& cplSiteName &

VoLTE Can Drive 4G Small Cells Adoption

Ravi Narayanan
8/18/2016

Small cells are well past their hype cycle now, and with VoLTE being rolled out at scale, the role they will play over the next three years or so is becoming increasingly clear. We've constantly heard about spectrum bottlenecks, indoor penetration challenges and of course data-hungry subscribers as the main drivers for small cells, but mobile carriers have nevertheless continued to grow their macro cell networks in response. AT&T, for example, cited its Leap Wireless acquisition as a reason for pulling back from its small cells rollout targets.

VoLTE looks set to be the game-changer for small cell adoption. Mobile carriers have started to roll out VoLTE in increasing numbers, currently with more than 78 global deployments, according to the GMSA. At the same time, operators are also signaling a strong intent to turn off their older 2G and 3G networks. In the US, for example, both Verizon and AT&T have plans to turn off their 2G networks (in 2019 and 2017, respectively), and we've been hearing similar plans from carriers across in Europe and Asia, as well. This 2G/3G "turn off" strategy is just a logical step, in order to leverage the best that 4G has to offer in voice, avoid having to operate multiple mobile network standards in parallel, and go ahead with spectrum refarming.

However, if the carriers are to go ahead with turning off 2G or 3G, it is essential that VoLTE achieves at least voice call performance parity with 2G and 3G networks in terms of basic quality and coverage. This means that densification of the current 4G network becomes necessary to achieve this performance parity demand, and small cells offer a promising way to achieve that.

While most mobile carriers recognize the need for 4G densification, challenges remain regarding the practical deployment challenges. With data in many countries pointing to around 80% of both voice and data calls being generated indoors, it should be clear that indoor 4G densification is the way to start.

Further, indoor small cells deployments are relatively less complex compared to their outdoor counterparts, which have constantly been challenged for power and backhaul. But indoor small cells also have their own challenges, from demand for aesthetically appealing hardware to complaints that deployments are too intrusive at private venues.

Mobile carriers have often struggled to sell their own indoor deployment plans for small cells to venue and large enterprise owners. What's happened over the last couple of years, however, is that the vendor community has started taking a more proactive role. Many vendors are now looking to sell their solutions directly to the venue and enterprise owners, leveraging existing relationships with these businesses. We've seen Ericsson team up with HP with the intent to sell through HP's enterprise channels. Similarly, Cisco is able to do the same, leveraging its large WLAN enterprise footprint as a platform for selling small cells. We see evidence that venue and large enterprise owners are starting to recognize that capacity and coverage of mobile services at their venues can be a critical differentiator for them. Many are becoming more receptive to these types of partnership models.

In contrast to indoor deployments, the business case for outdoor small cells remains very challenging. Availability of power and backhaul at the desired locations are among the key factors that continue to break the business case for outdoor small cells. More fundamentally, many operators have not yet run out of road when it comes to further densification of their macro and micro cells.

In urban districts, we're already seeing macro cells at very short inter-site spacing of just a few hundred meters, so in many cases there is no pressing case for further densification.

Clearly, in the foreseeable future, VoLTE is expected to fuel small cell growth, which is bound to accelerate as 5G arrives.

— Ravi Narayanan, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

(7)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
jaochan
jaochan
8/23/2016 | 2:41:55 AM
Re: Challenges in delivering Microsoft different from voice in 2G/3G?
Also, corporate firewalls often block WiFi Calling.

 
Ravi Narayanan
Ravi Narayanan
8/22/2016 | 3:35:29 PM
Re: Challenges in delivering VoLTE different from voice in 2G/3G?
The point is straight forward - delivery of quality voice service still matters to the subscribers, even in the current data hungry era. Now, imagine a perfectly optimized voice centric network (2G or maybe 3G) getting turned off, what are the options to deliver quality voice then...? Packing more 4G macrocells ? or maybe consider 4G small cells instead at traffic centers ? Whatever the approach, the deficiency here, is actually the lack of strong 4G footprint...
adisaraf
adisaraf
8/22/2016 | 8:04:37 AM
Challenges in delivering VoLTE different from voice in 2G/3G?
Ravi, do you see any deficiency in the way VoLTE works because of which small cells have a stronger case? I am trying to understand as to why did small cells not pick-up for 2G/3G. Do these legacy technologies provide better voice delivery services compared to LTE because of which there is stronger case for small cells deployment for LTE compared to 2G/3G?
sarcher60555
sarcher60555
8/19/2016 | 6:57:55 PM
Re: What about VoWifi
Enjoying T-Mobile VoWiFi Solution as alternative to our Femto/Pico Cells in the office for improved voice calls on the network.  
Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown
8/19/2016 | 11:33:11 AM
Re: What about VoWifi
Also, corporate firewalls often block WiFi Calling.
Ravi Narayanan
Ravi Narayanan
8/18/2016 | 10:30:34 PM
Re: What about VoWifi
VoWiFi will definitely figure in this equation, specifically, we can expect in residential, SOHO type environment. But let's not forget WiFi is unregulated spectrum, so it can't be across the board solution...
Infostack
Infostack
8/18/2016 | 8:31:04 PM
What about VoWifi
Ravi,

What about VoWifi?  Won't improving that provide greater coverage?
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Disruptive Indian operator is embracing open source as it evolves its back office strategy.
Heavy Reading recently managed a request for information (RFI) process for a network operator – here's what happened...
The term 'telco cloud' is used often, but it can mean different things to different people.
In a half-day conference at IBC in Amsterdam next week, Intel and partners will show off the visual cloud and demonstrate how it can deliver rich, immersive, interactive video experiences and graphics-based workloads.
Edge computing brings high-performance storage, compute and network resources closer to users and devices than ever before.
Featured Video
Upcoming Live Events
October 1-2, 2019, New Orleans, Louisiana
October 10, 2019, New York, New York
October 22, 2019, Los Angeles, CA
November 5, 2019, London, England
November 7, 2019, London, UK
November 14, 2019, Maritim Hotel, Berlin
December 3, 2019, New York, New York
December 3-5, 2019, Vienna, Austria
March 16-18, 2020, Embassy Suites, Denver, Colorado
May 18-20, 2020, Irving Convention Center, Dallas, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Partner Perspectives - content from our sponsors
Edge Computing, the Next Great IT Revolution
By Rajesh Gadiyar, Vice President & CTO, Network & Custom Logic Group, Intel Corp
Innovations in Home Media Terminals for the Upcoming 5G Era
By Tang Wei, Vice President, ZTE Corporation
All Partner Perspectives