Small cells

Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

Small, compact base stations in the form of Femtocell, Picocell, and microcells will be key in the initial phases of next-generation mobile broadband deployments, says In-Stat . (See Who Does What: Femtocell Services.)

It’s still a maturing market, but operators are installing Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMax base stations in existing 3G locations because it’s a quick, easy, and cheap way to achieve broad coverage, says In-Stat analyst Allen Nogee. Most operators are expecting to launch commercial services this year or next. (See 2010: Year of the Femto and DoCoMo Seeks LTE Femto Suppliers.)

A new class of more compact base stations will enable the pico and micro base stations to be even smaller, cheaper, and more power efficient than ever, Nogee adds. While some of these devices have been around for years, such as the indoor pico and microcells, they’ll start to take on different roles in 4G.

Others, like enterprise femtocells and outdoor metropolitan picocells, are an entirely new class of base station. Companies like Freescale Semiconductor Inc. , Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), Percello Ltd. , Picochip , and DesignArt Networks have only begun developing semiconductors for these base stations within the last year, but they represent a viable alternative to such traditional silicon vendors as Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN). (See Challengers Shake Up LTE Chips , DesignArt Boosts 4G SoCs, picoChip Scores $20M, Ships 1M Chips , and Multicore Processors Target LTE .)

In-Stat is projecting that annual femtocell shipments will reach 31.8 million by 2014, and worldwide annual revenue will grow at 83.6 percent from 2009 to 2014. Carrier-installed metropolitan picocells will grow at 378 percent in the same period, while microcell base stations will only see a compound annual growth rate of 14.2 percent.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:30:34 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

Who's actually building LTE picocells right now though? Seems like they are at the nice dream stage for most carriers now.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:30:27 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says


So, anybody else see the conundrum here?


So, to make LTE work there needs to be lots and lots of cells (gee I wonder if Shannon and Nyquist would agree here - I bet they would).  So unless they can talk folks into femto/micro/pico/book em dano cells, carriers are going to have to deploy either lots and lots of infrastructure or do something like a wireless mesh backhaul.  

Now we all saw the wild success of WiFi wireless meshes.  They have just blossomed and basically they are ubiquitous - okay extra heavy sarcasm here.  Now, at the same time carriers are telling users - GET OFF MY NETWORK DANG YOU.  So, if you are a customer why do you want to deploy a bookemdanocell?

Are not the wireless carriers making the argument for the mesh WiFi guys (and just a reminder I work for an e-mail filter company so have no dog in this fight)?  



sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:30:27 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

I think it's going to be the smaller vendors and start-ups, not necessarily the big guys pioneering LTE picocells. There are protoypes from picoCell and AirWalk, but I haven't heard much from the carriers.

opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 4:30:26 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

Seven you don't have to have small cells as long as there are few people using each cell or nobody transfers much data, which of course makes it useless in cities.


I've mentioned my weird idea before. Package a picocell in every home modem. Use traffic management to set aside traffic for LTE traffic over and above the home data usage, so the picocell doesn't affect your modem use.

Then pay people for the use of their modem for picocell traffic--either the home user or anyone nearby. It is offloading the cell stations so it is saving them money, so give some of that savings back to the modem users.

Then you will  have people incentivized to place their modems where there are a lot of people. Is there an apartment complex near a convention center? You can bet everyone in those apartments is going to make sure their modem is near their window. The network builds itself wherever it is needed the most.

This is really the only use of femtocells that makes any sense to me. The way they are deploying them now makes no sense at all (UMA, or whatever they are calling it now days makes more sense if you can't get cell service in your home).

But no one ever listens to my crazy ideas, so it will remain a dream.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:30:26 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says



Something like that, its just striking to me that I've heard carriers and analysts say that smaller cells will be important to LTE, so where are they? People are testing and even deploying this stuff now.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:30:25 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says


I agree with your thoughts...of course now they are charging us to have a femtocell.  We are also told that WiFi is better for data than 3G or 4G.  So, I just think this has boondoggle written all over it.


Edit:  I forgot to add the same carrier that says WiFi is better says that we all have it AND is now offering free WiFi at Starbucks.  

Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 4:30:13 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

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Alcatel-Lucent is doing a field trial for LTE small cells with Telecom Italia.&nbsp;

NEC is also working on small cells for LTE.

I think operators' first focus is going to be on getting LTE macro networks deployed, then they'll turn attention to small cells.

The thing I question as well is backhaul for small cells/metro picocells -- how will operators do that for all those little cell sites?&nbsp;


anogee 12/5/2012 | 4:30:05 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

I'm the author of this report, so will chime in.&nbsp; Great comments, by the way.&nbsp;

When the report talks about small cells enabling LTE, I should point out that while the report does cover femtocells as well, I don't feel femtocells will play much of a role for quite some time.&nbsp; I also agree that macrocells will be used first.&nbsp; Afterall, operators have these macrocells already in place, have invested billions in them, so natually they need to make use of them for broad coverage.

But smaller picocells will be needed in high-usage areas soon after.&nbsp; Why haven't they been used sooner? A few have been for 3G, but really technical limitations have made them too large and expensive.&nbsp; One side-effect of all the development put into making low-cost femtocell chips is now companies are starting to make small, lower-cost, high-capacity operator-grade picocells just not possible a few years ago.

As mentioned backhaul will be a big issue in deploying these, but there is an answer there as well.&nbsp; Many of the new chips arriving can handle backhaul in addition to LTE or WiMAX. Most likely not mesh, but point to multipoint.&nbsp; What used to take an enclosure to contain can now can be placed on the top of a streetlight.&nbsp;

For a bit of a peek at what these will look at, look at some products from a company called Purewave.&nbsp; These are WiMAX now, but LTE devices like this will be appearing shortly.&nbsp;

Small startups vs. large infrastructure manufacturers?&nbsp; It seems like the smaller guys like Purewave have a headstart, but the large guys are watching this space very carefully.&nbsp; I'm not sure they like it because margins will be so much less than in the past, but they know it will happen, so they have to participate.&nbsp;

And watch this to happen in Asia before the US.

Victor25 12/5/2012 | 4:28:25 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

A very good report. Your analysis does highlight the crux of the matter for LTE deployers.

If carriers even want to dream of providing more bandwidth per user and more cheaper, they will have to adopt small cells in their network planning earlier than later.

One interesting company I saw in the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in Feb 2010 were showcasing a proto of LTE PicoCells. Very impressive. Name of the company was Anvaya Networks (I looked them up at www.anvayanetworks.com). Check then out.

For Tier-1 vendors, less margins might be a put off to do the smallcells themselves, but I guess Tier-1's will look to get some of these small vendors latch on to them pretty quickly.

my two cents worth....

kevkevkjkj 12/5/2012 | 4:22:18 PM
re: Small Cells Key to LTE, Analyst Says

Hi. I agree with your post.


I also agree re: your point to multi-point backhaul.


One solution for point to multi-point&nbsp; is a system with line of sight..but in a&nbsp; city you won't always have line of sight. If you do have line of sight then you'd need 2 radios (pico cell backhaul radios) for each link..that will be more expensive..

Who even makes a point to multi-point system that's non-line of sight?

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