They're no bigger than a shoebox, they don't capture consumer interest, and they aren't widely deployed yet, but small cells are arguably the single most important network technology for mobile operators' 4G LTE strategies.
It's easy to see why, too. These mini-base stations can be deployed pretty much anywhere to bolster network density, increase data speeds, plug coverage holes in voice networks, and manage spectrum more efficiently -- plus they are inexpensive and not power hungry.
But it's still early days in small cells, and often the hype and promise in the market can mask the challenges, of which there are many. That's why we're releasing our first list of Small Cell Movers & Shakers today, found here under our Prime Reading features.
We wanted to call out a group of executives who are being vocal in the industry, helping to get multimode LTE small cells out of labs, getting real on the challenges, and giving the industry a reason to believe the hype.
What resulted was a list of six very different executives from across the globe. Some, like SpiderCloud Wireless 's Behrooz Parsay, SVP of engineering and operations, you may not have heard of because he spends most of his time in the labs, working on advancing the company's enterprise technology. But you've probably heard of, or from, SpiderCloud CMO Ronny Haraldsvik, who is vocal on his competitors' promises, realistic about the challenges, and wins points in our book for comparing small cells to Britney Spears. (See SpiderCloud's New Web: Dual-Mode 4G LTE.)
Other executives are on the list because we're anxious to see how they deliver. Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s head of networks Johan Wibergh, for example, wasn't bullish on 3G femtocells, but his promises for LTE small cells, not to mention the clout of a vendor like Ericsson, make him an interesting one to watch. Dr. Alan Law, Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s new technology manager, did have a strong track record in 3G small cells, so we're keeping a watchful eye on whether he can parlay that success into Vodafone's LTE network. (See NSN, Ericsson Butt Small Cells and Vodafone Ups 'Project Spring' Capex to $11B+.)
It wasn't an easy list to make, as there are a lot of strong candidates (hence the final page on "other people to keep an eye on..."). The market will only continue to get more exciting as operators deploy LTE small cells, some at the same time as they deploy their 4G networks and others after the fact to fill in the gaps. And, it'll likely continue to be in flux, too, attracting new startups, causing big vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) to make more serious plays, and seeing some operators moving more aggressively than their peers. (See Cisco: Multimode Small Cells Coming Early 2014.)
In the meantime, check out our list, and let us know what you think. Did we miss anyone? Would you argue anyone isn't worthy of the Movers & Shakers distinction? Feel free to weigh in on the message boards.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading