2013 will be the debutante year for small cells using 4G LTE technology for faster data connections in homes, offices and public spaces.
So Light Reading Mobile is looking at five carriers going big with the tiny base stations next year:
AT&T: Ma Bell may be pushing to be the standard bearer for next-generation small cells in the U.S. in the next few years. AT&T Inc. said in November that it plans to deploy 40,000 small cells between now and 2015.
John Donovan, senior executive VP of AT&T technology and network operations, said that the operator will start initially deploying fast 3G high-speed packet access-plus (HSPA+) through 2013.
4G LTE small cells will follow in 2014. The trifecta will be completed after that, with tiny base stations that combine 4G and Wi-Fi.
NTT DoCoMo: The top Japanese carrier has always been a big dog in small cells. It says it has been deploying 3G femtocells for improved indoor coverage since 2007.
DoCoMo claimed in November that it is the first carrier to introduce a dual-mode 3G and 4G LTE small cell for even faster wireless indoors. DoCoMo plans to start deploying the new boxes this December and through 2013.
Sprint: Dan Hesse and company were early movers in 2G small cells to improve voice coverage in the home. Sprint told Light Reading Mobile in November that it has now passed 1 million CDMA small cells deployed.
Sprint VP of Network Development and Engineering Iyad Tarazi told us in May that the operator has three LTE "picocells" in the works and more on the way. The operator is planning to introduce indoor models next year and outdoor radios with improved interference management capabilities in late in 2013 or in 2014.
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Vodafone: The U.K. giant is planning to take 4G small cells outdoors in 2013. CTO Steve Pusey told us in November that the operator is testing 1,000 small cells in its network now and intends to start installing outdoor units in cities in the U.K. by March next year.
The operator has been waiting for tri-mode small cells to arrive before going public access. The Vodafone boxes will support 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi.
Telefonica O2: This operator also used London as a testing ground for small cells in 2012. It worked with Ruckus Wireless Inc. in Westminster to deploy Wi-Fi-enabled small cells and was said to achieve 1Gbit/s downloads in the Olympic Village this year with Alcatel-Lucent small cells. Telefonica SA has picked AlcaLu as its small cell supplier for deployments in Europe and South America in 2013.
â€” Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile