40% of operators to deploy 100-350 small cells per square kilometer by 2020

Small cell deployments are poised for a dramatic uptick as operators hone network densification plans as 5G networks come to life, according to new research published by the Small Cell Forum.

The paper, titled “Deployment plans and business drivers for a dense HetNet: SCF operator survey,” is based on conversations with more than 50 Tier 1 and Tier 2 mobile and converged network operators.

Clear trends include major plans to scale preparation in advance of, and in support of, 5G commercialization through the mid-2020s. Of the operators surveyed, 40% “expect to deploy between 100 and 350 small cells per square kilometer in the areas they densify (led by transport hubs, urban downtown regions and business parks).”

Although operators have varying timelines for 5G commercialization, “69% of operators planning 5G deployment before 2023 expect to start small cell deployment in tandem with the macro, or ahead of it.” The majority of operators surveyed, 58%, will “focus primarily on small cells” in the first two to three years of 5G deployment,” while 37% will work “to densify the network for enhanced mobile broadband, and 21% to enable new use cases.”

“The industry is seeing explosive growth in the number of small cell deployments, which provide the densification solution to grow today’s LTE networks, as well as providing a fundamental building block for tomorrow’s 5G deployments,” David Orloff, Small Cell Forum chairman, said in a statement. “This research shows the confidence and emphasis that operators around the world are placing on the technology, and we at the forum are actively collaborating with both them, the vendor community, and other industry associations to avoid fragmentation and accelerate the shift to true next generation networks and the enhanced connectivity they will bring.”

Primary operator considerations relative to small cell deployments include access to fiber-based fronthaul and backhaul, lower total cost of ownership and easier site acquisition and access.

The below graphic breaks out the projected growth in residential, enterprise private, enterprise public, urban public and rural and remote small cells.

Image courtesy of Small Cell Forum.

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