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February 26, 2014

Failure to Launch: Challenges Hold Back Small Cell Tech

A recent survey by Infonetics paints a somewhat disappointing picture of a small cell market that fell short of initial predictions in 2013. A variety of challenges stood in the way of the technology living up to its full potential. As a result, the research firm’s most recent forecasts about small cell deployment are lower than previous predictions.

The expense of small cell installations is a major factor. Survey respondents felt that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a small cell deployment is two and a half times what they thought it would be at the end of 2012. Regulations, a lack of power and cabling, future technological requirements and inconsistent support for backhaul were other reasons small cells were held back in 2013.

While these challenges have stood in the way of small cell deployment reaching the levels that the industry had hoped, the situation is far from hopeless. There has to be a way to connect the small networks to the large ones and small cell plays an important role in backhaul.

A good analogy is a major highway. Interstate Highway 10, for example, handles a lot of vehicle traffic between Los Angeles and Phoenix and is like a large scale network.

Without lower capacity streets however, there would not be a way for traffic to get from the interstate in Phoenix to suburbs like Scottsdale or vice-versa. This is a lot like the role small cells play moving traffic between small and large networks.

Companies like Silicon Image see these small cell challenges as a temporary setback and opportunity for solutions. It recently introduced two 60 GHz transceivers it had developed to provide backhaul to major urban areas and reduce problems like dropped calls, bad video and slow Internet performance. Silicon Image claims these devices will reduce TCO and power consumption, issues cited in the Infonetics survey.

Although small cell deployments did not reach the level that the industry had hoped, it’s still an important part of network infrastructure. Even revised figures from Infonetics expect that operators will still spend $3.6 billion on small cell equipment through 2017.

Many predictions worry about the ability of infrastructure providers to meet a tsunami of demand for data in the next five years. Whatever struggles there are with small cell, the industry will have to power through them and keep moving forward. 

Edited by Alisen Downey

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