& cplSiteName &

Urban Jungle Is Still Too Wild for Small Cells

Michelle Donegan
News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

LONDON -- Small Cells World Summit 2014 -- As the Small Cell Forum's new urban rollout guidelines were still steaming off the press on Tuesday, five European operator CTOs started the small cell industry's annual gathering by sounding off on the challenges that hold back public access deployments. (See Small Cell Forum Tackles Urban, Virtualization.)

"The ecosystem is complex -- from local councils, to street furniture owners, to transmission vendors, and the small cell vendors," said Bryn Jones, CTO at UK operator 3 . "Trying to get all those suppliers to create one solution that's cheap and simple to operate in a cost-effective way is a challenge. The operational part is absolutely key."

Jones called on the industry to step up and work with other stakeholders to improve the situation. "Everyone in this room needs to work together on how we get that end-to-end operational experience," he said.

Small Cells, Big Cheeses
From left to right: Dave Salam, director for network strategy and core network infrastructure; Adrian di Meo, CTO of Telefonica UK; Frode Stoldal, CTO of Telenor; Manuel Rosa da Silva, CTIO of Portugal Telecom; Bryn Jones, CTO of 3 UK.
From left to right: Dave Salam, director for network strategy and core network infrastructure; Adrian di Meo, CTO of Telefonica UK; Frode Stoldal, CTO of Telenor; Manuel Rosa da Silva, CTIO of Portugal Telecom; Bryn Jones, CTO of 3 UK.

3 UK has rolled out more than 100,000 residential femtocells and is currently working on enterprise femtocells. Once the operator has rolled out its LTE network, Jones said 4G small cells could be used to fill in capacity and add coverage. But the big challenge with LTE small cells is getting enough backhaul capacity to each site. "How to get 60 Mbit/s to 100 Mbit/s cost-effectively to each small cell is the challenge."

Dave Salam, director for network strategy and core network infrastructure at the UK's largest mobile operator, EE , said that small cells were the right solution to provide capacity in dense urban areas in the operator's 4G network. The operator already uses LTE femtocells in some of its retail stores to demonstrate the 4G experience.

But, like 3 UK's Jones, he warned that "the fragmentation of the ecosystem, especially in the outdoor case, is working against it and will make it very difficult. The cooperation needed to come through that isn't there yet."

Telefónica UK Ltd. CTO Adrian Di Meo was more concerned about the cost of renting sites in an outdoor environment, and noted that form factors are being addressed but still need work. "The size and weight of the technology is getting there," he said.

For Norwegian operator Telenor ASA (Nasdaq: TELN), the problem with small cells is not so much the operational issues, but the business case itself: "If there's money in small cells, we'll invest, but if there's not, we won't invest," said Frode Støldal, the operator's CTO.

Portugal Telecom SGPS SA (NYSE: PT) CTIO Manuel Rosa da Silva added to the financial debate, noting that that the fundamental challenges go deeper than just outdoor deployment issues. "Anything that's HetNet naturally means cost," he said.

Ideally, da Silva wants the small cell business model to be more like the WiFi model, whereby the customer pays for the equipment. "With our managed WiFi and revenue model, we have indoor coverage. It works and our customers finance that," he said. "Monetizing data is very difficult. Our 4G network is running at 20% capacity. Until we see a model that is close to managed WiFi, then we won't get there."

The concerns raised by these European operators won't necessarily be fatal for the outdoor, urban small cell business case. According to Gordon Mansfield, Small Cell Forum chairman and AVP of small cell solutions at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), public access LTE small cell trials are well underway at several operators in more advanced LTE markets, namely Japan, South Korea and the US. While Mansfield did not reveal any details about specific trials, he said that AT&T was one of those operators.

But the candid comments from the CTOs echo the Small Cell Forum's own findings about the drivers and barriers for urban small cell deployments. The biggest drivers, according to a Maravedis-Rethink survey of 40 operators commissioned by the Forum, are: improving overall capacity; generating revenue from new applications; filling in capacity holes; reducing the cost of delivering data; and improving coverage.

On the flipside, operators surveyed said the biggest barriers were: backhaul availability and cost; securing optimal sites; monetization; and network provisioning and management.

