Small Cells Throw Up Big Challenges for Operators
As Light Reading Mobile's recent report, there is a diverse range of public access small cell products designed for use in various places, including indoor venues, outdoor urban hot spots, or rural areas. (See Who's Big in Small Cells?)
But product availability is one thing, deploying it is another matter.
Among the issues operators face in their strategies for rolling out public access small cells, the most challenging are site acquisition, installation and a lack of network planning software tools, according to Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown.
To do a large-scale small-cell network well, it's imperative that operators place the base stations in the right locations -- that is, where data traffic is heaviest and their network needs a capacity boost.
"Location is critical," said Brown. "Site acquisition and installation -- just getting access and at the right price -- are the biggest challenges."
And after an operator has secured sites -- such as popular indoor venues, the sides of buildings or lampposts on the street -- then their next hurdle is installing power supplies and backhaul links to support the tiny base stations. (See Major Carrier: Small-Cell Backhaul Must Be Cheap and The Small-Cell Backhaul Buzz.)
This is where the variety in types of small cell products listed in Light Reading Mobile's report could be important. Because operators have many different uses in mind for small cells, a range of products has emerged to meet those requirements along with the associated deployment challenges. (See BelAir Small Cell Packs Backhaul Punch and Small-Cell Startup Goes Big On Backhaul .)
"Good product design will alleviate some of the challenges with installation and deployment," said Brown.
But operators also need software tools for network planning and management that can provide analysis that's granular enough for small cells.
"There's a gap in the market there," said Brown. "Operators do not feel they've got the tools they need to plan, design and run small cell networks."
The big wireless equipment vendors – such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Nokia Networks – are having to extend their macro cellular network planning tools to support small cells, according to Brown. And there is also room in the market for specialist firms like Arieso Ltd. , he noted.
"It's not known who's going to fill the need," said Brown.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile