BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2015 -- With release five, focused on rural markets, the Small Cell Forum has completed its release program for small cell use cases and can now turn its attention to aligning small cells with technology trends such as LTE-Unlicensed, virtualization, 5G and the Internet of Things.
The Small Cell Forum Ltd. , led by CEO Sue Mohanan and Chairman Alan Law, who also serves as Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s distinguished engineer and technology manager, presented release five on Tuesday here in Barcelona. It calls for small cells in rural and remote areas, including offshore, in transportation, for industries like oil exploration and mining, for special events, the military or in disaster recovery use cases. (See Small Cell Movers & Shakers: Update and Top 6 Small Cells Movers & Shakers.
Law, who took over the chairman role from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Gordon Mansfield in October of last year, describes the rural environment as niche, but a culmination of niche use cases that together create a big opportunity for wireless operators. There are 17,000 small cells currently deployed in remote and rural environments, the Forum says, and Real Wireless forecasts that operators can reach an additional 600 million users worldwide, bringing in $163 billion in potential revenues. (See T-Mobile Plans Small Cells as Niche Play, Small Cell Forum Lays Down the Law and Meet the Small Cell Forum's New Chairman.)
The Forum started its release program in 2013, sharing case studies, best practices and technical white papers with its operator community about how and why to deploy small cells. The first four releases focused on residential, enterprise and urban environments. (See Small Cell Forum Tackles Urban, Virtualization.)
With its final use case released, the Forum is focused on strengthening its presence in regional markets, including Latin America, MENA and Asia, as well as finding its place amongst the technology trends dominating discussions here on the show floor, including virtualization, LTE-Unlicensed, 5G and the IoT. Virtualization is on the docket for release six and then it's up to the Forum's members to come up with what's next. Based on the buzz at the show, LTE-U is a likely candidate. (See T-Mobile Plans LTE-U With ALU, Qualcomm and Qualcomm Brings LTE-U to Small Cells .)
Law sees an opportunity for LTE-Unlicensed to occur in one integrated small cell that understands how to do both LTE and WiFi. As more vendors commit to adding WiFi to all or most of their small cells going forward, that is a real possibility, although he expects WiFi access points to outweigh small cells in some enterprises. And he doesn't expect all small cells to suddenly become LTE-U devices either. (See LTE Small Cells Set to Be Big in 2015 and AlcaLu, Qualcomm Prep Multimode Small Cells.)
"If you have one device that controls all your use of licensed and unlicensed spectrum, then there must be opportunities to optimize and benefit from that," Law told Light Reading after the Forum's press conference on release five. "There are options that have this tight coupling and others that don't."
5G is also on the Forum's roadmap. Even with a lack of consensus on what it will entail, Law says very high data rates, high frequencies and solid density will be on the menu, and small cells will still be well suited to provide them. "Is our work done? Certainly not," he says.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading