It's becoming clear that small cells (of the indoor variety) are poised to go mainstream not just because of the influx of announcements ahead of Mobile World Congress, but also because the focus is slowly starting to shift from coverage to what else can be done with the mini-basestations.
Take for example today's announcement from Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and ip.access Ltd. The pair are launching consumer-based presence services in Turkey, after a successful deployment of the vendor's presenceCell in the region. These services spring from knowing a user's precise location and include providing them with personalized attention in the store, targeting them with offers and promotions or even preventing fraud by confirming a customer's identity by their SIM card. (See Amdocs, ip.access Team for Indoor Small Cells.)
Vodafone's deployment comes a week after SpiderCloud Wireless announced similar capabilities via the addition of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to its small cells. It suggested more enterprise-focused apps as well, including tracking where an employee is in a large campus to know when they'll arrive at a meeting. (See SpiderCloud Evolves Its Small Cells.)
These types of services are only possible by knowing a user's precise location indoors. They can become a lot more targeted and personalized when small cells are providing coverage. A retailer with small cells installed can take in a constant stream of data on their customers that they can use to form better relationships with them (whether the customers want to or not). And, you can bet the wireless operator that's managing the small cells will be more than happy to package this information up for retailers and manage the relationship on their behalf.
It's taken awhile to get this point -- small cells always took a back seat to the macro network and then they were only considered as a way to plug coverage holes in enterprises, venues and other indoor locations. Now, deployments are happening at a steady clip and operators are exploring technologies like carrier aggregation and LTE-Unlicensed to increase capacity even further. (See T-Mobile Gets Small & Unlicensed With Nokia and Ericsson Preps LTE-U for Verizon, T-Mob & SK Telecom.)
You can bet that alongside these technology discussions at Mobile World Congress next week, there will be many more about what value-added services can be implemented -- and by whom -- now that small cells are undeniably a big deal. (See MWC: Let the Madness Begin.)
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading