Small cells making big waves

Sue Marek
As users' demands for mobile data increase, many operators are looking at various small cell technologies as a solution to their capacity needs. Although solutions such as femtocells, distributed antenna systems and picocells have been around for a number of years, we are just now starting to see more wide-spread deployment.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), one of the early adopters of small cell technology, is getting traction with its femtocell product. The company started shipping an EV-DO based femtocell from Airvana in August 2010. At a media breakfast at last week's 4G World conference in Chicago, Iyad Tarazi, Sprint's vice president of network development and engineering, said that the company has deployed more than 500,000 femtocells and expects that to increase to more than 1 million by 2013. He added that the company will deploy LTE picocells beginning in 2012.

Sprint, like many operators, realizes that these low-power small cells can fill coverage gaps that aren't served by traditional cell sites and offer significant cost savings. Most small cells can be deployed for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars compared with a typical macro cell site that might cost an operator between $200,000 to $300,000 per site.

Analysts are bullish on the potential for small cells. Market research firm In-Stat predicts that femto-, pico- and microcells will grow from a $2 billion global market today to a $14 billion market by 2015.

Likewise, Infonetics Research is predicting lots of traction for femtocells in the next few years with 2G, 3G and 4G femtocells becoming a $2.98 billion market by 2015.

In this ebook, "Integrating Small Cells into Wireless Networks," FierceWireless took an in-depth look at the business case behind these small cell solutions and delved into how operators are using these technologies to more accurately plan their network and manage their traffic. Check out the ebook here. --Sue