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March 12, 2014

Multiple System Operators (MSOs) have Business Opportunity with Small Cells

It is no secret that the deployment and management of small cells has created significant challenges for mobile operators. From general network configuration and local zoning siting issues to negotiations with site holders to managing what will be an explosion of new network devices, this is complex. Solving all of this has become an industry priority as small cells have gone in just the past few years from a nicety to necessity as data traffic explodes and the need to both offload traffic and create revenue generating services takes center stage. 

It should also be noted that while small cell deployment is critical to the future of mobile network operators, capturing the value in that traffic is something that has captured the imagination of cable and satellite providers (aka multiple system operators, or MSOs) to create new revenue streams through partnering with mobile network operators (MNOs) in the rollout of small cells and Wi-Fi networks.

This is highlighted by new research sponsored by BSS, OSS, network control products and managed services operations provider Amdocs that has been released at Cable Congress 2014, in Amsterdam. 

MSO and MNOs can leverage small cell deployments

The survey, Small cell deployment – is this an opportunity for MSOs?”, conducted in January 2014 by Real Wireless includes 40 national and large regional MNOs, MSOs and converged wireless/wireline operators from North America, Europe and APAC.

The chart below shows just how engaged the community is in getting things deployed.

Source: Small cell deployment – is this an opportunity for MSOs

Key findings include:

  • Small cell rollouts are being delayed: while 70 percent of MNOs surveyed plan to have significant small cell deployments by 2018, the majority predict slow rollout
  • MSOs have the necessary skills and experience for small cell deployment: challenges identified by MNOs in small cell rollouts include project management (65 percent), negotiation with partners (45 percent) and technical aspects (40 percent) – challenges that MSOs are well placed to overcome through their expertise in the installation and maintenance of dense networks in the field
  • MNOs willing to partner: to succeed, 70 percent of MNOs are prepared to use small cell networks rolled out by or owned by a third-party, such as an MSO
  • MSOs need to recognize and capitalize on their small cell expertise: 85 percent of MSOs believe that technical aspects of small cell rollout are different from their normal deployments and as a result only 40 percent of MSOs have plans to support small cell deployments this year. This is surprising given that 70 percent have either already launched or plan to launch public Wi-Fi, which has very similar requirements to small cells in terms of backhaul, power and installation
  • Automation tools will be critical: 85 percent of respondents believe that automation is critical or important for small cell deployment; however 80 percent believe their existing processes and tools are inadequate

“With mobile data traffic predicted to increase 11-fold from 2013-20181 small cells represent a critical element of an MNO’s strategy to expand mobile network capacity and improve the overall user experience, yet rollout challenges are causing small cell deployment delay,” said Charles Chambers, managing consultant with Real Wireless. “The research has identified that there is a clear business case for MSOs to partner with MNOs. MSOs have valuable skills and experience that can be applied to small cell deployments and MNOs are looking for these skills. However, for small cell rollout to be successful it’s widely recognized that appropriate workflow and planning tools are required.”

“Automation tools such as the Amdocs Small Cell solution address the technical challenges cited by service providers and reduce network design and deployment time and costs,” said Rebecca Prudhomme, vice president of product and solutions marketing for Amdocs. “While this research indicates that there are many reasons why MSOs should partner with mobile service providers to provide backhaul, automated small cell rollout is also important for MSOs as they expand their Wi-Fi footprint and upgrade their Wi-Fi networks.”

The topic was a very hot one to say the least at the recently concluded Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. There I had the opportunity to not just speak with a series of suppliers offering exciting new tools and technology to make small cell installation fast, easy with enhanced performance and manageability, but also validated many of the findings of the survey on the desire of MSOs to rely on various resources of third-parties and their willing to cooperate even if they compete.

As importantly, this was a case where seeing and testing was believing. Not only are there some terrific new form factors available for installation of small cells that pack a significant performance and bandwidth punch, but I was able to actually see how easy it was to install one of the small cells correctly, how little time it takes, how they can be centrally monitored and managed.

Yes, there is little doubt that there are significant challenges in rolling out small cells efficiently and effectively. There are certainly the siting issues above along with power and backhaul concerns (covered in the research and where there are also very important new capabilities on the market or on the way), but with challenges come opportunities. The good news is that help is available and the impediments to enabling small cells to meet current and future requirements are in a word quickly becoming “manageable.” Indeed, just how far and fast we can go is very likely to be reflected in small cell deployment numbers in the next few years. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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