Small cells

Who's Big in Small Cells?

The next big thing in wireless infrastructure is actually quite diminutive -- that is, the public access small cell.

Tiny base stations are all the rage right now because they could offer mobile operators a way to boost capacity for data services. And as a new generation of products has emerged to meet this need for better data capacity and user experience, Light Reading Mobile has compiled a list of these public access small cells to present an overview of this developing part of the wireless infrastructure market. (See LTE Small Cells to Surpass Big 4G Base Stations, It's a Small World After All ... and MWC 2012: Everything's Shrinking….)

The 32 base station products on our list are quite diverse -- with support for various wireless access technologies across a range of power output levels for many different use cases -- which suggests that this market is in an early phase of development. Indeed, Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown described the current state of small cell product market as being in a period of "invention and innovation."

"There's no settled view at the moment of what a small cell is or will look like," he said. "There are lots of varieties in types of products and approaches that people are proposing. That might settle down over time."

For the purposes of this report, we used the Small Cell Forum Ltd. 's definition of a small cell as a guide, which is as follows: "Small cells are low-power wireless access points that operate in licensed spectrum, are operator-managed and feature edge-based intelligence."

Also, since the focus of this report is on public access small cells, residential femtocells were excluded from the list, even though some can be configured for open access rather than use in a private home, such as the Ubiquisys Ltd. G3 femto. Certain enterprise femtocells have been included, but only when the vendor assured us that their products could be configured for open access, thereby meeting our public access criteria.

As with previous reports, we ask you to help us complete the picture. If there are products or companies that we missed, or if any information is inaccurate, please tell us on the message boards or send an email to [email protected]

A word about Wi-Fi
In this report, we did not include Wi-Fi-only access points, although several of the base station products on the list support Wi-Fi. It could be argued that any compilation of small cells is not complete without Wi-Fi access points. But this report focuses on small cells that operate in licensed spectrum, and Wi-Fi access points typically run on unlicensed spectrum.

However, Wi-Fi is no longer the black sheep of the wireless access market as mobile and cable operators show more interest in offering carrier-grade, service provider Wi-Fi services. The technology from the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), BelAir Networks Inc. and Ruckus Wireless Inc. already has been instrumental in the rapid growth of smartphone usage, from which mobile operators have greatly benefited. And when it comes to indoor hot spot access for wireless data, Wi-Fi has the head start over other small cells. (See Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions, More IPO Ruckus , Ruckus Guns for an IPO, Ericsson Adds Wi-Fi With BelAir Buy and Ericsson CTO Talks BelAir Buy.)

But many operators are trying to work out how to best harness Wi-Fi in order to provide a better service for their mobile data customers. (See Wi-Fi 'Wild West' Challenges Carriers, Mobile Ops Can Learn From Wi-Fi, Cisco Says , Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming, BT Tests Carrier Wi-Fi Roaming and Photos: Service Provider Wi-Fi.)

So which vendors are big in small cells? Click the next page to find out.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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