With such challenges remaining, it seems that small cells aren't quite ready to survive and thrive on a mass scale in the urban jungle.

The challenges of small cell deployments will be analyzed during a panel session at the Big Telecom Event (BTE) on Tuesday June 17. See the BTE agenda for more details.

And for all the latest on the key small cell sector developments, check out Light Reading's Small Cells content track.

— Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

(6)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
6/11/2014 | 8:16:48 PM
UK more conducive
My impression of the UK is that the populated parts are densely populated indeed, making small cell deployments more practical from a physical standpoint. Is that correct?
AJ Allred
AJ Allred,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/11/2014 | 5:08:35 PM
City fathers owe something
Using the term 'urban jungle' helps point out how regulations at the municipal level seem to be viewed as unavoidable bumps in the road.  We look for technology work-arounds instead, as if city fathers were another form of hopeless rain fade.    

We need a set of arguments that push urban leaders to view commercial wireless as a vital community insfrastructure, like water, streets, and sewer.  We should not accept that wireless furniture gets regulated by how it looks, instead of how it works.  
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/11/2014 | 2:33:14 PM
Re: Biggest challenge in monetization
It was easy for carrier's to stand on a high horse when it was all theory, but as they face the reality of complex and the diverse multitude of deployment scenarios in the coming years, they'll need to embrance previously avoided models such as network sharing and SC's as a Service among others.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
6/11/2014 | 2:19:28 PM
Re: Biggest challenge in monetization

You present an interesting and very reasonable scenario.

I totally agree that there needs to be more creativity brought to this process. I also think that's why anyone planning to deploy small cells needs to be looking at all the options. Earlier this week, AT&T said it's even looking at the cable industry's small cell as a service options, something it wasn't so high on in the past. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/11/2014 | 1:56:22 PM
Re: Biggest challenge in monetization
I agree Carol, but financing is only one part of the monetization play. Carrier's need to think beyond their current business models for ways to monetize and ease operational issues.

I'll provide an example in retail but this applies to any sector if modified.

When a carrier approaches a retailer or facility owner and pitches them on a coverage solution such as DAS or small cells, a carrier ends up with a big chunk of the cost depending on the facility and teh agreement. If however the carrier provided the facility with analytics or interactive abilities with the clients derived fro the deployment, a retailer/facility would be more than happy to take on additional parts of the deployment and/or maintenance burden.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
6/11/2014 | 10:29:04 AM
Biggest challenge in monetization
I think the two gentlemen who discussed financing all this small cell stuff hit the nail on the head. Using small cells for coverage makes a ton of sense but if you can't monetize it -- or get the customers to pay for it, as with WiFi -- then the cost of the build-out and operation of those small cells looms large as a major problem. 

If there's money to be made there, the other issues can be resolved. 
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
Light Reading’s Upskill U is a FREE, interactive, online educational resource that delivers must-have education on themes that relate to the overall business transformation taking place in the communications industry.
Wednesday, October 26, 1:00PM EDT
Security: Tackling DDoS
Gary Sockrider, Principal Security Technologist, Arbor Networks
Friday, October 28, 1:00PM EDT
Security: The Plusses and Minuses of Open Source Software
Nick Feamster, Acting Director, Center for Information Technology Policy, Princeton University
Wednesday, November 16, 1:00PM EST
SDN 101
John Isch, Practice Director, Network & Voice, Orange Business Services
Friday, November 18, 1:00PM EST
SDN & Open Source
Christopher W. Rice, Senior Vice President of AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design
in association with:
From The Founder
Light Reading today starts a new voyage as part of a larger Enterprise.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Custom TV
Next-Generation Technology Beyond DOCSIS 3.1

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Liu Jianhua speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Hybrid Video Solutions to Change TV, Change Future

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Ian Locke speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei Future-Oriented Giga Coax Network

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Allen Wang speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei at SCTE 2016

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

Join Alan Breznick of Light Reading and take a sneak peek at the Huawei booth at SCTE 2016.
LRTV Custom TV
Assuring Network Quality in a Rapidly Changing Environment

