Traditional mobile network operators (MNOs) will account for a much lower proportion of small cell rollouts by 2026. Why? Because other companies will exploit new business opportunities in the likes of private enterprise networks and neutral hosting.
This was one of the key findings in the latest annual "Market Status Report" from the Small Cell Forum (SCF), an industry body that's just as keen on validating uses cases as it is on providing technical guidance so long as it accelerates small-cell deployment.
The good news for small-cell suppliers is that SCF thinks newcomer activity will deliver pretty much incremental growth. The forum estimates over three-quarters of small cells deployed by non-traditional operators between 2020 and 2026 would not have been implemented at all had MNOs been the only small-cell players in town.
SCF forecasts that as many as 30% of the installed base of outdoor small cell networks are likely to be operated by new entrants to the cellular segment by 2026. That proportion shoots up to 71% at the end of the six-year forecast period when it comes to indoor enterprise systems.
The forum reckons the profile of small-cell newcomers will be varied, comprising "incomers" from the cloud, Wi-Fi, tower and enterprise/private network spaces, as well as innovative new players (such as neutral hosts, private network operators and enterprise or city specialists).
The Market Status Report leans heavily on a survey of 78 mobile operators worldwide and 26 other deployers, such as private network operators, neutral hosts and fixed-line operators.
From that survey, SCF senses that many MNOs will leave behind former concerns about sharing active infrastructure, preferring instead to view new deployments of small-cell networks as an opportunity to extend their own reach and services more cost-effectively.
CAGR rides COVID-19 storm
SCF's top-line global forecast for deployment and upgrade of small cells reveals a compound annual growth rate of 13% between 2019 and 2026, rising from a rate of 2.7 million in 2019 to 6.3 million by the end of the forecast period. That represents a cumulative total of 38.3 million small cells deployed.
The forum added that forecasts for 2020 and 2021 were adjusted for a "moderate scenario" of COVID-19 impact, and only expects "short-term disruption" to the supply chain, standards and financing. Estimates for the second and third quarters of this year, said SCF, were downgraded accordingly.
The forecast is apparently close to pre-pandemic estimates by the end of 2021.
— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading