European carriers expected to deploy 412,000 non-residential small cells this year

Europe accounted for 13.7% of all non-residential small cell deployments last year, according to the latest report by the Small Cell Forum. Last year, carriers in the region deployed 208,000 small cells. In total, 1.52 million non-residential small cells were deployed in 2017 globally.

For this year, the Small Cell Forum forecasts that a total of 412,000 small cells will be deployed across European countries, which will represent 14.7% of global small cell deployments this year.

“This region will still suffer from fragmentation and most countries will take at least 2021 to reach large-scale networks,” the report states.

By 2021, Europe is expected to deploy 650,000 non-residential small cells, which will represent 13.4 percent of the total market of 4.83 million small cells deployments.

“In regional terms, in the early years (before 2020), the vast majority of cells deployed in dense environments are rolled out in APAC or North America,” the report adds. “However, Europe is working hard to address barriers – regulatory, technical and commercial.”

Also, non-residential small cell deployments in Europe will reach 1.21 million by 2025.

At a global level, early small cell deployments have been dominated by indoor systems (95% in 2015) but while indoor environments will remain the most common for densification, by 2025 the percentage of new cells deployed outdoors will rise to 28%, the study states.

According to a recent paper by Rethink Technology Research, fragmented regulation and the need for greater urgency from European larger mobile network operators mean the European region is currently falling well behind North America and the larger Asian economies in the densification of mobile networks. The result, the report argues, means European networks will be ill-prepared for some of the key 5G-enabled use cases, such as industrial IoT and smart cities.

Densification is becoming a mainstream element of many operators’ network strategies as they plan to enhance their current 4G networks, and move towards 5G technology. In the U.S, all four national operators have announced plans to roll out large numbers of small cells, indoors and outdoors, to add targeted capacity to their networks and improve coverage. There are also major deployments in progress in India, South Korea, Japan and China, among other countries.

While a high level of uncertainty about the technology and business case for end-to-end orchestration, and for RAN automation, remains in all regions, in the other categories Europe is clearly lagging – in densification, especially at-scale small cell networks in urban areas; in the 5G radio access technology itself; and in virtualized RAN, the consultancy finds.

“Europe’s MNOs are falling behind in densification, but that need not mean the region’s economies must miss out on the benefits of 5G. A new regulatory approach could enable an open ecosystem, which would allow Europe to pioneer new business models even where large mobile network operators remain hesitant,” said Caroline Gabriel, research director at Rethink Technology Research.

“Whether large mobile network operators or alternative service providers grasp these opportunities, Europe does need to see densification gathering speed. If the mobile operators continue to be a block, then others will work around them, supported by regulators and industries,” the paper said.

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