Small Cell Forum says growth is ramping up

A new survey shows that nearly 60% of operators expect to focus on small cells in the first years of 5G deployment, as they roll out targeted densification to support enhanced mobile broadband and other 5G use cases.

The survey, commissioned by Small Cell Forum and conducted by Rethink Research, included responses from more than 50 mobile and converged operators and was part of SCF’s Release 10.

Small Cell Forum predicts that in the decade between 2015 and 2025, “new non-residential small cell deployments will grow at a compound annual rate of 36%, and by 2025 deployments will be 22 times higher than in 2015. … Most mobile network operators (MNOs) are starting to plan for dense HetNets, even if they do not intend to deploy the 5G radio network at scale until well into the 2020s. The biggest uptick in new deployments of small cells will be seen in the 2018-2020 period, with a 50% increase, with a second sharp increase in 2023-2024 as 5G densification gets into full swing.”

“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,” said David Orloff, chair of Small Cell Forum. “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.”

Rethink Research found that in the first two to three years of 5G New Radio deployment, 58% of operators expect to focus primarily on small cells: 37% of respondents said this was mainly to densify in support of enhanced mobile broadband, and 21% said it was primarily to support new use cases. Forty percent of operators said that in the areas they plan to densify by 2020, they expect to deploy between 100 to 350 small cells per square kilometer.

According to the latest market update from Small Cell Forum, residential small cells still dominate new deployments, with about 2.9 million units deployed in 2017. However, other types of small cell deployments are growing: there were about 145,000 urban public access small cells deployed this year, compared to 42,000 deployed in 2016. Small Cell Forum expects 2017’s figure to more than double in 2018, to 310,000. Enterprise public access and enterprise private small cells also saw significant growth in 2017, the group reported.

Small Cell Forum called its Release 10 a “significant shift” from its work to date. The group has now been in existence for a decade after starting out as Femto Forum, and its Release 10 includes a focus on health care deployments of small cells as well as “more accessible” information; earlier releases focused more heavily on engineering aspects of small cell networks.

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