to the 'base station' form factor, while indoor units are transitioning to a form factor that is similar to a wireless local area network (LAN) access point in terms of size and power requirements," according to the firm. "The indoor small cell market, which comprises the indoor urban and enterprise sub-segments, is anticipated to move rapidly toward commoditization as volumes rise and service providers seek out plug-and-play form factors."
Asia Pacific was the leading geographic region for small cells, claiming 68 percent of the market last year, IHS said. But small cells are also gaining popularity in the U.S. as Verizon, Sprint and other carriers continue to densify their networks.
Small cell push by Verizon, Sprint and others draws FairPoint into dark fiber market for backhaul
Checking Verizon's math on small cells vs. spectrum
Sprint to focus on small cells and 2.5 GHz spectrum to prepare for 5G