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

As the rate of change and complexity increases in agile networks, the importance of introducing DevOps methodologies for integrating active test and assurance solutions throughout the full service lifecycle becomes critical to ensure that customers are experiencing the service quality they demand. The industry landscape is changing, and software-based test and ...
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
A10 Networks on Service Providers' Industry Needs

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

Light Reading's Steve Saunders hears how A10 enables service providers to accelerate, secure and optimize their application delivery to drive down costs, enhance service availability, and better respond to customer requirements, so they can improve customer satisfaction, monetize their network, and grow revenues.
LRTV Custom TV
New NFV Use Cases for Cable TV

10|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

A large number of NFV use cases are focused on the enterprise domain, looking at virtualization of customer-premises equipment (CPE). To date, there has been little focus on the use cases and business case for virtualization of the video content delivery networks required to deliver unicast and streaming video to consumers. Amdocs commissioned Analysys Mason to ...
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Meet the Future Workforce: New Faces, Expectations & Motivations

10|19|16   |   5:33   |   (1) comment

Millennials and their younger peers, Gen Z, expect more out of their network and more out of their work. Intel's Lynn Comp shares how the industry can prepare for this new generation of workers.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE Global Services User Congress 2016 Highlights

10|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

ZTE held its 2nd Global Service User Conference in Dusseldorf on October 13-14. Representatives from network operators, leading industry analysts and ZTE senior expertsattended the event, exploring the best practice in managed services and the vision to transform network operations into the operations center of the future (OpCF) in the software-defined networking ...
LRTV Custom TV
Cliff Grossner on Cloud & Network Synergy From Carrier Service

10|18|16   |     |   (0) comments

Local carriers offer the collaborated cloud and network service that benefits from their understanding of the regulations operating in different vertical markets.
In this interview, Cliff Grossner from IHS Technology talks about how this advanced service can support business agility and flexibility.
LRTV Custom TV
VeEX: Live from SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016

10|17|16   |     |   (0) comments

Cyrille Morelle, VeEX's President and CEO, talks with Light Reading's Alan Breznick live from the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016. They discuss DOCSIS 3.1 technology, deployments and early lessons learned. New products on display include the CX350s-D3.1, CX380s-D3.1, CX310, AT2500-3G, FX150 OTDR and MTT WiFI Air Expert.
LRTV Custom TV
Smith Micro's Carrier-Grade WiFi Component

10|17|16   |     |   (0) comments

Join Carol Wilson of Light Reading as she interviews the CTO of Smith Micro, Dave Sperling.
Upcoming Live Events
November 3, 2016, The Montcalm Marble Arch, London
November 30, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 1, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York, NY
December 6-8, 2016, The Westin Excelsior, Rome
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Hot Topics
Attacks Have Major Internet Sites on the Ropes
Brian Santo, Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading, 10/21/2016
Verizon Wants More Data on Yahoo Breach
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 10/20/2016
Layer3 TV Comes to Town, Hints at Future
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 10/21/2016
Telecom Italia Plots Digital 'Overlay,' Not Transformation
Iain Morris, News Editor, 10/17/2016
Oh Snap! Qualcomm Unveils X50, Its First 5G Modem
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 10/17/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Join us for an in-depth interview between Steve Saunders of Light Reading and Alexis Black Bjorlin of Intel as they discuss the release of the company's Silicon Photonics platform, its performance, long-term prospects, customer expectations and much more.
There's no question that, come 2020, 5G technology will turn the world's conception of what mobile networking is on its head. Within the world of 5G development, Dr. ...
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

A vital part of increasing the number of women in comms is transforming the ways companies can support and empower women. While progressive company policies that support both men and women in achieving work-life balance are a step in the right direction, creating a company culture that supports those policies can at times be more challenging.

During this show, we'll talk to Lynn Comp, Senior Director of Industry and Sales Enabling (ISE) in the Network Platforms Group at Intel, about why those challenges exist and how companies can overcome them. She'll provide insight into how Intel has worked to create a culture that supports work-life balance, and provide steps and guidance for other companies wishing to do the same. We will also leave plenty of time to get your questions answered live on the air.